Pitfalls and Precautions is a series that aims to educate teachers on professional conduct issues by highlighting situations addressed by the ATA Professional Conduct Committee. The purpose of the series is purely educational, so some non-essential information from the actual case may be omitted or changed.
A school principal pled guilty to four charges of unprofessional conduct and received fines totalling $2,100 and four letters of severe reprimand to address wrongdoings under articles 13 and 17 of the Code of Professional Conduct, and section 23 of the Teaching Profession Act.
Over a period of several years, the school principal criticized the professional reputation of teachers to people who were not proper officials and without first informing the teachers. Her comments served to undermine the reputations of these teachers and caused other teachers to be wary of their associations with these teachers.
The principal also made statements that encouraged divisiveness between staff members and encouraged others to do the same. Through her actions, she fostered conflict, poor communication and mistrust between staff and administration, and incited confrontations between members of staff. The principal’s actions undermined the collegiality so necessary for effective teaching practice and for a healthy professional environment characterized by a unified learning community. The profession expects that principals will serve as collegial role models for staff and set an example of professionalism.
This same principal took actions that failed to provide opportunities for staff members to express their opinions and bring forth suggestions regarding the administration of the school, contrary to article 17 of the Code of Professional Conduct. The principal used a variety of methods to intimidate teachers. Her manner of receiving opinions and suggestions about the administration of the school served to belittle and demean those teachers, thus leading to a chilling effect on staff contributions. The profession expects teachers to be able to provide input and feel welcome to voice their suggestions and opinions.
Additionally, the principal sent inappropriate text messages to another teacher. These text messages were offensive, racially charged and profane. The principal also sent a text speculating about sexual advances between colleagues. The profession expects that principals will be appropriate in their use of communication with their colleagues, avoid profanity, racism and offensiveness, and refrain from communicating harmful speculation about other colleagues.
In its consideration on penalty for the four findings of guilt, the committee considered the breadth, extent and significant impact resulting from the principal’s actions. The committee noted that the principal had held various leadership positions prior to serving as the school’s principal and had been in the profession for more than 25 years. This gave her many opportunities to understand the culture and expectations of the profession. ❚