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.
Each year, the executive secretary of the Alberta Teachers’ Association receives many requests for professional conduct investigations. Often these are referred to as “complaints,” but this is not accurate. A complaint implies that someone is just letting us know that there’s a problem, though it doesn’t necessarily rule out that there is some action to be taken. Nevertheless, the intent of the person requesting the investigation (referred to as the complainant) is not at all relevant. The Teaching Profession Act obligates the Association to conduct a preliminary investigation into all allegations of unprofessional conduct that are brought forward.
In this space, I often write about matters that go to hearings, providing some information about the evidence that was established at the hearing and the outcome of the particular case. I also try to tie the outcome of hearings into the bigger picture of what is going on in classrooms every day. It is important that ATA members and the public at large are aware that this process is taking place, and that the process works to root out the unprofessional behaviour of teachers. Hearings, findings and penalties aren’t the only components of the professional conduct process. While we cannot write about the specific details of cases, it is important to shed some light on the part of the process known as the “invitation.”
When an investigating officer concludes a report and submits the matter to the executive secretary with recommendations for action, aside from recommending a hearing or that no further action is warranted, the investigating officer can recommend an invitation. Investigating officers take these recommendations very seriously, and on matters where an invitation is considered, a great deal of thought and deliberation takes place before the final recommendation is provided.
So what is an invitation? Well, in these cases, it is deemed appropriate for the investigated member to have a face-to-face meeting with a senior member of the teaching profession, and for this purpose, those senior members of the profession are members of Provincial Executive Council (PEC). PEC members are provided training in their role to conduct the invitation.
When an invitation is ordered, the PEC member will arrange to meet with the member and is provided with the investigating officer’s report so that he or she will have background on the facts of the case and can be prepared for the meeting. During the meeting, the PEC member will discuss the specific details of the case with the investigated member. The PEC member will seek assurances about future behaviour, as well as acknowledgement of the unprofessional nature of the behaviour that led them to this point. It is expected that the investigated member will be contrite and will accept that his or her actions were unprofessional. It is also expected that there will be a serious commitment with respect to future behaviour.
It is difficult for anyone to be in a conversation wherein their actions are admonished, where they have to admit to wrongdoing and commit to changing their behaviour. Members take these conversations very seriously, and their future actions reflect that. A successful invitation will yield this contrition and commitment, and the PEC member will write a report to the executive secretary outlining the success or failure of the invitation. A successful invitation will close the matter, while an unsuccessful invitation will lead to the matter proceeding to a hearing of the Professional Conduct Committee.
Investigating officers do not recommend an invitation on every case. There is wide discretion afforded to investigating officers as they make their recommendations, but it is clear that there are matters that require the attention of a professional conduct hearing. These cases are not afforded an invitation.
Further, there are occasions in which investigated members are not contrite in dealing with an investigating officer. The investigated members may not acknowledge that there was anything unprofessional in their actions, nor do they accept that there is a need to change their behaviour. In a situation like this, an investigating officer would be loathe to recommend an invitation as it is apparent that the invitation would have little to no chance of succeeding.
Ultimately, an invitation is a successful tool at the Association’s disposal to be able to exercise its important role as a professional regulatory body, while at the same time ensuring that the process does not get bogged down with unnecessary and expensive hearings on matters that could best be dealt with in other ways. ❚