Our Quest for the Training of Ethical Decision-Making
With thanks to Thomas W. Bailey, attorney-at-law, collaborator on ethics-in-education workshops
This blog is dedicated to pre- and in-service educators residing and working in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
News from the Pennsylvania Department of Education
In Pennsylvania (as well as the rest of the country), the statistics on school staff misconducts have been rising alarmingly. Sample data from Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE):
Involving more than 2545 PA school staff members since 2004 when they began reporting them, PDE maintains a database of all disciplinary infractions, the names of the offenders and their offenses here.
Immorality – Immorality is conduct which offends the morals of the Commonwealth and is a bad example to the youth whose ideals a professional educator or a charter school staff member has a duty to foster and elevate.
Incompetency – Incompetency is a continuing or persistent mental or intellectual inability or incapacity to perform the services expected of a professional educator or a charter school staff member.
Intemperance – Intemperance is a loss of self-control or self-restraint, which may result from excessive conduct.
Cruelty – Cruelty is the intentional, malicious and unnecessary infliction of physical or psychological pain upon living creatures, particularly human beings.
Negligence – Negligence is a continuing or persistent action or omission in violation of a duty. A duty may be established by law, by promulgated school rules, policies or procedures, by express direction from superiors or by duties of professional responsibility, including duties prescribed by Chapter 235 (relating to Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators).
“Typically, charges initiated against a teacher on any of the grounds listed above may result in a hearing before a Professional Standards and Practices Commission (PSPC) hearing officer. If an educator elects not to contest the charges, however, a decision on the matter may be made without a hearing. When charges are brought against an educator on non-criminal grounds, the PSPC has discretion to determine if the conduct occurred, if the conduct constitutes one of the grounds for discipline, and what discipline should be imposed, if any. In contrast to cases arising on criminal grounds, the PSPC maintains full adjudicatory discretion in cases filed on the above-described grounds.”
As a music teacher for nearly a half-century (35 years full-time involvement in the public schools), not once did I experience someone other than myself and retired social studies teacher Thomas Bailey present a course, class, or even an hour-long workshop on ethics. Obviously, the growing statistics are a concern, but what do you expect when almost no PA-certified teacher you ask can name the title or content of his/her “code of conduct?” Updated frequently, a comprehensive section on this blog-site is devoted to a much-needed exploration of the definitions, research, sample case studies, and “conundrums” in professional and ethical decision-making. Here are some highlights of past articles for your perusal:
Finally, it seems that the Pennsylvania Board of Education and PDE have also awakened to this “cause.” In the last several years, there’s been significant movement in the rewriting of statues and regulations, and mandating ethics training in future pre-service, induction, and in-service programs. Below is a quick look at the history (albeit a very slow progress) sponsored by our state government.
History of PA Legislative & Executive Branch Rules Revisions
Public School Code of 1949 was written by the PA General Assembly regulating PA educators. Section 11-1122 identifies conduct which allows school entities to terminate educator contracts for “…immorality; incompetency; unsatisfactory teaching performance… intemperance; cruelty and persistent negligence in the performance of duties….”
January 2020: The Commission recommended to the PA State Board of Education “the inclusion of professional ethics in educator preparation programs, induction, and continuing professional education… Professional ethics are the accepted and collectively agreed upon standards of behavior, values, and principles that, in conjunction with applicable laws and regulations, are meant to inform and guide professional decision-making.”
September 2021: Final amendments to Chapter 49 were approved by the Council of Higher Education and by the State Board of Education and transmitted to the Senate Education Committee, House Education Committee, and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission for the final steps in the regulatory review process.
What’s Needed for the Future? Let’s Renew the Mandate to Share Knowledge and Peer Engagement in Ethics Training
Based on Thomas Bailey’s and my experience in providing more than four years of local and state educator ethics and professional decision-making workshops, we recommend the following:
Presentations should be interactive, allowing time for group discussion, question/answer periods, and “empaneling the ethics jury” to review fact scenarios of identifying levels of ethical misconduct, violations of code and/or policies, and the possible negative consequences, risks, and harm to the students, school staff, and community-at-large.
Case studies should uncover all aspects of professional educator decision-making: pedagogy, enforcement, resource allocation, relationships, and diversity, and illuminate possible ethical conflicts, contradictions, or “conundrums.”
Content should include definitions of common vocabulary (e.g. “fiduciary”), and an in-depth examination of the PA Code of Professional Practices and Conduct, Public School Code of 1949 and the Educator Discipline Act, and PA Chapter 126.
In relation to the PDE Discipline Process, all educators in the Commonwealth should be made aware of PA “governance” and its three independent branches: legislative (statutes), executive (regulations), and judicial (case law), as well as their rights for due process.
Following the research of Troy Hutchings, the principles of educator “ethical equilibrium” and understanding the differences between a “code of conduct” (more explicit and well defined) vs. a code of ethics (more open-ended, based on the circumstances/context of the situation) should be discussed comparing representative examples.
Presenters should unpack and apply the standards in the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE). Since the PA Board of Education endorsed the NASDTEC MCEE in January 2017, little has been publicized (even on the PSPC website) about understanding and implementation of this national “teacher code of ethics.”
Thomas Bailey and I are available to present virtual or in-person workshops on professional and ethical decision-making of educators. Please email any interest or questions here.
Reviews of Court Cases on PA Education Regulations & School Staff Misconducts
Special thanks to guest blogger Thomas W. Bailey, current attorney-at-law and retired social studies teacher, who provides Act 48 courses of continuing education in professional decision-making, analyzing educator ethics, the law, PA Code of Professional Practices and Conduct, and discussion and interpretation of sample fact scenarios based upon classroom dilemmas.
Previously, this blog site (category = ethics) has offered numerous articles on defining issues of morality, ethics, regulations, professional aspirations, codes of conduct and codes of ethics, teacher-student relationships and boundaries, confidentiality, mandatory reporting, and reviews by “mock juries” of educator misconduct case studies. For my PMEA music education colleagues, PCMEA members, and education majors and newcomers to the profession throughout the Commonwealth, one area that still needs to be addressed is a discussion on Pennsylvania case law. One essential question is applicable to ALL pre- and in-service educators across the country: Have you informed yourself about the structure of YOUR state’s three branches of government, laws governing school staff responsibilities, prohibitions, and discipline, specific codes of conduct and/or ethics, and the judicial review process and case law?
“Ignorantia juris non excusat.”(Ignorance of the law excuses not.)
Thomas Bailey has provided an outstanding resource for learning more about PA regulations, court decisions, and putting into practice the values of ethical decision making. Below is a glimpse of his court case blog. Please visit his website for more detailed information and to sign-up for online classes: https://twbaileylaw.com/.
PA Commonwealth Court Case – Music Teacher Charged with Immorality
A male high school instrumental instructor and band director, M.T., began a romantic relationship with a 10th grade female band student (Student) in 2001 while employed for a Pennsylvania school district (District). M.T. continued the relationship with the Student to include sexual acts during her junior and senior years. The Student testified several sexual acts occurred within the District’s band room and band room office ending in 2004 with her graduation. M.T. continued to contact the Student when she attended college. Her parents complained to the District of continual communication by M.T. while their daughter was in college. In July, 2004 the District gave a written reprimand to M.T. to cease contact with the Student. M.T. continued contacting the Student after the reprimand.
The Student subsequently broke off the relationship with M.T. in the Spring, 2005 and told her parents of their sexual relationship. The parents then contacted the District where M.T. was still employed.
In April, 2005, M.T. was suspended without pay by District based upon the parent complaint.
On November 7, 2007, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) filed a Notice of Charges with the Professional Standards & Practices Commission (Commission) and served a copy to M.T. Charges from the Educator Discipline Act (EDA) included immorality, negligence, intemperance, cruelty, incompetence, sexual abuse or exploitation, and violations of the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators (Code of Practices). The violations of the Code of Practices included provisions prohibiting the acceptance of gifts by teachers and prohibiting sexual conduct between a teacher and student. PDE also claimed that M.T. posed an immediate threat to the health, safety, and welfare of students and sought immediate suspension of his certificates.
The Commission appointed a Hearing Officer (HO) who heard three days of testimony from the Student, M.T. and others. M.T. was represented by counsel.
The HO’s recommendation to the Commission include his Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law which determined PDE had met its burden of proof on all but two charges. The Hearing Officer’s recommendation did not find M.T. to have given a prohibited gift to Student and that he was not an immediate threat to students. M.T. filed many exceptions with the Commission. M.T. claimed the technical rules of admissibility of evidence apply during Commission hearings, that his alleged, immoral conduct was not testified to by third party witnesses and that PDE did not offer sufficient evidence of professional incompetence, among other exceptions. PDE asserted M.T. remained an imminent threat to students.
Upon review, the Commission denied M.T.’s exceptions, found him to be responsible on all charges except the gift and immediately revoked his teaching certificates.
Issues Before the Commonwealth Court
Do the technical rules of courtroom evidence apply during an EDA hearing?
What educator conduct constitutes immorality in a relationship with a student?
What educator conduct constitutes lack of professional competence for an educator engaged in a sexual relationship with a student?
Commonwealth Court’S Opinion
Technical rules of evidence followed in courtroom litigation do not apply to a Commission Hearing Officer. The strict rules of evidence practiced in Pennsylvania Common Pleas Courts and US District Courts are not followed. All relevant evidence of reasonably probative value may be received.
Sexual intercourse with a student inside the band room office constituted educator immorality. “Immorality is conduct which offends the morals of the Commonwealth and is a bad example to the youth whose ideals a professional educator or charter school staff member has a duty to foster and elevate.” Third party testimony to the immoral acts was not necessary. Immorality with a student violated EDA Section 9c(1).
M.T.’s professional competence in teaching kids did not appear to suffer during the sexual relationship with the student. Incompetency is a continuing or persistent mental or intellectual inability or incapacity to perform the services expected of a professional educator or a charter school staff member. Absence evidence of failure to prepare for class or uphold assigned duties, the educator was not proven by the preponderance of evidence presented to be incompetent in his actions. PDE failed to carry its burden to prove this Charge.
