Think twice before hitting ‘post’

Q & A

September 15, 2020 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary

Question: I am very frustrated with how things are changing so quickly with the re-entry plan. We keep getting mixed messages. Is it OK to vent my frustrations online?

Answer: Teachers need to be mindful that their conduct is bound at all times by the standards of the Code of Professional Conduct. All active members of the Association need to adhere to the code 24/7 be it at school, at home or on vacation. Substitute teachers are bound by the code following the first day of subbing in a school year and until the end of the school year or until they are removed from the substitute teacher roster.

With the prevalence of social media, it is easy to quickly post a frustration or comment online. Doing this may be problematic because employees have a “duty of fidelity” to the employer that requires them to raise concerns about district protocols and decisions through proper channels, which does not include public commentary. Disciplinary action against teachers as a result of such activity has occurred on numerous occasions. While we do enjoy freedom of speech, the duty of fidelity to one’s employer curtails what can be said publicly. Further, it is essential to remember that your personal comments can convey a strong message to students and parents, and as such you must be mindful what you say and post on social media.

Critical comments about colleagues may breach the Code of Professional Conduct, and they are strongly discouraged. The code requires concerns about a teacher’s reputation or competence to be shared with the teacher before expressing those concerns to a proper official, and these concerns must be done only in confidence (articles 13 and 14). Expressing comments online does not constitute a proper official and is not acceptable; teachers who have done so have found themselves in breach of the code. Further, even if the name is not mentioned, but it can be ascertained who the comment is about, a complaint could be filed and lead to an investigation for possible unprofessional conduct.

Finally, teachers can express concerns about what the government may or may not be doing. However, these comments must still be made in a professional manner as the code governs a teacher’s behaviour — not the behaviour of someone else. Contrary to popular belief, postings on a social networking site like Facebook are not restricted to those listed as friends. People familiar with the technology or those who buy corporate accounts can gain access to a person’s page.

Everyone is trying their best in these challenging times, so there will be some confusion and tension, at times, over changing directions. Before sending or posting a comment, sit back, reflect on what you wrote and take an objective look at what is in front of you. A sober second thought can save you the stress of being investigated for possible unprofessional conduct and can help maintain a positive working environment. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House (

Also In This Issue