Safeguarding for Online Learning

Throughout this past year and a half, so much teaching has moved to platforms like Zoom or Google Classroom. Even this year, many schools are continuing with online learning. With this being the case, how can teachers remain in touch with the needs of their students, especially when it comes to safeguarding?

I hope many of you have already taken TeachBeyond’s Introduction to Safeguarding Training on Moodle (our members with a TeachBeyond email can access that here), but here’s a reminder of how TeachBeyond defines safeguarding: it’s a term to denote measures taken to protect the health, well-being, and human rights of individuals, which allow people—especially children and vulnerable adults—to live free from abuse. It is about people and organizations working together to prevent and reduce the risks, occurrences, and impact of harm.

Keeping this definition in mind, we want to promote three principles whenever you interact with children or vulnerable adults. These principles are Visibility, Accountability, and Power Balance (VAP). It’s easy to only think of these when interacting with children in person, but they are just as applicable when teaching children online.

We all know that teachers are some of the busiest people on the planet, so I want to get straight to the point and give some practical examples of ways to promote each of those principles.

  • Visibility:
    • Online lessons take place with a minimum of 2 students.
    • Emails from teachers are sent to a minimum of 2 students.
    • Where an email from a teacher is to only 1 student, their parent/the director will be copied on it.
    • All lessons will be recorded and retained for 1 month.
  • Accountability:
    • Lesson days and times will be consistent, and any changes to these will be communicated to the director.
    • The teacher will use the waiting room facility and only allow students into the meeting once there are 2 or more students ready to enter the lesson.
    • Where the written chat facility is used, the teacher will keep a copy for the record until the end of the academic year.
    • In the event that the teacher is concerned about something said in a lesson—whether or not it was unintentional—they will report it to the director/safeguarding specialist anyway, for sake of transparency.
  • Power Balance:
    • The teacher will be referred to by title and name to indicate a working rather than personal relationship. This will also be reflected in the screen name of the teacher.
    • Teachers and students will wear clothing that is appropriately modest in the country/location of the school.
    • The teacher will avoid sensitive subject matter when there is only 1 student in attendance (if having a 1-on-1 lesson or meeting is unavoidable).
  • General Safeguarding:
    • If the teacher is teaching in a public location or other environment where they cannot control who is walking past, the background should be blurred.
    • The waiting room facility will be enabled, so as to ensure no unwelcome attendees log onto the meeting.
    • The teacher has an email account that will be used exclusively for school business.

As you can see, a lot of these suggestions have overlap between categories, and not all of these suggestions will be possible all the time. For instance, perhaps you need to mentor or tutor a student 1-on-1; you cannot achieve visibility in a situation like that, but you could promote accountability by letting your director and the student’s parents know when you’ll be meeting, for how long, and an overview of what you’ll be discussing. Please continue to remember that when it comes to VAP, 1 is good, 2 is better, and 3 is best.

Now that you know some practical tips, here’s a scenario for you to consider:
You’re teaching online and 1 of your students is having a hard time paying attention. One of their parents comes in and sees them struggling so they grab the book the student has on their desk and slams it down in front of them. You can see that this distressed the student. How could you handle this situation, keeping in mind the VAP principles?
Take a moment to consider this before reading on.

In a situation like this, ensuring that you let the director or the safeguarding lead at your school know that this has happened is crucial. They will be able to follow up with the student. However, you can only do this once your class is over, so until that happens, you should focus especially on the area of Power Balance. A huge part of power balance is making sure that children and vulnerable adults feel safe in your presence. Ask yourself how you could specifically interact with this child in order to ensure that they feel safe with you. Perhaps you could mention to the class that you understand online learning can be hard because it’s so easy to get distracted and then lead the class in stretches. In addition to communicating the need to pay attention, this action communicates to the struggling student that you understand and that you want to do something to help them. Showing care and a healthy power balance can lead to the student telling you more about their situation at home, which could be significant. Becoming a trusted adult within your school community is worth the effort you need to put in.

Putting these principles and suggestions into practice will look different depending on where you are and your context, but I’m sure you all have different and great ideas on how to deal with a situation like this within your specific context. Start a conversation with your school staff about this to share your ideas and hear those of others! Talk about which actions promoting visibility, accountability, and a healthy power balance would work best for your school community. The best part about safeguarding is there’s always more to discuss and learn, and this learning leads to children and vulnerable adults being better cared for.

Alison Neumann
Safeguarding Team Specialist
TeachBeyond Global

Photo Credits:
Computer & Notebook via Startup Stock Photos
Learning Online via Startup Stock Photos
Online Meetings via Startup Stock Photos