Immorality of educator student sexual relationship defined in detail. Criteria for professional incompetence explained as well as PDE’s burden of proof before the Commission. PDE must prove elements by preponderance of the evidence: over 50% of the evidence produced exhibits culpability. 2-25-21
M.T. v. PA Department of Education 56 A3d 1 (Pa. Commonwealth Court 2010)
M.T. pro se
Attorney Nicole Werner for Pennsylvania Department of Education
Additional Court Case Summaries on the Thomas Bailey Blog Site
It behooves us to learn more about Pennsylvania case law. Read and share these additional analyses They will enlighten you and may foster additional discussion with colleagues. Feel free to post your own comments on Thomas Bailey’s website.
Slater v. PDE & Professional Standards Commission: If an educator is arrested for new criminal charges alleging conduct which appears to pose a threat to the welfare of students, will their certificate immediately be suspended pending outcome of the new charges?
The final court judgment (Horosko v. Mt. Pleasant Township SD above) is one of the oldest, dating back to 1939, and may be considered the foundation and precedent for current PA school employee regulations and discipline, especially in the confirmation of the following quote from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission of the Pennsylvania Department of Education:
“Professional expectations do not always distinguish between teachers’ on or off-duty conduct. Accordingly, teachers must act in their private lives in a way that does not undermine their efficacy in the classroom, demean their employing school entity, or damage their position as a moral exemplars in the community.”
What you say or do, both inside and outside the classroom, can and will affect your teaching effectiveness, professional reputation, and school employment status! But, if it is ever needed, be sure to know and exercise your rights, obtain the advice of a competent attorney, and avail yourself of due process.
Teachers make as many as 1,500 decisions a day for their classes and students… that’s as many as four educational choices per minute for the average teacher given six hours of class time. Surprised? (Not if you are an educator!) Check out this corroborating research:
Of course it can be exhausting… and as fast as “things” happen, even mind-numbing at times!
What do educators rely on for guidance, a sort of internal “ethical compass” for making these decisions, many of which are snap judgments?
Teacher “chops” (professional experience)
Peer and administrative support
Personal moral code (derived from one’s life experiences and upbringing)
Aspirations, values, and beliefs generally agreed upon by educational practitioners
State’s code of conduct and other regulations, statutes, policies, and case law
Or all of the above?
At this juncture during my workshops on ethics, I usually quote Dr. Oliver Dreon, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Digital Learning Studio at Millersville University of Pennsylvania and one of the authors of the Educator Ethics and Conduct Tool Kit of the Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission:
“From a decision-making standpoint, I tend to look at it from the perspective of Ethical Equilibrium (work by Troy Hutchings). Teachers weigh the moral (personal) dimensions with regulatory ones (the law) with the ethics of the profession… While focusing on consequences is important, I worry that teachers may interpret this to mean that as long as they don’t break the law, they can still be unprofessional and immoral.”
– Dr. Oliver Dreon
From college students participating in their first field observations to rookie teachers (and even veterans in the field), I recommend searching the term “ethics” on the website of your State Board of Education. In Pennsylvania, checkout the following:
Now enters probably the single most valuable document of our time, an all-encompassing philosophy for embracing the highest standards of what it means to be an ethical educator: the Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE), developed under the leadership of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC). With the collaboration of numerous development partners including the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Council of Chief State School Officers, and American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education – to name a few – MCEE is comprised of five core principles (like spokes in a wheel – all with equal emphasis), 18 sections, and 86 standards.
“The purpose of the Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE) is to serve as a shared ethical guide for future and current educators faced with the complexities of P-12 education. The code establishes principles for ethical best practice, mindfulness, self-reflection and decision-making, setting the groundwork for self-regulation and self-accountability. The establishment of this professional code of ethics by educators for educators honors the public trust and upholds the dignity of the profession.”
Although pre- and in-service training on both are essential, the differences between a “code of conduct” and a “code of ethics” are vast. Codes of conduct like the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Pennsylvania teachers are specific mandates and prohibitions that govern educator actions. A code of ethics is a set of principles that guide professional decision making, not necessarily issues of “right or wrong” (more shades of grey) nor defined in exact terms of law or policies. Codes of ethics are more open-ended, a selection of possible choices, usually depended on the context or circumstances of the situation.
“The interpretability of The Model Code of Ethics for Educators allows for robust professional discussions and targeted applications that are unique to every schooling community.”
The music teacher and administrator colleagues with whom I have been privileged to work for more than 40 years are highly dedicated and competent visionaries who focus on “making a difference” in the lives of their students, modeling “moral professionalism” and the highest ethical standards for their classes, schools, and communities, in support of maintaining the overall integrity of the profession.
However, let’s unpack some of “the wisdom” of MCEE as it addresses the rare “nay-sayers” and entrenched teacher attitudes, failing to understand “the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do…” (Potter Stewart) or “doing the right thing when no one else is watching – even when doing the wrong thing is legal” (Aldo Leopold).
Here are sample negative responses, MCEE “exemplars,” and proposed assimilations for thoughtful and interactive peer discussion. Bring these to your next staff meeting or workshop, and apply them to a few mock scenarios (like these from my past blog ).
Principle I: Responsibility to the Profession
The professional educator is aware that trust in the profession depends upon a level of professional conduct and responsibility that may be higher than required by law. This entails holding one and other educators to the same ethical standards.
“I didn’t know it was wrong…”
Section I, A, 1: Acknowledging that lack of awareness, knowledge, or understanding of the Code is not, in itself, a defense to a charge of unethical conduct;
My comment: The old adage, “ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
“What’s the problem? I didn’t break the law!
MCEE Section I, A, 5: Refraining from professional or personal activity that may lead to reducing one’s effectiveness within the school community;
My comment: Any on or off-duty conduct or inappropriate language that undermines a teacher’s efficacy in the classroom, damages his/her position as a “moral exemplar” in the community, or demeans the employing school entity may result in loss of job, suspension or revocation of license, and/or other disciplinary sanctions.
“I’m not a rat fink…”
MCEE Section I, B, 2: Maintaining fidelity to the Code by taking proactive steps when having reason to believe that another educator may be approaching or involved in an unethical compromising situation;
My comment: As a professional with “fiduciary” responsibilities, we must look out for the welfare of our students, proactively protecting them from harm by embracing all provisions of “mandatory reporting.”
“What’s in it for me?”
MCEE Section I, C, 3: Enhancing one’s professional effectiveness by staying current with ethical principles and decisions from relevant sources including professional organizations;
MCEE Section I, C, 4: Actively participating in educational and professional organizations and associations;
Principle II: Responsibility for Professional Competence
The professional educator is committed to the highest levels of professional and ethical practice, including demonstration of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required for professional competence.
“What’s the big deal about standards?”
Section II, A, 1: Incorporating into one’s practice state and national standards, including those specific to one’s discipline;
“Not another ‘flavor-of-the-month’ in-service program!”
Section II, A, 5: Reflecting upon and assessing one’s professional skills, content knowledge, and competency on an ongoing basis;
Section II, A, 6: Committing to ongoing professional development
My comment: Always “raising the bar,” being a member of a “profession” (like medical personnel, counselors, attorneys, etc.) requires the loftiest benchmarks of self-regulation and assessment, ongoing training, retooling, and self-improvement plans, revision and enforcement of “best practices,” and application of 21st Century learning skills.
“I needed to give him credit?”
MCEE Section II, B, 1: Appropriately recognizing others’ work by citing data or materials from published, unpublished, or electronic sources when disseminating information;
My comment: Especially during this period of online/virtual/remote education brought on by COVID-19, we must reference the owners of intellectual property (including sheet music) that we use and abide by all copyright regulations. In general, it is always “best practice” to cite research or authorship “giving credit where credit is due!”
“I’m just a music teacher! Don’t ask me to do anything else!”
MCEE Section II, C, 2: Working to engage the school community to close achievement, opportunity, and attainment gaps;
My comment: We teach “the whole child,” not a specialty or specific content area! I believe our ultimate mission is to facilitate our students’ capacity and desire to learn, inspire self-direction and self-confidence, and foster future success in life.
Principle III: Responsibility to Students
The professional educator has a primary obligation to treat students with dignity and respect. The professional educator promotes the health, safety, and well being of students by establishing and maintaining appropriate verbal, physical, emotional, and social boundaries.
“It’s just a gift…”
MCEE Section III, A, 5: Considering the implication of accepting gifts from or giving gifts to students;
My comment: It is not appropriate to give a gift to a student lacking an educational purpose. In some cases, this may be defined as a “sexual misconduct.” It begs the larger question: “Do you ensure that all of your interactions with students serve an educational purpose and occur in a setting consistent with that purpose?” Also from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission: “Teachers should refrain from accepting gifts or favors that might impair or appear to impair professional judgment.”
“You should never touch a student!”
MCEE Section III, A, 6: Engaging in physical contact with students only when there is a clearly defined purpose that benefits the student and continually keeps the safety and well-being of the student in mind;
My comment: We were told this warning in methods classes. However, as I mentioned in a previous blog here, this “rule” has little support in research or common “best practices.” It has been my experience that on occasion, most elementary instrumental teachers assist their students in acquiring the correct playing posture and hand positions by using some (limited) physical contact. Consoling an upset student with a pat on the shoulder is not out-of-line either. The factors that may contribute to the moment being judged “okay” vs. “inappropriate” boil down to:
Length of time
Frequency or patterns of repetition
Comfort level of the student
Age level of the student
Happening in public
Who started it?
“My students are my friends!”
MCEE Section III, A, 7: Avoiding multiple relationships with students which might impair objectivity and increase the risk of harm to student learning or well-being or decrease educator effectiveness;
My comment: You cannot be their “friend.” You are their teacher, an authority figure that is looking out for them and doing what is necessary (“fiduciary” responsibilities) for their health and welfare… perhaps at times things they do not want you to do. Crossing the teacher/student boundary with familiarity, informality, and being their “confidant” or “friend” are more than just unprofessional acts – they can foster a dual relationship where roles are less defined, an ambiguity that may lead to additional inappropriate actions and educator misconduct.
