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Code of Conduct and Monitoring

The public and private conduct of administrators, faculty, employees, and volunteers acting on behalf of a school (or any youth-serving organization) can inspire and motivate those with whom they interact, or can cause great harm if inappropriate. As an additional element of building a safe school environment, a Code of Conduct is one of the tools that helps schools to clearly identify what is acceptable and expected of adults (as well as of students) in terms of behavior, risk, sensitivity to the appearance of impropriety, interpersonal communication with children, and compliance with the policies and procedures of the school, the district, and the reporting laws of the Commonwealth.

When safety policies and a Code of Conduct are enforced through supervision, staff meetings, and other training or professional development opportunities, it becomes easier for staff to talk about their concerns and highlight the smaller day-to-day behaviors that give them some concern. In this way, a Code of Conduct serves as another prevention tool. If everyone in the school understands and complies with the requirements outlined in the Code of Conduct, behaviors that fall outside of the Code are more easily noticed and addressed.

The basic elements of Codes of Conduct acknowledge, usually by means of the educator’s or volunteer’s signature on an acknowledgement page, that teachers and others will not initiate or participate in practices that are emotionally damaging, physically harmful, disrespectful, degrading, dangerous, exploitative, or intimidating to children. The Codes should be distributed to all employees and included as part of the initial orientation and ongoing training structure.

In constructing a Code of Conduct, essential elements generally include topics such as:

  • Awareness of the power differential between adults and children and the responsibility to maintain appropriate boundaries. 64
  • Use of discretion when touching a child – with examples of appropriate, inappropriate, and harmful touch. 65
    • Appropriate physical behavior includes contact that maintains physical boundaries at all times and only comprises touches that are public and non-sexual, such as pats on the back or shoulder, child-initiated hugs, fist bumps, and holding hands to safely cross the street. 66
    • Inappropriate physical behavior includes any contact that violates boundaries and can be seen as an intrusion on the child’s space beyond the bounds of propriety. These include tickling, wrestling, backrubs, massage, seating a child on one’s lap, and unwanted affection.
    • Harmful physical behavior includes any contact that abuses, exploits, or harasses the child such as slapping, shaking, spanking, pinching, hitting, pushing, grabbing, kicking, corporal punishment, patting the buttocks, touching private body parts, intimate/romantic/sexual contact, and involving students in pornographic activities. 67
  • How to handle 1-on-1 meetings, with preference expressed for a team approach. All adults interacting with minors should do so in open, public spaces in which at least two adults are present. If one-on-one meetings are necessary for educational or emergency purposes, then they should be conducted in a public area; in a room where the interaction can be (or is being) observed and can be interrupted; or in a room with the door left open and another adult is notified about the meeting.
  • Prohibition against smoking, drinking, drug use, profanity, and other inappropriate communication when around children.
    • Appropriate communication includes praise and/or positive reinforcement and should be used consistently and equally for all students.
    • Yelling, threatening, ridiculing, comments about physical appearance or comments that are degrading should be expressly prohibited.
    • Comments, gestures, jokes or innuendos that are sexual in nature should be prohibited.
  • Use of social media, text, email with minors restricted to use within the role of the professional or volunteer relationship – and subject to periodic monitoring by the administration.
  • Possession of sexually-oriented materials (magazines, cards, videos, books, clothing, music) or accessing similar materials on the internet prohibited in the presence of the students.
  • Guidance on distinguishing violations of the Code that require a report to law enforcement or DCF, from those that may be handled organizationally (e.g., are correctable by principals or supervisors). 68 Employees and volunteers – even those who are not mandated reporters – should be required to report any behaviors and practices that may be harmful.
  • Compliance with Massachusetts and organizational reporting policies / protocols.
  • A clear set of steps to follow if a violation of the Code is observed, or if there are any concerns about student safety. Create a climate that encourages people to question confusing, concerning, or behaviors and practices about which they are uncertain.
  • The requirement for the Code of Conduct to be read by all current, prospective, and new employees and volunteers and signed to acknowledge receipt and agreement. Acknowledgement should be kept in the employee’s/volunteer’s personnel file.

