Chapter 9: Professional Relations

Introduction

In most areas of professional relations, the Code of Professional Conduct prescribes the minimum standard of acceptable conduct for members of the Association.

The majority of serious professional-relations problems that develop within schools are caused by misunderstandings that are allowed to grow until effective communication between the parties concerned breaks down. All teachers have a responsibility to do what they can to prevent this from happening. When a problem arises, the following steps are recommended:

  • Assess how the problem arose.
  • Analyze your position and list the facts that support it.
  • Analyze the position of the other teacher(s) and try to assess why they have taken this position.
  • Discover ways, if any, in which you can compromise to find a solution. Few professional-relations problems are entirely one-sided. Most include some common ground.
  • Arrange to meet with the other party under conditions in which you have the time and the privacy to discuss the problem thoroughly and to arrive at solutions.
  • Do not wait for the other person to act first. It is a sign of strength and maturity to take the initiative.

The above approach could come close to eliminating serious professional-relations problems between teachers.

If a teacher finds it necessary to criticize the professional competence or professional reputation of a colleague, the issues involved centre around the proper procedures as outlined by clause 13 of the Code of Professional Conduct. This clause does not discourage such criticism but, rather, outlines how to do it properly. Three conditions are laid down by this clause: (a) the criticism must be made to proper officials, (b) the criticism must be made in confidence, and (c) the colleague must be informed of the nature of the criticism before it is passed on to anybody.

Without limiting the generality of the application of clause 13, some comments are pertinent. Proper officials are those who have the authority to take action with respect to the complaint or criticisms. The list might include the appropriate supervisor or consultant, the superintendent and the school board through the superintendent.

Much of the tension that arises between members is occasioned by lack of knowledge of the implications of clause 13 in the Code of Professional Conduct discussed in the previous chapter. Proper officials are those who have the authority to take action with respect to the complaint or criticism. The list does not include members of the community or non-administrative colleagues within the school. A teacher should observe administrative channels. After informing the colleague of one’s intentions, one approaches the principal or assistant principal. It is improper to bypass these officials or the superintendent by making complaints in the first instance to the school board.

In confidence means just what it says. Such criticisms are to be submitted only to those who may take action but who can be expected to protect the confidential nature of the communication. In confidence does not mean in the staff room when other teachers are present, at social gatherings or on the street.

The requirement that the colleague receive prior notification of the criticism does not spell out that this notification must be in writing. Because oral notification involves the possibility that the recipient may misunderstand or may forget part of what was said, written notification is desirable. When the report deals with professional competence, clause 14 of the code requires a prior written report. It is also desirable to allow the colleague to add comments. This aspect is addressed in Chapter 8 Teacher Professional Growth, Supervision and Evaluation.

Code of Professional Conduct

13 The teacher criticizes the professional competence or professional reputation of another teacher only in confidence to proper officials and after the other teacher has been informed of the criticism.

Any teacher who encounters a serious problem in the area of professional relations would be well advised to consult with a staff officer of the Association. This is recognized by clause 20 of the Code of Professional Conduct.

The Association has available

  • one-on-one assistance,
  • professional development seminars and workshops,
  • the Staff Relations Service (mediation) for school-based assistance to a group of members and
  • the Healthy Interactions program for development of positive relationships throughout the school district.

Code of Professional Conduct

20 The teacher submits to the Association disputes arising from professional relationships with other teachers which cannot be resolved by personal discussion. 

Discipline Procedure

The Association’s responsibility for discipline was reaffirmed and clearly defined by the revisions to the Teaching Profession Act, proclaimed September 1, 1996. Procedures are enshrined in statute to provide protection to the public and to the profession. Members have responsibilities for their own conduct and to assist in maintaining proper professional discipline among other members.

Professional conduct hearing committees determine whether or not unprofessional conduct has occurred based on the broad definition provided in the legislation. Unprofessional conduct includes that which contravenes the Code of Professional Conduct but is much broader.

Teaching Profession Act
Definition of Unprofessional Conduct

23(1) Any conduct of a member that, in the opinion of a hearing committee,

(a) is detrimental to the best interests of

(i) students as defined in the School Act
(ii) the public, or
(iii) the teaching profession,

(b) contravenes sections 16 to 65 or a by-law made under section 8(f) or (g), or
(c) harms or tends to harm the standing of teachers generally,

whether or not that conduct is disgraceful or dishonourable, may be found by a hearing committee to constitute unprofessional conduct.

(2)If a member has been convicted of an indictable offence,

(a) the conduct of the member on which the conviction is based is deemed to constitute unprofessional conduct, and
(b) the member shall forthwith inform the association of the conviction.