“He’s weird…” or “He’s not one of us!”
MCEE Section III, B, 2: Respecting the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each individual student including, but not limited to, actual and perceived gender, gender expression, gender identity, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and culture;
My comment: Check your prejudices and personal biases at the door. Being a teacher is all about sensitivity and caring of all individuals – students, parents, staff, etc. Embracing today’s focus on reprogramming community attitudes on “diversity,” an educator daily models the values of empathy, compassion, acceptance, and appreciation, not just settling with the “lower bar” of tolerance, allowance, and compliance!
“Wait ’til you hear what happened in class today!”
MCEE Section III, C, 1: Respecting the privacy of students and the need to hold in confidence certain forms of student communications, documents, or information obtained in the course of practice;
My comments: Gossiping about and “carrying tales” home or in the teachers’ room are serious breaches of the care and trust as well as your fiduciary responsibilities assigned to you on behalf of your students. As for “regulations,” your indiscretion may be a violation of your students’ confidentiality rights (“a federal crime” according to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Grassley Amendment, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). You are only permitted to share information about a student with another teacher, counselor, or administrator who is on a “needs-to-know” basis or is actively engaged in helping this student.
Principle IV: Responsibility to the School Community
The professional educator promotes positive relationships and effective interactions with members of the school community while maintaining professional boundaries.
“Don’t tell my parents!”
MCEE Section IV, A, 1: Communicating with parents/guardians in a timely and respectful manner that represents the students’ best interests;
My comment: I wish I had a nickel every time a student plead with me, “Don’t call my mom!” It is part of “moral professionalism,” your “code,” and good ethical standards to originate meaningful two-way dialogue, and if necessary, confront the parents of underachieving children. I also believe it goes on long way to nurture your relationships in the community if you notify parents when their kid has done something remarkable… “I caught him being good” or “The improvement has been extraordinary!”
“Did you hear what a staff member said about you… in front of the kids?”
MCEE Section IV, B, 1: Respecting colleagues as fellow professionals and maintaining civility when differences arise;
MCEE Section IV, B, 2: Resolving conflicts, whenever possible, privately and respectfully, and in accordance with district policy;
My comment: Before you bring up the matter with your supervisor or building administrator (which you have the right and even responsibility to do, especially if the students hear any improper speech first-hand or that the incidents rise to the level of bullying or aggressive behavior), first confirm the story. Talk to the unhappy team member one-on-one. Be calm and sensitive, but hold your ground: you must assert that his/her behavior/language is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the future.
“Not another TEAM meeting?”
MCEE Section IV, B, 4: Collaborating with colleagues in a manner that supports academic achievement and related goals that promote the best interests of students;
My comment: We work together to insure that all educational goals are met. Open and interactive peer partnerships are helpful in the review, design, and application of new lessons, methods, media, and music.
“I was just teasing her…”
MCEE Section IV, B, 8: Working to ensure a workplace environment that is free from harassment.
My comment: Be extremely careful in the practice of any behavior or language of a kidding, sarcastic, cynical, or joking manner. It can be misinterpreted regardless of your intentions… and it can hurt someone’s feelings. And it is never appropriate or “professional” to “put down” another person.
“Don’t ask for permission… beg for forgiveness.”
MCEE Section IV, C, 3: Maintaining the highest professional standards of accuracy, honesty, and appropriate disclosure of information when representing the school or district within the community and in public communications;
My comment: Yes, I have heard this “view” a lot, advocates of whom will tell you to go ahead and stick your neck out to do something “for the good of the order,” and if needed later, “beg for forgiveness” if you decision is met with disapproval from administration. My advice? Less experienced teachers, run everything through your fellow colleagues (informally) and principal (formally). Don’t fall back on the lame “oops” and “beg for forgiveness.” I may have felt differently when I had three times as many years of experience under my belt than the supervisors who were assigned to “manage” me… but, even then, “venturing out without a paddle” usually did not serve the best interests of the students. There’s no reason to place “the teacher’s convenience” over the safety/welfare of the students. Besides, why not take advantage of the legal and political backup of your bosses if they are kept “in the loop?”
“He’s our preferred dealer and always takes care of us.”
MCEE Section IV, D, 4: Considering the implications of offering or accepting gifts and/or preferential treatment by vendors or an individual in a position of professional influence or power;
My comment: Formerly called “sweetheart deals” with music companies, you are on “shaky” ethical ground (and may also have “crossed the line” violating state laws/statutes) if you negotiate the rights of exclusive access to your school’s or booster’s purchasing. If you have any questions about your school’s policy on outside vendors, seek advice from your district’s business manager.
Principle V: Responsible and Ethical Use of Technology
The professional educator considers the impact of consuming, creating, distributing, and communicating information through all technologies. The ethical educator is vigilant to ensure appropriate boundaries of time, place, and role are maintained when using electronic communication.
“Isn’t use of social media forbidden?”
MCEE Section V, A, 1: Using social media responsibly, transparently, and primarily for purposes of teaching and learning per school and district policy. The professional educator considers the ramifications pf using social media and direct communications via technology on one’s interactions with students, colleagues, and the general public.
My comment: Professional educators’ use of a dedicated website or other social network application enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. and “learn” together. However, using social media for sharing social interactions and personal relationships with your students, parents, and staff is unethical and dangerous. As they say, “a post (or snap) is forever.” Communicating digitally or electronically with students may lead to the blurring of appropriate teacher-student boundaries and create additional challenges to maintaining and protecting confidentiality.
The Final Word
In Pennsylvania (as well as the rest of the country), the statistics on school staff misconduct reports are rising alarmingly. Your own state’s “code of conduct” and the MCEE should help to clarify misunderstandings, but it has been my experience that the majority of educators do not receive regular collegiate, induction, or in-service training on educator ethics or moral professionalism. Luckily, we are fortunate to have access to many mock scenarios (see below) from state departments of education to review/discuss among ourselves common ethical conflicts and “conundrums” dealing with pedagogy, enforcement, resource allocation, relationships, and diversity. We all need to “refresh” our understanding of these issues from time to time and revisit “our codes” frequently to help “demagnetize” (and re-adjust) our decision-making compass.
Please peruse the ethics category of this blog-site for other articles and sample references below.
Empaneling the “Ethic Jury” to Review Mock Case Studies
The study of morality in professional decision-making is essential to pre- and in-service training of music teachers. Our goal should be to reinforce recommendations for the avoidance of inappropriate behavior (or even the appearance of impropriety), and defining and modeling the “best practices” of a “fiduciary” by promoting trust, fostering a safe environment for learning, acting in the best interests of our students, and upholding the overall integrity of the profession.
Full discussions and samples of “the codes” (ethics and conduct), professional aspirations, and government policies/statutes – a proverbial “curriculum” exploring ethics for music educators – have been posted at this blog-site. You should peruse these first before proceeding further:
All of these should be “required” reading. Few of us have ever received a full-blown class or induction program on ethics. Now is the time to study this topic, and as ethics expert Dr. Troy Hutchings would say, to view it through multiple perspectives – “the lens of…”
“Ethos of care”
The purpose of this blog is to provide supplemental materials for personal reflection, possibly inspiring thought-provoking group dialogue during methods classes, professional development workshops, or music staff meetings.
It is more important to know why something is wrong, rather than simply labeling the degree of misconduct or likely discipline action. However, for the purpose of introspection during this exercise, we will first recognize “the problem” presented in each re-enactment. We will use these “color-coded” criteria, and allow “snap judgments” in the simulated evaluation by a “jury of our peers.” Put on your thinking caps! You may be surprised with the incongruities of your first impressions once the likely outcomes of these stories are revealed!
Use this tool to judge the severity of the upcoming case studies.
DEGREES OF MISCONDUCT (from bad to worst)
GREEN (not illustrated) = not a misconduct
BLUE (not illustrated) = inappropriate, unwise, or “bad for appearances” – but no consequences
PURPLE = “Unprofessional” – unlikely to result in serious consequences except possible damage to one’s professional reputation
GOLD = “Immoral” – no guarantee of consequences except may result in lowering the year-end teacher evaluation score, earning a “warning” or “write-up” by the principal/supervisor, or consideration for a job re-assignment
ORANGE = “Unethical” – which will result in discipline action and possible loss or suspension of certificate
RED = “Illegal” – which may add criminal penalties, fines, jail time, etc. All it takes is a felony or misdemeanor conviction to lose your job… and your certificate… even if it is unrelated to your employment or taking place at school.
Essential Ethical Questions
It is important to analyze your response to these reflections during your assessment of each ethical dispute:
What possible issues/concerns might this scenario raise?
How could this situation become a violation of the law, the “Code” or other school/district policies?
In this situation, what are some potential negative consequences for the teacher, students, parents, and/or school staff?
How would this episode affect a teacher’s efficacy in his/her classroom, demean the employing school entity, or damage her position as a moral exemplar in the community?
Melissa S. was a 23-year-old high school music teacher who also supervised the production of the school musical. After months of practices, Miss S. became very close to several seniors including David, the male lead in the musical. She and David began sharing emails and texts with one another. Most of the communications were playfully flirtatious but not overtly sexual. Immediately after graduation, however, Miss S. and David began dating and became sexually intimate. After discovering the relationship, David’s parents filed a complaint against Miss S. with the district superintendent.
My drum major was suspended because she smoked pot and was caught. I needed her to run the half time show we had been practicing for months and so I attempted to convince administration that she had to participate because it was part of my curriculum and part of her grade. I decided the other kids shouldn’t be punished because of her idiocy so I worked hard to keep her in the show.
This assumes the principal will make the ethical decision in allowing or prohibiting the student leader to participate.
