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GREAT TEACHING 16 Professionally Speaking December 2020 H ow do you stay professional at all times? For Cédric Van Den Akerboom, OCT, it often comes down to this reminder: weigh your words. That's good advice for any inter- actions, and maybe more so when communicating online, where nuance is often lost. On a class platform, Van Den Akerboom may take as long as 10 minutes to word a post just right. He wants to ensure he's using the same professional tone he'd employ face-to-face in the classroom. "You need to be extra careful," says Van Den Akerboom, who teaches a Grade 3/4 split for Conseil scolaire Viamonde. "Keep it positive and straightforward, in a way that can't be misconstrued." Van Den Akerboom defaults to what he calls a "professional vocabulary." During off hours he remembers that too, in his choice of words and images. He posts infrequently on social media, and even then avoids hot-button issues or anything overly personal. "As an educator, in how you conduct yourself in person or online, you need to be a model," says Van Den Akerboom. In 2017, the College issued an advisory called Maintaining Profes- sionalism — Use of Electronic Commu- nication And Social Media. The goal was to help Ontario Certified Teachers understand their professional bound- aries and responsibilities in the appropriate use of these tools. Newer media are creating new ways to extend and enhance education. There are innovative opportunities for teaching and learning. But can the casual dialogue of our Facebook/ Instagram/Twitter/YouTube world lead to more relaxed and, possibly, un- professional conversations? When teachers are communicating outside the usual classroom environment, can boundaries blur? Teachers have private lives but serve in a public profession, so how much does sound judgment and due care matter in off-duty conduct? Electronic communication and social media are ubiquitous. The advisory mentions messaging or video chat software, websites, apps, email, texting, blogging, and the range of social media networking platforms. Consider how some Ontario Certified Teachers are reflecting on the advis- ory, and doing their best to remain professional no matter the context. Start with creating a civil environ- ment. Part of the advisory talks about modelling digital citizenship, which can mean leading by example and setting expectations. That's important to Shayle Graham, OCT. For many students online communication can feel like the Wild West: no rules and little accountabil- ity. Graham has seen it. She has taught Grade 4/5 for the Toronto District School Board (she's now an equity and anti-oppression coach), and knows that students that age can already be engaging in bullying and inappropriate comments online, which spills into the classroom. "It can go unchecked because people think they're too young," she says. "I've done community circles in the classroom, where we talk about appropriate conduct. I partnered with social workers, and we did a lot around feelings and the power of words." Van Den Akerboom is happy to use electronic media for his classroom to post and share students' work; that's Communicating Online Ontario Certified Teachers reflect on the College's electronic communication and social media advisory. BY STUART FOXMAN

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