My name is Robert Ford and I have been in the field of education for over 30 years. I have served as a teacher, Department Head, Principal, e-Learning Specialist, Dean of Academics and now, Director of Marketing for OVS. In the past three decades, I have seen countless changes in educational protocol, as we strive to keep pace with the ever-changing technological landscape. With the rapid mass-scale changes invoked by to deal with the current COVID-19 situation, teachers from far and wide are finding themselves thrust into unfamiliar territory. As a long-time educational professional with a background in e-learning, I would like to discuss three key points I feel are paramount in dealing with COVID-19 as a teacher.
1. Consult and Share Only Trustworthy Information
First and foremost, it is essential to keep yourself up-to-date using only reliable sources. Both the Canadian government and the Ontario government have created webpages dedicated to keeping the public informed with accurate information regarding the current situation (links above). Keeping well-informed using trustworthy sources regarding the current state of COVID-19 affairs ensures you are prepared and properly suited to provide much-needed reassurance to your students throughout this challenging time.
During this period of social distancing, we must ensure that our students still feel connected to us. The virtual realm affords us many ways to do this and I encourage you to take advantage of them to keep in daily contact with honest, positive and supportive communication about the situation unfolding and how it affects your students’ learning.
2. Maintain Professionalism
As with everything else, there is an etiquette to be followed when it comes to communicating electronically as an OCT teacher. According to the OCT, electronic communication and social media provide exciting opportunities to learn, teach and communicate with students, parents and colleagues. However, they are also careful to stress that, as teachers, we must maintain professional boundaries across all mediums, so as to maintain trust and appropriate professional relationships. In particular with online communication, there is greater concern of misuse, manipulation or misunderstandings of tone or intent. To avoid these undesirable situations, be sure that you are clear in your phrasings and that you are not sharing information with your students or colleagues online that you would not be willing to share in a face-to-face setting.
Here are some useful OCT Advisories on Professionalism in the Online Environment:
• The Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media
• Video Conferencing Guidelines
3. Support Student Mental Health
My final point is more critical now than perhaps ever before. As teachers, we must do everything we can to support the mental health of our students during this difficult time. After all, attending school is, in part, intended to be an opportunity for structured socialization. Now, our students find themselves struggling to cope with the sense of isolation that inevitably results from the extended social distancing measures we have been enduring.
As we well know, good mental health is key in promoting effective learning. A student who is distracted by troubles outside the classroom will struggle inside the classroom. As teachers, we take on the collective responsibility of recognizing and addressing signs of both prolonged mental illness and situational instability. As individual practitioners, we must know where to turn for help and work diligently to avoid stigmatization while promoting wellness. These responsibilities are core to our profession’s ethics and exist surreptitiously in our day-to-day practices.
As you may know, many illnesses develop and/or peak during the high school years and early recognition and intervention are critical for treating mental health issues at any age. As teacher, you are at the forefront of your students’ daily interactions. As such, the OCT recognizes teachers as a key support in caring for students’ mental health and well-being, and provides information to all its members on how to properly support student mental health. By understanding the characteristics of mental health, you can help to identify students who are struggling, support them on the path to appropriate care, and create a learning environment that promotes wellness.
Stay safe, my friends.
OCT, B.Ed, C.P.C.O., TESOL, N.C.C.P.
Ontario Virtual School, Director of Marketing
Email: [email protected]