Let’s put this choice squarely on your shoulders (where it usually sits). What would you do if you were the one that discovered your soloist, lead, accompanist, or drum major was drinking on a school music trip? What if he or she was the one performer you counted on for an outstanding adjudication?
You walk into the Disney World cafeteria, see your student has a wine cooler on his/her tray sitting at the tables. Since no one else sees you standing there, you walk out as if nothing has happened.
You are taking your high school music department to Orlando. Because of the size of the trip, you have to put it out on bid. One company offers a generous “under the table” deal: “If you choose our travel agency for the Florida trip, we will throw-in the gift of a new conductor’s podium and set of two dozen music stands.” You decide to go with them.
James C. is a middle school music teacher who was arrested for drunk driving. After several months, the teacher goes to court and is convicted of the offense. When the district moves to have Mr. C fired for his conviction, he argues that this offense has no influence over his ability to instruct his students. Also, the episode happened during the weekend on his private time.
Mrs. K is a high school choral director whose husband recently divorced her. During a lesson one day, she breaks down in front of her class. In an attempt to calm the students, she explains her emotional state and discusses the end of her marriage. After school that day, a male student visits Mrs. K to see if she has recovered. The student explains that his parents are also divorcing and he understands her feelings. The student begins stopping in to see Mrs. K more frequently and the pair begins spending more time outside of class supporting each other. Mrs. K’s colleagues start to become suspicious of her relationship with the student and report the teacher’s actions to their principal.
Food for Thought – Suggestive Answers
Please keep in mind my disclaimer, “I am not an attorney, a member of a human resource staff, nor a research scholar or expert on school ethics.” However, although retired, I continue to teach (part-time) and face day-to-day decision-making… now for more than 40 years. These are my responses to the above cases. I welcome your comments, and any input from highly respected leaders in the field of educator ethics like Dr. Troy Hutchings (Chair of Education, University of Phoenix) and Dr. Oliver Dreon (Associate Professor, Millersville State University of Pennsylvania).
RESPONSE TO CASE #
ETHICS VIOLATION:In my opinion, this would likely result in loss of employment and revocation of her certificate. The debate in some areas of the world supports that it may be permissible to have an intimate relationship with a former student as long as it did not start while the student was at school. We have learned that the American Psychological Association has an ethical guideline of non-fraternization for at least two years post-treatment, while the National Association of Social Workers has a one year moratorium for sexual involvement with a client. However, frankly, in the teaching profession, due to the inherent power imbalance that can influence inappropriate relationships between teachers and students or former students – even after graduation: Are either of these models relevant?
ETHICS VIOLATION:Most would say this was a serious noncompliance with the school district’s drug and alcohol policy, violation of the local laws governing underage consumption, and likely breach of your fiduciary responsibility. No decision is a decision… walking away means you condone the behavior. What if the drinker becomes sick or has an accident and gets hurt “on your watch?”
ETHICS VIOLATION:Better check your state’s code of ethics. From the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Practices and Conduct, “No educator is permitted to accept personal or financial gain or advantage (other than their contractual compensation package) through their work in a school system.” Interpretations may disagree on a “true-life” experience: At a music conference, I was invited to a special dinner celebrating the “best clients” by a vendor representative who insisted on picking up the tab. Minimal infraction? Would you change your misconduct rating if the party took place at Hooters? How about at a strip club?
ETHICS VIOLATION:The convicted drunk driver did not win his argument. He probably would lose his job and faced criminal penalties! Although he may still hold his teaching certificate, it is unlikely he will ever be considered for employment as a teacher in any state.
ETHICS VIOLATION:Did you initially interpret this as the choral director being misguided, emotionally immature, and only exhibiting unprofessional conduct by allowing the sharing their mutual feelings and experiences? According to the author of this scenario, after investigation, she was asked to resign from her position, and she complied. She did not lose her certificate… but could have depending on state or district regulations and the extent of her off-school behavior.
Of course, ETHICAL ISSUES are not always black and white… no one will ever agree on one definitive set of moral standards. My purpose here was only to inspire thinking and a fresh perspective on this topic… probably succeeding in creating more questions than answers in your mind.
Definitions and Revisiting MCEE
To summarize, lets review the well-stated foundations of “right or wrong” making up our “ethical equilibrium,” and these concepts that represent the compass of decision-making in education:
Personal Morality: “Personal values and beliefs derived from one’s life experiences… subjective and may or may not align with community mores.”
Regulations of Law: “Policies, statues, and judicial activity that articulate conduct absolutes.”
Professional Ethics: “Professional ethical standards that assist practitioners within situation and systemic contexts in choosing the best course-of-action.”
Professional Dispositions: “Agreed upon professional attitudes, values and beliefs to be held by educational practitioners.”
Finally, at this juncture, it would be most appropriate for you to recap your thoughts and correlate your “judgments” of the above scenarios with the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification Model Code of Ethics for Educators. If you have not read this comprehensive document, “do it now!” You should also review your own state’s code of ethics.
This is all about BALANCE and exercising extreme care and sensitivity in meeting the needs of our students. Keep “fighting the good fight” and your commitment to ETHICS and the highest standards of what E.A. Wynn refers to as “moral professionalism” in his research article, “The Moral Dimension of Teaching.”
Special Thanks to These Sources of Mock Scenarios
Pennsylvania Educator Ethics and Conduct Toolkit by Dr. Oliver Dreon, Sandi Sheppeard, and the Professional Standards and Practices Commission
Nebraska Professional Practices Commission
Connecticut Teacher Education & Mentoring Program
Featured photo credit from FreeImages.com:
“Ethics” by Olivier Le Moal
Remaining photo credits in order from pixabay.com:
Getting Ready to Apply for a Job? It’s Time to Curate Your Social Media!
[Portions of this blog-post were first published in the January 31, 2019 issue of the Collegiate Communique sponsored by the PMEA State Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention.]
Have you ever gone on the Internet and searched for your name? Have you assessed what your image (and “personal brand”) say about you on all the social media platforms?
According to a McAfee family safety blog,in anticipation of future employers researching you and everything with your name on it, you should make a concerted effort to “launder” your online presence.
People are watching you right now. Like it or not — agree with the intrusion or not — you are being Googled, judged, and analyzed by the body of content you’ve posted online. Whether you are applying to a college, for a summer job, or even currently employed, you can bet someone who matters to your future is on your digital trail.
Also recommended by Birdsong, the new “best practice” is to A) clean up any questionable content from all social profiles and B) design your social content in a way that “reflects your best self.” This means you should delete permanently from Facebook and other platforms:
Provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos, or posts
Posts or photos that include drinking or using drugs
Discriminatory comments related to race, religion, gender, etc.
Content that complains about a previous employer or colleague
Posts that are overly cynical, grumpy, or mean
Instead, your profile information should reflect integrity and responsibility, so you should expand or add content that:
Projects a professional image
Shows a friendly, positive personality
Demonstrates that you are well-rounded, with wide range of interests
Models that you have great communication skills
Think the whole “future employers checking your social media accounts” thing is just an annoying urban legend? Think again.
It turns out that one in three employers have rejected candidates based on something they found out about them online.
The McAfee blog really does a good job summing up ten steps to a better online presence:
Make a hit list
Think like the decision maker.
Streamline your selfies.
Review past blogs.
Inventory all social profiles.
Edit your Twitter feed.
Secure names and URLs.
Change your online persona – for good.
Start a career-focused Blog.
There are many samples for that last tip, my favorite from a former student of mine freely sharing his professional website at daviddockan.com.(Use “Music” for the password.) David included his resume, philosophy of music education, employment history, and photo/video samples of his teaching… a very powerful digital portfolio and marketing/branding technique… and of course, he landed his first music teacher job immediately after graduating from West Virginia University!
Employers can learn a lot about you from your resume and interview, but sometimes it takes a little bit more to sell yourself (although there’s a delicate balance between selling yourself and being transparent in the hiring process). Take advantage of the benefits of social media – it’s an often-needed extra step to show what you bring to the table, a way to add flair to your application, and make a lasting impression on your potential employers.
Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “social media” by Alexas_Fotos, “banner” and “tree” by geralt, “laptop” by JESHOOTS-com, “notebook” by FirmBee, “personal” by geralt, “career” by mohamed_hassan, “online” by kreatikar, and “job” by Tumisu.
Regardless of whether you are a first-year teacher, recently hired or transferred, or someone who has many years of experience, we know that little training is provided for handling our daily contradictions or controversies in school ethics. This investigation illustrates several additional obstacles in maintaining appropriate professional and ethical behavior and exploring the application of the moral decision-making “compass” for educators. Here we will rehash more modern-day dilemmas using “mock scenarios” in the workplace, encourage you to reflect and respond to “what would you do?” and even re-orient you to the paradoxes in which you may encounter that may not seem to offer an obvious resolution.
It’s time to put on your “thinking caps!” What are your initial impressions of a few of these “conundrums” or conflicts?
Privacy protection versus “open door” meetings with students?
Acceptance of congratulatory “musical hugs” versus the practice of avoiding all physical contact from students?
To foster meaningful scrutiny and study of the bulleted issues in bold above, we will sort these problems by Principle III “Responsibility to Students” and Principle IV “Responsibility to the School Community” of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) “Model Code of Ethics for Educators” (MCEE): https://www.nasdtec.net/general/custom.asp?page=MCEE_Doc. In addition, whenever possible, a link to a scenario or case study about the subject will be shared. It is recommended that, in a small group of your peers, you view each video/text resource and assess its ramifications on the ethical appearances (professional image) and actions (intent and interpretation). In my opinion, this is the BEST way to study ethical dilemmas. Here are a few key essential questions to help promote in-depth dialogue:
What possible ethical concerns might this scenario raise?
How could this situation become a violation of state law, the “Code” or school/district policies?
In this situation, what are some potential negative consequences for the teacher, student, parents, school staff, and/or community?
How would this episode affect a teacher’s efficacy in his/her classroom, demean the employing school entity, or damage his/her position as a moral exemplar in the community?
