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Michael Salvatori - What is the privilege of self-regulation and why are public awareness and understanding so important?

M SALVATORIWhen the Ontario College of Teachers commissioned former Ontario Chief Justice Patrick LeSage to review its disciplinary practices and processes in 2011, one observation from his report sounded a clarion call for College staff and council reflection and action. LeSage said simply: “It surprised me how little is known of the role of the College, even amongst members of the teaching profession.”

Much has happened since the 2011 report and its recommendations to strengthen the College’s role as the regulator for the teaching profession, a privilege it has held for over 20 years. While its core mandate has not changed during this time the context in which the College regulates continues to evolve and its need to enhance public awareness and understanding of its work in the public interest has been heightened. As an agile regulator, we have continued to pay close attention to the regulatory landscape, to analyze and predict trends and to act accordingly.

Like other regulatory bodies in Canada and around the world, the College’s authority to self-govern derives from a provincially legislated mandate enshrined in the Ontario College of Teachers’ Act, which establishes the requirements for entry into the profession and the College’s responsibility to apply those requirements to the certification process of over 5000 applicants annually.

The 243,000-member College has also established the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession and the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession, which influence every active College member. In addition, the College accredits initial teacher education programs and additional qualification courses and manages the discipline process for practitioners who cross well-established lines of professional conduct.

The College’s has executed its regulatory duties with efficiency and accountability to the public throughout its existence. In recent years, the College has identified and responded to trends related to transparency, the contemporary context of teaching and learning, and heightened public interest in information related to the regulation of teaching.

September 2015, for example, marked an historical milestone in education in Ontario with the introduction of an enhanced teacher education program to reflect the contemporary context of teaching and learning. After extensive consultation and in conjunction with Ontario’s faculties of education and Ministry of Education, the College developed the requirements for accreditation of the enhanced program including:

  • doubling the duration of the program to four academic semesters from two;
  • increasing the practice teaching requirement to 80 days from 40;
  • enhancing or adding core content areas such as integration of technology, mental health, addictions and wellness.

These changes were among the most significant to occur in initial teacher education in 25 years.

Concurrently, the College made efforts to implement changes in its investigations and hearings practices pursuant to Justice LeSage’s independent review. His recommendations, focusing primarily on enhancing efficiency and transparency, led to the adoption of Ontario’s Protecting Students’ Act. The Act and its impact on the College’s practices reflect the current context of heightened public scrutiny and expectations of transparency in the public interest.

To increase transparency and further protect students, the following salient changes have occurred:

  • mandatory revocation of a member’s certificate in cases of findings of sexual abuse;
  • publication of a summary of each discipline hearing with the member’s name;
  • authority to publish on the member’s profile on the College website;
  • authority to share information with the school board or employer if the subject of a complaint poses an immediate risk to a student or child;
  • improved timelines for the investigation and consideration of complaints.

The impact of changes such as those outlined is not fully realized without public awareness. Regulating in the public interest requires awareness, engagement and support. Accordingly, the College developed a communication strategy including an initiative to communicate broadly with parents and the broader community about the College’s role and responsibilities.

The success of the strategy was defined as increasing the public’s and members’:

  • understanding and respect of the College’s mandate and work
  • understanding of how best to interact with the College
  • confidence in the College.

The multi-faceted, multi-year initiative, conducted in English and French, has achieved important gains. In addition to paid advertising on radio and television, the College developed a series of presentations on its mandate and actively shared information to build understanding and participation at:

  • district school board trustee and parent involvement committees;
  • education conferences and symposia;
  • provincial events related to education or parents.

Public awareness surveys and focus groups over the past two years have affirmed our efforts and confirmed our success. We recognize, however, that we still have much work to do.

As the societal context in which we regulate continues to evolve, we look forward to opportunities to align our work with this context. Trust is one of the College’s ethical standards and is a cornerstone of public confidence in the profession and in our work in the regulation of it. The College will strive to continue to be a guardian of that public trust and to communicate widely about this unique privilege.

Dr. Michael Salvatori, OCT
Chief Executive Officer and Registrar
Ontario College of Teachers

Career educator, author and linguist, Dr. Michael Salvatori is Chief Executive Officer and Registrar of the Ontario College of Teachers, one of Canada’s largest self-regulatory bodies.

Dr. Salvatori holds a PhD in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning and has served as a core French and French immersion teacher, vice-principal, principal, assistant professor, and director of the College’s membership services department during his 30-year education career.

Fluent in four languages, Dr. Salvatori has authored numerous textbooks and teacher resources. He is currently President Elect of the board of directors for the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR) and President of the board of directors for French for the Future.