Under the guidance of the Executive Secretary of the Association, complaints are received, investigations are conducted and resolutions are determined. The Executive Secretary may choose to refer the matter to a hearing committee or to an alternative dispute-resolution method or to determine that no hearing will be held. Investigations are conducted by Association staff. Three committees have roles in the process. Some committees include public members appointed by the minister after consultation with stakeholders including the Association. Committees include the following:

  • The Complainant Appeal Committee is a committee of three persons—two ATA members and one member of the public—who receive representations from the complainant(s) on those occasions that the Executive Secretary has determined no hearing is warranted by a complaint. The committee can direct that a hearing be held.
  • The Professional Conduct Committee is comprised of 17 Association members named by Provincial Executive Council and three public members named by the minister of education. For each hearing, a panel of three to five persons (one of whom is named as chair) is selected by the Executive Secretary from the Professional Conduct Committee. This panel is referred to as a hearing committee. The hearing committee must include a public member when the charge(s) against the accused results from conviction of an indictable offence. The committee determines guilt or innocence on the charge(s) and determines penalty.
  • The Professional Conduct Appeal Committee consists of four Association members named by Provincial Executive Council and one public member named by the minister. The committee hears appeals of decisions by hearing committees on the matter of guilt and/or penalty.

Complaints may be lodged against an active member at any time during the member’s period of service or the five years thereafter. Any person may lodge a complaint by writing to the Executive Secretary of the Association requesting an investigation and specifying briefly the behaviour of concern. On receipt of the request in writing, the Executive Secretary must appoint a member of Association staff to investigate the circumstances of the complaint to determine if sufficient evidence exists to support a prima facie case. The investigating officer files a report on the investigation with the Executive Secretary, who may direct that no hearing be held, that a hearing be held or that an alternative dispute-resolution process, as authorized in the bylaws of the Association, be used. If the order is that no hearing be held, the complainant may seek to have the Complainant Appeal Committee order a hearing.

A teacher against whom a complaint is laid has the right to be notified of this fact at the beginning of the investigation. The investigating officer opens the investigation by informing the member. Consultation services regarding process are available to the investigated member from the Coordinator of Member Services. No Association representation is provided to the investigated member.

A provision in the legislation permits the Executive Secretary to temporarily suspend the membership of a teacher pending the conclusion of an investigation or the decision of a hearing committee. Suspension under this section of the act is appealable to the Court of Queen’s Bench. This is an extraordinary power that one must expect to be used judiciously.

If a hearing is ordered, the charge is laid by the Association and formulated under the direction of the Executive Secretary. The teacher who is the subject of the charge of unprofessional conduct is notified promptly, informed of the manner in which the proceedings will be conducted and given ample notice of the date of the hearing. It is often in the best interests of the accused to retain legal counsel. Costs of defence are the responsibility of the accused.

In the hearing itself, all evidence is taken under oath and must, in general, conform to the rules of evidence as they would apply to other legal proceedings. Witnesses may be subpoenaed and compelled to attend. Members may be compelled to attend and testify against their own interests.

Responsibilities of Members

  • Act professionally.
  • A member who believes another member to be guilty of unprofessional conduct must make a complaint to the Executive Secretary relating to that conduct.
  • A member who is convicted of an indictable offence must inform the Association of that conviction.
  • Cooperate with the Association in investigations and hearings regarding professional conduct.

A hearing committee of the Professional Conduct Committee hears all evidence from prosecution and defence and reaches a verdict of guilty or not guilty. If the verdict is guilty, both defence and prosecution have the opportunity to recommend an appropriate penalty before the hearing committee determines the penalty. A decision of guilt or a penalty may be appealed to the Professional Conduct Appeal Committee.

Help Available from the Association

To teachers

Considerable help is available to all members in professional relations and tenure matters. Association policy should be clearly enunciated at this point. There is no differentiation in any way between those members who are engaged entirely as classroom teachers and those employed as administrators or in other capacities. If there is tension between a principal and a teacher, either or both may bring the problem to the Association for help, and its efforts to resolve the problem will be made without regard to the position the member concerned occupies. In cases where both administrator and teacher have sought assistance, confidentiality and separation of the files and assistance is maintained until both parties agree to permit consultation as a step toward resolution.

Some areas in which the Association will help are as follows:

  • Provide consultation about professional relations matters and advice as to their resolution.
  • Give general and legal advice and assistance where necessary with respect to matters arising from the member’s duties as a teacher. This includes, in most cases, the provision of the services of an Association solicitor, without charge, to defend a teacher in a lawsuit or criminal allegation arising out of the teacher’s duties.
  • Assist and advise teachers in cases of termination of contract or designation and provide representation, in most instances by an Association solicitor, in a Board of Reference appeal.
  • Offer advice and assist teachers who have been asked to resign from their positions. Such advice should always be requested before a teacher submits a resignation. Some teachers believe that they must submit their resignations if they are asked to do so. This is completely erroneous.
  • Provide advice and assistance and, if necessary in later stages, legal counsel for members facing charges under the Practice Review Bylaws of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
  • Assist members requiring representation before the Teacher Salary Qualifications Board, the Certification Appeal Committee, the Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan Executive Committee or Board, or the Extended Disability Benefit Appeal Committee.
To school boards

The Association believes that school boards and teachers have many problems in common. It stands ready to cooperate with school boards and superintendents in many ways such as consulting about teachers who may be having problems, improving professional relations (superintendents as well as teachers may request assistance) and cooperating in attempts to resolve teacher–board disputes.

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