CONUNDRUM: Coming home from a successful musical performance, my wife noticed on my tuxedo stains of stage make-up caused by several actors’ “musical hugs.” “Should you let the performers hug you backstage?” she asked, and scolded me to “be more careful!”
“No touch” policies for teachers in schools really do not make a lot of sense. There are many who agree that casual contact like a pat on the back may even be helpful. See:
MY ADVICE: Music teachers “touch” their students all the time; it is part of the natural process of assisting them to hold and play a new instrument. I am not opposed to an occasional celebratory or consoling hug. The factors that may contribute to the moment being judged “okay” vs. “inappropriate” boil down to:
Length of time
Frequency or patterns of repetition
Comfort level of the student
Age level of the student
Being in public
Who started it?
If a child is in distress, pulling him/her aside from the rest of the class and consoling with a light/half/side hug should not be a problem. This issue is one that requires judgement based on common sense – don’t encourage repeated contacts or “get carried away.”
REMEMBER – NEVER GOSSIP! Discussing an incident or behavior concern with another teacher in the hallway between classes or sitting down in the teacher’s room is never advisable, and it is probably illegal! Educators must, at all costs, avoid inadvertently disclosing personal information about the lives or actions of our students “in public.” Even carrying on a conversation with a student in an open or common area that could be construed as a “private matter” may be accidentally overheard, and therefore violate a student’s privacy rights.
EXCEPTIONS to third-party disclosure prohibitions (source):
Other educators or officials within the same school who have legitimate educational interests in the student.
When disclosure of information is necessary to protect the safety and health of the student.
Another school to which a student is transferring.
In order to comply with a judicial order.
Interested parties who are determining a student’s financial aid eligibility.
CONUNDRUM: How do you resolve the apparent contradiction of the recommendation of never holding a meeting alone with a student with the need to provide a safe/secure place to share information?
MY SOLUTION: Confer with your student in a place with sight-lines to the hallway (windows) but sound insulated from hearing the voices inside and/or where there is a high probability of someone interrupting and stopping the conversation.
Responsibility to the School Community
MCEE IV A 1, 2
Study scenarios and articles on INTERACTIONS WITH PARENTS AND STAFF:
CONUNDRUM: You receive a call from an angry parent who wants to know why her daughter was not awarded the lead in the school play. The mother wants a detailed assessment of her child’s skills and advice on how to prepare for future auditions.
MY SOLUTION: This is more common than you would like. This episode compels you to figure out how to wear two unique hats simultaneously – the educator and the judge. Assuming you were clear (in writing) on the requirements of the try-outs, even sharing the blank rubric that would be used for the evaluations, you are now charged to find the “best” person for each lead assignment based on a number of criteria:
Needed solo character parts in the play
Voice part of the candidate
Dramatic skills, which may be further categorized/ranked by oral/voice technique, projection, character development, understanding of text, and stage presence
Type of projection: the potential for acting a comedic vs. romantic role
Height (relevant if partnered with another character)
Of course, these expectations and targeted assessments should have been shared with everyone before the auditions were held.
Parents want “what is right” for their kids and for them to feel successful. You as the director want the ideal cast for the show, providing the best chance for the entire company’s success in performance, but must show that the entire process is impartial, consistent, and fair. As a teacher, it is your responsibility to listen to the students’ and parents’ concerns, but I feel it is not realistic nor appropriate for you to “adjudicate” each actor’s audition. I wrote about this distinction HERE in my last “Fox’s Fireside” blog-post. This is an article you can “pass around” prior to your next tryout.
MCEE IV B 1, 2, 4, 8
CONUNDRUM: Maintaining professional relationships with your teaching colleagues vs. the mandatory reporting of unethical behavior and inappropriate speech/actions.
A member of the staff is “bad mouthing” you, the principal or other school staff members in public. You are assigned to work side-by-side with him, and yet he does not interact with the staff with civility or respect, nor does he support the academic achievement and related goals that promote the best interests of students.
MY SOLUTION: Thankfully, I have had no personal experience with this scenario, but can recommend that you first try to deal directly with the unethical colleague. According to MCEE, professionals must collaborate and maintain effective and appropriate relationships with the faculty, “resolving conflicts, whenever possible, privately and respectfully and in accordance with district policy.” Before you bring up the matter with your supervisor or building administrator (which you have the right and even responsibility to do, especially if the students hear any improper speech first-hand or that the incidents rise to the level of bullying or aggressive behavior), talk to the unhappy team member one-on-one. Be calm and sensitive, but hold your ground: you must assert that his/her behavior/language is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the future.
As for anything that is a violation of the teachers’ code of ethical conduct, you are mandated to report the transgressions of a colleague that threaten the health and safety of the students, especially any observations (or even suspicions) of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse/misconducts.
As for one’s “freedom of expression” to complain about administrators or co-workers, especially in the use of social media, the National Education Association responds:
“Let’s debunk the free speech myth: Many teachers believe they have the absolute First Amendment right to post anything they want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss. After all, they’re on their own time and using their own resources. Sadly, the courts say otherwise.”
As a follow-up, visit additional resources in “Becoming a Music Educator.” Please feel free to leave your comments and links to share other scenarios of ethical “conundrums.”
Facing Those Misconceptions, Dilemmas, and Problems in Daily Professional Decision-Making
As I travel around Pennsylvania presenting sessions on “Ethics for Music Educators” at state conferences, regional professional development workshops, and collegiate music education seminars, as well as writing articles for PMEA News and hosting webinars, I seemed to have stirred up a lot of questions (which is GREAT!) and some confusion (not so good). This “hot topic” has become a lot like “peeling an onion.”
After discovering that few music or other subject area teachers have had formalized ethics training (pre-service or in-service), in fact most never even seeing their state’s “code of ethical conduct,” I feel like this is more complicated than it appears to be. Indeed, here and in other blog-posts, I am endeavoring to “peel the onion” – explore the problem one layer (step) at a time, to thoroughly understand what’s causing the conflict.
As a prerequisite, if you have not read my other articles on ethics from this website, please review the following:
Ethics: moral principles that controls a person’s behavior.
Conundrum: a difficult problem or situation
An ethical conundrum is a problem that causes one to make a decision based on their personal values. It may question an individual’s beliefs of what is right and wrong. Ethical conundrums can range from simple everyday problems to serious illegal infractions.
“Remember this phrase — on the horns of a dilemma.”
“A dilemma… [by definition] is a difficult choice between two (and only two) things or courses of action (as in two horns), both of which have some kind of undesirable consequences.”
“A choice of two things isn’t a dilemma — it may be a conundrum. A choice of one good thing and one bad isn’t a dilemma. A choice of two bad things is a dilemma.”
“A conundrum is about one thing — it’s just a difficult or confusing problem, and nearly always in the sense of having no possible solution or answer, or it’s an unbelievably hard challenge to produce the solution or answer. In short, a riddle.”
– Robert Charles Lee
These examples may be helpful, and were provided on the Quora website:
“We’re stuck in this dilemma of either jumping into shark-infested waters, or staying on board the burning ship and be burned alive.”
The proverb “Die if you do, die if you don’t.”
The classic conundrum facing thousands of students everywhere every year is which college to pick (the ‘one’ thing). College No. 1 has a better faculty but not fun. College No. 2 has a reputation of being more enjoyable and a more socially active student body. College No. 3 has average faculty but always get overseas placements. Which college is better for your future happiness?
A conundrum that resembles a dilemma: Should I work abroad alone for high pay? Or should I stay locally with my family for average pay?
A conundrum that feels like a dilemma: Do I save my mother or my children?
“One professional example of ethics conflicting with morals is the work of a defense attorney. A lawyer’s morals may tell her that murder is reprehensible and that murderers should be punished, but her ethics as a professional lawyer require her to defend her client to the best of her abilities, even if she knows that the client is guilty.”
“Another example can be found in the medical field. In most parts of the world, a doctor may not euthanize a patient, even at the patient’s request, as per ethical standards for health professionals. However, the same doctor may personally believe in a patient’s right to die, as per the doctor’s own morality.”
Sample Situations in Daily Life
“A tree falls in the forest, is there sound?” Apply that “open-ended” philosophical approach to the ethics question, “If you find a $100 bill on the sidewalk and no one is around, what should you do?”
There are a myriad of real-life scenarios from numerous sources that may provide more insight in the adoption of ethical and moral “best practices.”
“Disabled placard abuse is a big problem in downtown San Diego. Handicap parking places are occasionally abused by people who do not possess a disability. These people typically use a family member’s handicap placards, for their own benefit. This leaves no accessible parking places for the people who truly need them. Would you?”
“Involving limited space and sold-out reservations, is it ethical for a hotel to charge someone for late cancellation (family emergency) in the case when no income would be lost because the room is easily sold to another hotel guest?”
“Stealing is a no-no; cheating is bad. When it comes to moral quandaries, the thou shalt-nots are no-brainers.”
“The truly tough dilemmas are those small, more ambiguous ones that you may stumble upon anytime, anywhere.”
“The ethical decisions we confront daily are toughest when there’s a significant downside to making the ‘correct’ choice — or when it’s unclear what that choice is. Here’s how to identify the right thing to do; it’s up to you to do it.”
Selgin offers an interpretation of the morality of these sample questions for day-to-day reflection:
If something at a yard sale is far more valuable than the posted price, do I have to let the seller know?
Is it considered stealing to take pens from a bank? What about extra napkins from a fast-food restaurant?
If a charity sends me free address labels and I don’t make a contribution, is it OK to use them?
Is it unfair to move into better (open) seats at a sporting event or a concert?
My boss gave me credit for a project on which a colleague did most of the work. Should I accept the praise?
If someone tells an offensive joke, is it my responsibility to speak up about it?
“Medical students, before commencing their duties as compassionate caregivers, take the Hippocratic oath, promising to always treat the ill to the best of their ability and to make decisions that are in the best interest of their patients.”
“Law students, before beginning their duties as defenders of the world, take an oath of professionalism, promising to honor and advocate for the community with integrity and cooperation towards others.”
