Know Your Responsibilities Dealing with Safety in Learning Environments


As teachers, it is our responsibility to keep our students safe at school. I tell my students that keeping them safe is my first job as their teacher. My second job is to teach them something. As a teacher, knowing your rights and responsibilities in the teaching profession is key to protecting yourself and your students. Below is a a short summary of highlighting areas that I thought would be relevant to new teachers. In the endeavor to be accurate, I decided to copy sections from the advisory instead of paraphrasing. Please refer to the Ontario College of Teachers’ document, Professional Advisory on Safe Learning Environments 2013 for further details.

Professional Advisory on Safe Learning Environments 2013

(The Council of the Ontario College of Teachers approved this professional advisory on April 4, 2013.)

INTRODUCTION (as per OCT): When student safety and well-being are involved, teachers’ “foresight, knowledge and professional judgment are essential … Recognizing student vulnerability and acting to mitigate it is a teacher’s professional responsibility”.

ETHICAL UNDERPINNINGS (as per OCT): The Ontario College of Teacher’s Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession and the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession state that the ethical standard “principle of care holds that members express their commitment to students’ well-being and learning through positive influence, professional judgment and empathy in practice.”

LEGAL IMPLICATIONS (as per OCT): Relevant legislation, policies, standards and guidelines for legal implications include the Child and Family Services Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. “For example, under the Child and Family Services Act, OCT members are obligated to report any suspicions to a children’s aid society that a child is or may be in need of protection. The obligation to report directly is on the individual — teachers cannot rely on another person to report on their behalf.”

DISCIPLINARY IMPLICATIONS (as per OCT) : “The responsibility of Ontario Certified Teachers for student safety extends to their treatment of students during daily interactions. Not following the advice contained in the professional advisory could lead to issues of professional misconduct.”

ADVICE TO MEMBERS: MINIMIZE THE RISKS (as per OCT) :  See document, Professional Advisory on Safe Learning Environments 2013, for further details.

KNOW YOUR PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES (as per OCT): “Ontario Certified Teachers have a professional responsibility through due diligence to safeguard and educate students who have been placed under their care. Jointly with school administrators and key stakeholders, teachers are responsible for creating safe and healthy instructional settings integrating hazard identification, assessing the risks and controlling the situation in all aspects of the facility. Due diligence refers to taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to avoid injuries.”





Recognize: that incidents involving student safety generally occur when teachers least expect them.

Report: Following a safety-related incident, report the incident and actions you have taken to your direct supervisor and to appropriate health and safety representatives.

Reflect on the incident:

  • What happened?
  • Was my reaction appropriate? Yes/No. In what way?
  • Was my conduct in keeping with the ethical standards of my profession (care, respect, trust and integrity)?
  • Was my conduct in keeping with the standard of commitment to students and student learning?
  • Do I review safety instructions and procedures regularly and make improvements, as needed?
  • What could or would I do differently if faced with another similar situation?
  • Do I know how to recognize an unsafe situation and where can I go to better prepare or access additional training?
  • What have I learned from this experience?
  • Would others benefit from what I have learned and how can I share this information?

ACT PROFESSIONALLY (as per OCT): Know your obligations, Talk with other professionals, Regard your own professional development as a personal responsibility.  See document, Professional Advisory on Safe Learning Environments 2013, for further details.

Ontario Certified Teachers should be able to say with confidence (as per OCT):

  • My actions show that I treat students with care, respect, trust, and integrity.
  • I am aware of the legal parameters that guide my professional practice.
  • I am familiar with my school/employer’s policies and emergency procedures regarding student safety.
  • I reflect on past occurrences, monitor ongoing situations, and prepare for the unexpected.

As a teacher, I know my first priority is to keep my students safe. For students, school should be a safe place to learn without verbal, physical, psychological, emotional and/or sexual harm. While ensuring a safe learning school environment, it protects both students and teachers.

To protect yourself and your students, know your rights and responsibilities.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

Professional Advisory on Safe Learning Environments 2013

Protect Yourself and Document

I want to share with you one of the most taxing and emotional experiences I have had in my three decade long career as a teacher. I work with a very challenging group of students who all have aggressive, violent tendencies and have significant struggles in learning socially appropriate skills they need to function in their day-to-day lives. As their teacher I am faced with the task of helping them develop self-regulation strategies, teach them how to interact with peers and adults in a safe and respectable manner and of course move them forward on the academic continuum.

In September, one of my students was struggling with complying to simple adults requests and would often escalate to verbal barrages of profanity in an attempt to goad me and/or my team into an argument. We of course would not buy into his behavior, so that student decided to further escalate the scenario to aggressive acts of throwing things, kicking things and yelling insults. Once again we remained calm and focused on our message of coaching that student to calm. On this particular occasion, the student chose to completely ignore us and began to punch a wooden bookshelf. At that point our team was faced with the burden of having to remove the rest of the students and physically intervene in order to stop the student from certain injury. My colleague and I then moved into a physical restraint that lasted for about 15 minutes at which time the student calmed and we were able to move forward with our debriefing session.

When the student was calm I checked for injuries on the hand that had punched through a wooden bookcase. We administered proper first aid, fully documented the scenario that had took place in our classroom, had kept our principal informed throughout the process and finally called the parent to update her on what had occurred and the status of her child. Throughout the day we monitored the student’s hand, updated the parent and continued on with our inclass model of assisting the student with solving the problem that was created.

That evening I was informed by my principal that the police had been called by the parent and that Family and Children’s Services was going to conduct an investigation into the allegation the next morning. I immediately contacted my ETFO President to seek advice. Over the next 12 hours I was on an emotional roller coaster. I checked and rechecked all of our documentation, went over the  child’s safety plan that we had followed and prepared to the best of my abilities for what was to come.

The next morning I participated in a meeting that included my principal, our superintendent, my ETFO President and the worker from Family and Children’s Services. Over the next three hours I answered questions, shared my documentation, toured my class where the scenario had taken place, shown them the damaged book case and then waited for what seemed like eternity for a decision as to whether I would be deemed safe to return to my professional responsibilities.

Fortunately for me, the evidence was extremely clear that my team had not only acted in the best interest of the child to ensure that further injury did not occur but had also had used our Behaviour Management System training and safety plan appropriately. BUT, had it not been for there being two adults there, detailed and ongoing documentation, clear and open communication to all parties and support from ETFO I am sure that this could have easily turned into a larger nightmare for me.

So once again, I encourage you to safeguard yourself against the possibility of false allegations by familiarizing yourself with safe practices as outlined by our provincial office. If you have any questions please seek support from your union. I hope that my experience can help ensure that other teachers do not ever have to face what I went through.