Again, clearly articulated Codes of Conduct are meant to protect all parties, and represent to parents and to the community that the school is serious about protecting the welfare of the children entrusted to its care. Implementing a Code of Conduct will also require frequent communication and monitoring. 69 Consider opportunities to discuss its content, providing a copy to all prospective and current employees and volunteers, making the Code part of an annual training requirement, discussing the Code as part of an annual orientation, and posting the Code on bulletin boards and other public spaces.

Just as important as monitoring the physical and procedural elements of a school’s safe environment initiatives, monitoring the behaviors and interactions contained in the Code of Conduct will require vigilance and building a school culture that will encourage people to speak up if they see something appropriate (thus acknowledging and reinforcing positive, supportive and healthy behaviors and interactions) or inappropriate (understanding the boundaries the school has set for inappropriate or harmful behaviors and immediately responding themselves, and/or reporting their concerns to the appropriate authority). There is more detail on the reporting process in the section below.

The boundaries between appropriate, inappropriate, and harmful behaviors are not always clear in every situation. Some concerning behaviors may be due to inexperience and can be addressed by closer supervision and monitoring. But many of those same behaviors can also be part of a pattern used by offenders to groom 70 , 71 and otherwise desensitize their intended victim to increasingly sexualized touch. (Use the link or url to see more on grooming behaviors (below) and how to recognize them in adults on Safe Kids Thrive).

More information about the basic elements of Codes of Conduct and guidance on building and implementing them can be found on the Safe Kids Thrive website in the Elements of Prevention section entitled Code of Conduct 72 . Here you will also find suggestions about assessing risks 73 that could influence how the Code is structured; the best ways to integrate a Code of Conduct into the overall safety structure of any organization; and the relationship between a Code of Conduct and Mission Statements and Codes of Ethics. 74

The website also contains a detailed Prevention Evaluation Tool 75 (checklist) that details standards for Codes of Conduct (See Standard 2), and Implementation and Monitoring (Standard 3). Sample Codes of Conduct 76 for different types of youth-serving organizations can also be found on the website, as well as a version that can be customized and printed along with a Statement of Receipt and Agreement. 77

Examples of school-based Codes of Conduct and ethics can also be found on the web sites of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (https://www.naeyc.org/), the Association of American Educators (https://www.aaeteachers.org/index.php/about-us/aae-code-of-ethics), and the National Education Association (https://www.nea.org/resource-library/code-ethics-educators). A sample Code of Conduct, and a sample Statement of Receipt and Agreement are attached in Appendix J.

64 Physical boundaries and caregiving may change with the age of the child, and children with disabilities may need additional physical contact, but the standards of touch (public, appropriate, and non-sexual) do not change. 

65 See: “Guidelines for Interactions at Your Organization” on the Safe Kids Thrive website: https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/code-of-conduct/guidelines-for-interactions-at-your-organization/

66 Note: Appropriate touch can sometimes become inappropriate if a student is clear that any contact is unwanted or if the contact is repeated so often it becomes invasive.

67 MA Regulatory Guidance on the use of physical restraint when warranted can be found at https://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/603cmr46.html?section=all

68 In situations where the response to a violation of the Code of Conduct appears discretionary, school counsel should also be involved in the discussion.

69 Tips on monitoring behaviors, the role of staff, a checklist on monitoring documenting monitoring and reporting behavior: https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/monitoring-behavior/

70 https://safekidsthrive.org/about-us-skt/about-child-sexual-abuse/about-grooming/

71 https://safekidsthrive.org/the-report/introduction/other-warning-signs/

72 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/code-of-conduct/

73 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/code-of-conduct/getting-started-on-your-code-of-conduct-creating-a-risk-and-strengths-assessment/

74 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/code-of-conduct/about-mission-statements-codes-of-ethics/

75 https://safekidsthrive.org/the-report/appendices/resources/child-sexual-abuse-csaprevention-evaluation-tool-for-organizations/

76 https://safekidsthrive.org/the-report/section-specific-appendices/code-of-conduct-and-monitoring/

77 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/code-of-conduct/make-your-own-code-of-conduct/


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