“Now, let’s talk about scientists, the lab-coat wearing, world-saving breed of professionals, most commonly seen in their natural habitat surrounding long-standing rows of benches usually filled with biological and chemical substances that they use to save lives. Where is their oath?”
– Khyati Meghani
Responsible for discovering drugs or other therapies that could stop us from aging, finding the cure for cancer or the common cold, or for inventing miniaturized medical devices that could track the health of vital organs from within the blood stream, medical scientists are entrusted with our lives and must face “awesome” ethical obligations.
“Let’s take a time tour starting in the 1800’s. Meet, Alfred Nobel – a chemist and the inventor of dynamite, after whom the very famous Nobel Prize is named. Although his intention in developing dynamite was to create something more stable than nitroglycerine, and even though he is not responsible for killing millions around the world, he is still accountable for creating the invention that did. But, it is important to mention here that Nobel did establish the Nobel Foundation, which is funded by the wealth that he accumulated during his lifetime.”
“Next, meet Shiro Ishii, a microbiologist who had no ethical conscience while unleashing deadly pathogens on thousands of human research subjects under the delusional idea of creating a bacteriological weapons program.”
– Khyati Meghani
In his blog-post, “Ethical Conundrums,” Khyati Meghani could give us countless other examples where scientists have conducted unethical research either for their love of science or under the delusion that they were helping mankind.
Why don’t we expect all professionals who deal closely with children (especially teachers) to take an oath to adhere to the highest standards of ethics and personal morality? It has always bothered me that educators are the only “fiduciary” whose charges are a “captive audience” and patently uninformed about the subject with little initial “ethics training” or “refresher” workshops. Even my investment counselor has to master (usually monthly) online course work on ethical practices.
In one published study of educator scenarios (Shapira-Lishchinsky, O., Teachers’ critical incidents: Ethical dilemmas in teaching practice, Teaching and Teacher Education 2010, doi:10.1016/j.tate.2010.11.003), the aim was to “explore ethical dilemmas in critical incidents and the emerged responses that these incidents elicit.”
“Teachers deal with many ethical problems in their practice. They encounter issues such as inappropriate allocation of resources, situations in which pupils are being discussed inappropriately, and irresponsible colleagues. When teachers’ sense of proper action is constrained by complex factors in educational practice and decisions are made and carried out contrary to the ‘right course,’ critical incidents which involve ethical conflict and moral distress result.”
– O. Shapira-Lishchinsky
Five main categories of 50 critical incidents were reviewed:
1. Caring climate versus formal climate.
2. Distributive justice versus school standards.
3. Confidentiality versus school rules.
4. Loyalty to colleagues versus school norms
5. Family agenda versus educational standards
“Ethical dilemmas abound in education. Should middle school teachers let a failing eighth-grade student graduate, knowing that if she’s held back, she’ll likely drop out? Should a private school principal condone inflated grades? Should an urban district pander to white, middle-class families — at the expense of poor, minority families — in order to boost the achievement of all schools?”
“Teachers, principals, superintendents, and education policymakers face questions such as these every day. And for many, amid the tangle of conflicting needs, disparate perspectives, and frustration over circumstances, lies the worry that discussing an ethical dilemma with colleagues will implicate you as not knowing how to make the right choice — or as already having made the wrong one.”
– Leah Shafer
Research compiled by educational philosopher Meira Levinson and doctoral student Jacob Fay take up these challenges in their new book Dilemmas of Educational Ethics: Cases and Commentaries (http://hepg.org/hep-home/books/dilemmas-of-educational-ethics). “In detailing the moral predicaments that arise in schools, the researchers also provide a framework for educators to discuss their own dilemmas with colleagues, opening the door to making these conversations more common.”
Their book offers “six detailed case studies of common educational dilemmas, each accompanied by commentaries of varying viewpoints.”
“Case studies offer a safe way for educators to begin recognizing and discussing ethical dilemmas they may face in their own work, since no real person is implicated. ‘We hope that by reading and talking about the cases and commentaries, professional communities can become more practiced and comfortable in having these sorts of discussions, so that when their own particular dilemmas arise, they have the cases and a language to be able to speak about what it is they’re struggling with in their own practice,’ says Fay.”
“What is considered ethical often comes down to determining what is in the best interest of the student. ‘Behaving ethically is more than a matter of following the rules or not breaking the law-it means acting in a way that promotes the learning and growth of students and helps them realize their potential’ (Parkay, 2004, p. 195). When professionals or students engage in unethical behavior, it can damage a good student-teacher relationship. Unethical behavior can ruin trust and respect between teachers and their colleagues. In extreme situations unethical behavior can result in a teacher losing his or her teaching position and/or certification. Resolving ethical dilemmas requires difficult educational decisions that do not always have a clear-cut ‘right’ answer.
Here we present several short vignettes of ethical dilemmas that both veteran and novice teachers have faced. We then ask you to consider the possible solutions for these examples and ask you what you would do if faced with a similar situation. Finally, we analyze each vignette using either the NEA’s or CEC’s code of ethics, identify ethical indicators that cover the situation, and propose a solution for each dilemma based on the code.”
– Jessica L Bucholz, Cassandra L Keller, and Michael P. Brady
Interesting classroom ethical scenarios are offered with recommended solutions. These six “mock dilemmas” are discussed in detail:
Possible learning disability
More to Come
From politicians to movie stars, CEOs to the companies they lead, and especially heinous – teachers, coaches, and other school personnel, ethical misconducts are being uncovered and aired daily in the news. This is too important not to sponsor a frank discussion on ethical standards applied to professional decision-making.
For Part II of this series “Ethical Conundrums Revisited,” we will rehash a few more modern-day scenarios in the school music education workplace, prod you to respond “what would you do?” (at least in your mind) to address these problems, and even explore a few areas you may not think are true “ethical issues.” What are your views on…
Privacy protection versus “open door” meetings with students?
Acceptance of congratulatory “musical hugs” versus the practice of avoiding all physical contact from students?
Refusal of gifts from music industry vendors versus acceptance of “free” offers or dinner meetings?
Use of social media networks to support student learning versus the risk of crossing the student/teacher boundary with inappropriate informal communications?
The sharing of anecdotes or details of an incident that occurred during a class or school activity with family members or colleagues?
The sharing of contact information with outside organizations or businesses?
Identification of individuals (especially the names of students), geographical locations, or specific information about your school district on social media?
Certification of inaccurate or exaggerated reports, such as “fudging” data on time-in and time-out attendance logins?
The exercise of a teacher’s “freedom of speech” rights versus the practice of maligning school administrators or their decisions in public?
The exercise of a teacher’s “freedom of expression” rights in having tattoos, body piercings, or wearing certain fad or provocative clothing versus compliance to school policies and norms?
This is an expanded version of an excerpt from my August 30, 2017 blog-post multi-part series entitled “Ethics for Music Educators II,” crossing over to multiple categories and perspectives for veteran music teachers, new or pre-service educators, and retirees, and touching on the timely issues of ethics, student/teacher safety, professional development, and personal branding.
The Paradox: Online Technology Pitfalls vs. Innovations in Education
This may be hard to believe, but when I started teaching in 1978, “social media” did not exist. If you can imagine this, there was no Internet yet, and most of us did not have computers. Flip or smart phones and tablets were only the subject of science fiction or Star Trek episodes. Guidelines for use or to avoid abuse of social media were not even a “seed” in our imaginations.
When MySpace and Facebook came upon the scene in 2003 and 2004, most school administrators recommended “stay away from these.” The online sharing and archiving of photos initiated the adoption of many other social media apps (Flickr and later Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, etc), which provoked new challenges in maintaining privacy, appropriateness, and professionalism. Danger, danger, danger!
However, very soon after, school leaders starting rolling out revolutionary “technology” such as “teacher pages” and school webpages, online bulletin board services, interactive forums, virtual learning environments like Blackboard and Blended Schools, and other educational tools which encouraged two-way communications among students in the class and the teacher. All of this is here to stay… so how should we use technology safely?
Cons – Negatives – Warnings
Paraphrasing current and past postings from the Pennsylvania Department of Education Professional Standards and Practices Commission Educator Ethics and Conduct Toolkit,social media and other digital communications may perpetuate the following problems:
Communicating digitally or electronically with students may lead to the blurring of appropriate teacher-student boundaries and create additional challenges to maintaining and protecting confidentiality.
Texts, emails, and social media postings are not private, and may be seen by others, forwarded, and/or copied or printed.
Out of context, they may be misinterpreted, appear to be inappropriate, and/or lead to a violation of “The Code.”
It is the responsibility of the teacher to control his or her “public brand,” how he or she wants to be perceived by students, parents, colleagues, and the public. One’s public brand can and does impact perceptions, which in turn can impinge upon effectiveness.
“Let’s debunk the free speech myth: Many teachers believe they have the absolute First Amendment right to post anything they want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss. After all, they’re on their own time and using their own resources. Sadly, the courts say otherwise.”
– National Education Association
There are a lot of pretty scary scenarios out there modeling “real” ethical dilemmas for teachers in the use of emerging technology and social media. If you can, take the time to preview a few of these case studies and videos:
Many have said that Facebook and educators, in particular, should never mix. Although not entirely accurate or perhaps fair to the social media “giant” (you can carefully set-up private, content-specific Facebook groups with restricted access and limited privileges), this seems to be supported by one news story about a Math teacher who loss her job because she failed to notice changes in her Facebook privacy settings, and the other, a clever Facebook vs. teacher presentation by R. Osterman. In my opinion, both of these should be “required viewing” by all college music education majors and current educators in all subject areas.
Pros – Positives – Recommendations
By no means are we implying that all forms of technology are “bad” or “dangerous” for music teachers. For example, some of us have explored the valuable web-based music education platforms of SmartMusic (MakeMusic, Inc.) and MusicFirst, and I can give you a handful of fantastic (free) links to online resources for the teaching of music theory, ear-training, and even sight-singing:
One of my favorite music educator blog-sites is Mrs. Miracle’s Music Room. Her March 2017 post, “Social Media for Music Teachers,” provides excellent insights into the safe and philosophically-sound use of Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. I cannot recall how many times I visited YouTube’s exhaustive library of recordings, sharing with my students both good and bad examples of the orchestral literature we were studying.
“Some people mistakenly assume that social media doesn’t apply to them. Take music teachers. Their work is done in person, one student at a time, right? Not at all. If you’re a music teacher and you don’t already have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a Tumblr blog set up for your music studio, you’re not taking advantage of all of the ways that social media can help your students. As the TakeLessons team notes: the Internet has enabled students to learn music from anywhere, often from teachers who are Skyping halfway across the country.” – Amanda Green
Here are several supplemental resources provided in NAfME Music in a Minuet:
Guiding questions about the above links from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission:
“After examining these resource guides for emerging technology, did any of the guidelines surprise you?”
“Do you envision any problem for you personally in adhering to these guidelines?”
During my sessions on ethics in music education, I quote these ten rules from the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence:
Know your school district or state’s policies on social media.
Never “friend” or “follow” students on your personal accounts.
Keep your profile photos clean
Do not affiliate yourself with your school on a personal profile.
Do not geo-tag your posts with your school’s location.
“Snaps” are forever! Anyone can take a screen shot of your posts.
Never mention your school or the names of staff or students in any post.
Set your Instagram account to private.
Never complain about your job online.
Never post photos of your students on social media
The final word, the most eloquent and comprehensive guide for all of us to use in our daily decision-making in the profession is the Model Code of Ethics for Educators, created by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC).
“The Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE) serves as a guide for future and current educators faced with the complexities of P-12 education. The code establishes principles for ethical best practice, mindfulness, self-reflection, and decision-making, setting the groundwork for self-regulation and self-accountability. The establishment of this professional code of ethics by educators for educators honors the public trust and upholds the dignity of the profession.” – NASDTEC
Here is the specific section applicable to social media and other technology. I cannot imagine that, after all of this, there is anything else left to say!
Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “Internet” by TheDigitalArtist, “notes” by Alehandra, “social-media” by mohamed_hassan, “network” by geralt, “Facebook” by Simon, “Internet” (2) by TheDigitalArtist, “portrait” by Karla_Campos, “woman” by shy_kurji, “smartphone” by TeroVesalainen, and “connection” by TheDigitalArtist.
Just when you thought it was safe to read another of my blog-posts… you bump into another one on ethics and music education!
When my colleague and friend James Kimmel, PMEA District 7 Professional Development Chair, approached me to consider doing an “ethics workshop” for his annual in-service conference (October 9, 2017 at Ephrata Middle School), two questions immediately popped into my mind: “Why is this necessary?” and “Who would want to attend a session on ethics?”
Of course, being retired and having a little more unassigned time on my hands, I took it as a challenge and began some preliminary research.
The first thing I discovered is that almost no one in the public-school music education sector has had formal ethics training (myself included), unless you count a couple thirty-minute segments at a teacher induction or staff in-service program on sensitivity training, nondiscrimination and diversity awareness, anti-bullying or workplace sexual harassment policies, or a review of FERPA (family educational rights and privacy act) and HIPAA (health insurance portability and accountability act) as “ethics!”
Okay all you Pennsylvania music teachers: Before this blog series, did any of you ever see a copy of the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Practices and Conduct for Educators? Prior to working on this project, neither did I, nor did a single band director to whom I spoke at two large fall marching band festivals and several football games! Do you know that earning a teaching certificate from your state and becoming eligible to be hired as an educator means you automatically agree to be legally bound by the prevailing government’s “Code?” The ethical or discipline code of your state will define the proper interactions between the individual teacher, students, schools, and other professionals, and make explicit the values of the education profession as well as regional standards and expectations. Wouldn’t you agree that NOW would be a good time to learn the details of these inherent responsibilities?
What is a Fiduciary?
Educators are among the singular professions which have a “fiduciary” responsibility. The term “fiduciary” can be defined as “a person or organization that owes to another the duties of good faith and trust, the highest legal duty of one party to another, and being bound ethically to act in the other’s best interests.” Joining doctors, lawyers, clergy, and mental health therapists, educators ascribe to the highest standards of training, moral decision-making (“code of ethics”), behavior (“code of conduct”), and self-regulation and assessment of the “best practices” regarding the mastery of skills and subject areas necessary to their field. However, unlike these other professionals, teachers do not receive regular and systematic pre- and in-service training on ethics, and our “clients” are a “captive audience.” Regardless, the duty of all teachers is to act as a fiduciary in their students’ best interest and to create and maintain a safe environment for them at all times.
Ethics Violations in the News
You must have seen the news stories! In a word, the trending statistics of state and USA teacher ethics violations and misconducts are abominable! For example, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) where I taught and currently live, in the year 2015, there was a 200 percent increase in PA educator misconduct investigations (768 reports) compared to the number of complaints filed in 2011 (256). Within PDE disciplinary case resolutions in 2015, 41% resulted in job loss and a permanent revocation or surrender of the teaching certificate.
If your curiosity is a little on the morbid side, you can look up on the PDE website and find the names of more than 1740 educators (“offenders” and their “offenses”) who have violated their ethics and received discipline and/or criminal prosecutions or civil proceedings from March 2004 to June 2017.
Texas had a 27% increase over 2015-17 of alleged inappropriate teacher-student relationships
Kentucky schools reported more than 45 sexual relationships between teachers and students in 2011, up from 25 just a year earlier.
Alabama investigated 31 cases during the year ending July 2013, nearly triple the number it had investigated just four years earlier.
Eric Simpson shared more bad news in the Journal of Music Teacher Education. His study, “An examination of the relationship of teacher certification area to sexual misconduct: Florida as a case study,” analyzed 383 samples of FL teacher discipline cases in 2007-2010 and their area(s) of certification, with these results:
Teachers with multiple-certifications = 35.51%
Music teachers ~5%
Most frequent offense = sexual misconduct 25.77%
But, 60% of the offending music teachers in the sample were disciplined for sexual misconduct!
Can the data get any worse? In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of the Shakeshaft national study by the American Association of University Women, with 9.6 percent of students reporting that they had suffered some form of sexual abuse during their school careers. According to http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2012/02/is_sexual_abuse_in_schools_very_common_.html “the list of such conduct included lewd comments, exposure to pornography, peeping in the locker room, and sexual touching or grabbing. Around one in 10 students said they had been the victim of one or more such things from a teacher or other school employee, and two-thirds of those reported the incident involved physical contact.”
If these numbers are accurate and truly representative of the student population nationwide, 4.5 million students currently in grades K-12 have suffered some form of sexual abuse by an educator or school staff member.
Another area I did not dive into during the last three articles is our legal mandate to report colleagues who violate “The Code,” especially for sexual misconduct. My own state’s regulations (similar to most) are as follows:
“All educators who know of any action, inaction or conduct which may constitute sexual abuse or exploitation or sexual misconduct are now required to file a mandatory report with the Department and shall report such misconduct to his or her chief school administrator and immediate supervisor.”
If you are an administrator, the statute is more wide-ranging:
“Specifically, whenever you believe that an educator is involved in misconduct that implicates his or her fitness to serve children in the schools of Pennsylvania, you should report the misconduct to the Department…”
“Reporting to PDE does not relieve [the administrator] of any other duty to report to either law enforcementand/or child protective services.”
Another moral obligation is to simply look out for our student’s welfare and keep our eyes open for any unusual behavior, conflicts, or inconsistencies.
Always looking for the signs of…
Self-abuse or thoughts of suicide
Signs of neglect
Patterns of abuse
Teachers are required to report any suspicions of child abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol use, and mental health problems.
Most school districts have an internal mechanism of reporting to school counselors or administrators any observations (or suspicions) of these issues… everything from falling asleep in class, being “accident-prone” (lots of unexplained injuries), confirming a high absentee rate, exhibiting mood swings (up and down), and coming to school with blurry or blood-shot eyes, etc. No accusations! You just handover your comments to the authorities, and report on what you see, not necessarily what your interpretations are for the causes of the problems.
Music teachers often work with students in close proximity before or after-school hours, and sometimes on weekends. As a marching band assistant, musical producer, festival chaperone, or trip sponsor, I always had the personal or cell phone number of my building principal in case I needed to reach out for help.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 sets parameters on accessibility and disclosure of students records.
Grassley Amendment (1994) details privacy of student participation in surveys, analysis, and evaluation.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.
Drug and alcohol treatment records of students kept by any institution receiving federal assistance are protected under Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act (1976).
Records of students in special education are affected by the above laws plus Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997).
Here are few additional ethical “conundrums” on which to reflect:
Discussing student information in open or common areas
How many times have you walked through a busy hallway discussing news or concerns about a student with another colleague or family member?
Avoid inadvertently disclosing any personal information about students and staff members “in public.”
Also, one should resist speaking to students in these areas as it could become violation of student confidentiality if overheard.
Sharing information with other colleagues who are not directly related to the student’s situation.
You might be tempted to reveal interesting cases or anecdotes to colleagues… DON’T!
FERPA regulations state that school officials must have a “legitimate educational interest” when sharing information.
Just because someone is employed in the district with you does not mean they have lawful access to student info.
There is a great risk of others passing on this information… like gossip!
Rules of thumb: Ask yourself, “Why am I sharing this information?” and “How will it benefit the student?”
However, you should be aware of exceptions to student privacy concerns.
Reporting of physical abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sexual violence.
Suspicion of serious mental health issues that may result in danger to the student (such as suicide)
On the occasion when a staff member working with a student is unsure how to proceed (e.g. seeking advice on disability)
The “Grandma Litmus Test”
We have talked about many principles in this series on “Ethics for Music Educators.” Here is something about the “process,” an “ethical decision-making model” based on…
“What would grandma think about my action, behavior, or decision” and
“How would I feel if my actions are tomorrow’s breaking news?”
Answer the following questions about the contemplated activity or decision:
Is it legal?
Is it consistent with the profession’s values?
Is it consistent with the teacher’s code of conduct?
Is it consistent with your district’s policies?
Would you be comfortable if this decision was published online or in the newspaper (or made known to your “grandma”)?
Does it feel right? (Is it the right thing to do?)
If you answered “NO” to any one of the questions (1, 3, and 5), do not engage in the contemplated activity and seek additional guidance.
If you answered “YES” to all of the questions (2, 4, and 6), then you may proceed with the contemplated activity. However, if you have any lingering doubts, do not hesitate to seek additional guidance.
“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
– Rear Admiral Mary Brace Hopper, an early computer programmer
Proponents of this belief will tell you to go ahead and stick your neck out, feel free to do something “for the good of the order,” and later “beg for forgiveness” if/when it goes south and your administrators say they do not approve.
This may or may not work, and I cannot label this orientation as “ethical!”
Music teachers are usually the “lone rider” in their building when it comes to doing their job. Music directors, especially those who are involved in extra-curricular activities, are deluged with making many decisions every day… sometimes even on the hour. Few people (models or mentors) will be there to help guide you in your content area.
My advice: Less experienced teachers, run everything through your fellow colleagues (informally) and principal (formally). Don’t fall back on the lame “oops” and “beg for forgiveness.” I may have felt differently when I had twice as many years of experience than the building administrators who were assigned to “supervise” me… but, even then, “venturing out without a paddle” usually did not serve the best interests of the students… There’s no reason to place “the teacher’s convenience” over the safety/welfare of the students, without first obtaining the legal and political “backup” of your bosses. “Better safe than sorry!” (I am running out of cliches!)
“Perception is reality.”
– Lee Atwater
Perceptions/appearances vs. motivation and reality: It means that your behavior and its results matter infinitely more than your intentions.
It is the responsibility of the teacher to control his or her “public brand” – how he or she wants to be perceived by students, parents, colleagues, and the public. One’s public brand can and does impact perceptions, which in turn can impinge upon effectiveness.
My advice: “Forget your rights” and be more aware of your image and how your actions will look to the public. Reputations are hard to restore. Being an effective teacher is all about trust and integrity, and (sorry, one more cliche) “your actions speak louder than words!”
Teaching is the most honorable and rewarding career on this planet. The rewards far outweigh the challenges and additional responsibilities. “Making a difference” in the lives of our music students has always inspired me, and the fact we have to uphold the highest standards in moral professionalism and behavior does not phase me in the least.
The purpose of these blog-posts on ethics, sort of a “refresher” course to reflect on our internal decision-making compass, was to reinforce Lawrence Kohlman’s sixth stage of moral development – principles of conscience – and the “best practices” of professional attitudes, values, and beliefs that guide the problem-solving we face in their daily work. Hopefully this content will promote thought-provoking discussion about doing what’s right when no one is looking… because, your mother would say, “You know better!”
Please feel free to comment… I would appreciate hearing from you!
Photo credits (in order): from FreeImages.com: “Ethics” by Olivier Le Moal; from pixabay.com “Ethics” by 3dman_eu, “Club” by qimono_eu, “Cube” by 3dman_eu, “Questions” by geralt_eu, “Confidential” by HypoArt, “Woman” by geralt_eu, “Board” by geralt_eu, “Males” by 3dman_eu, “Business” by Maialisa.
Like professionals in other disciplines, music educators are expected to observe certain behavioral standards. In addition to teaching musical skills, concepts, and context, music educators are also expected to protect the welfare of children, serve as trustworthy stewards of public property, and generally behave responsibly and professionally within the context of the school and local community. Despite these expectations, many music educators have engaged in unprofessional, unethical, or illegal conduct.
― Joelle L. Lien, “Ethical Dilemmas of In-Service Music Educators” in Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, 2012.
Music teachers often have busy professional lives, many spending large amounts of time back at school for extra-curricular activities, individual practices, ensemble rehearsals, events from marching band to musicals, and travel to/from festivals, conferences, concerts, adjudications, and itinerant school assignments. Also unique is the fact that some music educators participate in after-school programs and see their “charges” as much or more often their parents. These once-in-a-lifetime musical opportunities inspire the growth of student artistry, leadership, creative self-expression, and teamwork. They also expose music teachers to more frequent contact with potential ethical issues ― inconsistencies, dilemmas, and problems.
From a “crisis of conscience” to political nightmares, there are no easy right or wrong answers to many of these ethical “conundrums!” Full discussion and disclosure with the goal on addressing “the needs of the students” are mandatory with the quick educational sketches depicted in the following scenarios.
Administrators, parents and public’s interpretation of “separation of church and state” or “perceived emphasis” on Holiday vs. Christmas music (with sacred text) at December concerts e.g. Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, Hatikvah, and/or John Rutter’s Oh Come All Ye Faithful & Joy to the World as the finale
Defending a music educator’s grading criteria: daily performance evaluation vs. lesson or concert attendance (pass/fail?) and other non-musical requirements
Identification of the poorest singers or instrumentalists in our ensembles and limiting their enrollment or participation in ensembles that regularly attend adjudications or competitions: “Do the needs of the few less proficient performers out-weigh the benefit of the many?” or “Are our ethical obligations met if a large non-auditioned ensemble is open to all and an auditioned group is provided for exclusive use of the best students?”
Rationale for the unbiased selection of solos, leadership positions, drum majors, leads in the musical, etc. for the music program: perception of teacher favoritism or the “rights of seniority” vs. “best one for the job!”
Incidents relating to a music teacher’s struggle over whether to be “blatantly honest” regarding a student’s chances at a music career: “Is it ethical to allow a private music student to continue the study of music performance based on their desire, when it is clear they do not have the talent, work ethic, or overall aptitude to succeed in the music profession?” The other side of this issue, can we ever say, “You do not have enough talent to go into music.”
Maintaining balance between the pursuit of competitive performance excellence (repetitive programming of a limited number of major works) with appropriate teaching practice (survey, reading, and performance of a wide variety of selections in the folder)
Quandary whether it is ever in the students’ best interest to ignore an existing policy or rule, for example, staff noncompliance of “no smoking on campus” or other school regulations.
Holding a student accountable for breaking a law or rule, when doing so would jeopardize a musical group’s performance: “My drum major was suspended because she smoked pot and was caught. I needed her to run the half time show we had been practicing for months and so I convinced administration that she had to participate because it was part of my curriculum and part of her grade. I decided the other kids shouldn’t be punished because of her idiocy so I worked hard to keep her in the show. In my heart, I would have preferred she not participate, but not at the expense of the other kids’ performance.”
“Fair use doctrine” and photocopying music
It should be mentioned here that there are a number of misconceptions regarding the Copyright Law:
Copyright law does permit copying music in the emergency of an imminent concert date, but it also requires that the same music be purchased regardless of whether it is needed after the performance.
The law prohibits purchasing music but then making copies to preserve the original scores.
The law does not permit photocopying more than 10% of a complete work, even for educational purposes.
Out-of-print music may not be photocopied without explicit permission granted by the publisher of the work.
Compositions with an expired copyright or that never had a copyright are considered “public domain” and are free to copy.
Finances and Resource Allocation Problems
Competition for the enrollment of the same students (band/string/choir) within the music department
Private lesson prerequisite for participating in an honors ensemble, music director giving them, and charging a fee for his/her “off-school” time
(Lack of) equity in school budget allocation (inconsistencies within different academic areas and within the music department itself, not defending per-pupil costs and enrollments, etc.)
Receiving special favors or kickbacks from the music industry (touring companies, riser/music stand distributors, instrument rental companies, etc.): “If you choose our travel agency for the Orlando trip, we will throw-in the purchase of a new conductor’s podium and music stands for your band room!”
Scrutiny and sample audits of music educators and other school professionals in this category have included the following:
Accuracy of teachers’ absence reports and itinerant staff sign-ins to their daily building assignments: “I saw the music teacher eating lunch at a local restaurant.”
Balancing of school purchase orders and activity fund invoices with existing instrument, equipment, or music inventory
Management of school activity funds (tickets, marching band shoes/accessories, honorariums, and “under the table” compensations)
Inspection of music libraries for evidence of illegal photocopying
Problems in Relationships
Perception of “being knifed in the back“ by colleagues teaching other academic subjects (advising students to drop music)
Disagreements with administrators on “the right thing to do” (everything from grading to attending PMEA workshops)
Incidents involving gossip or divulging confidential information about students
THE BIG BOO-BOO: Dual or conflicting relationships and inconsistent maintenance of clear, responsible, and professional boundaries between teachers and students. Most of the incidents in violation of “crossing the line” of “student-teacher boundaries” would be complications that arose when the teacher-student relationships became “too close.”
Was Mr. Holland a hero or a villain in the 1995 movie Mr. Holland’s Opus? Certainly, many would agree that the acclaimed motion picture starring Richard Dreyfuss as “Glenn Holland” depicted a struggling composer who reluctantly becomes a teacher and eventually learns the value of his profession and his family. However, many say he is a model example of the “slippery slope” of blurred student-teacher boundaries and that he seriously breached the ethical standards of teachers.
It wasn’t Mr. Holland’s in-class performance that concerns Troy Hutchings, director of Student Services in Northern Arizona University’s College of Education and a faculty member in the college. It’s his relationship with Rowena, one of his students. In a famous scene at a bus stop, Mr. Holland and Rowena kiss.
“He should be fired,” Hutchings said. “That’s sexual misconduct—a violation of his fiduciary position.”
Mr. Holland’s situation isn’t atypical. The Richard Dreyfuss character had a troubled marriage and a difficult home life. “Right or wrong, he found something with his students that he felt he didn’t have at home,” Hutchings said.
If you have not had the occasion to read Case Studies in Music Education by Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head, it would be a valuable aid to “facilitate dialogue, problem posing, and problem solving” among pre-service (and current) music teachers. Using the format of Introduction, Exposition, Development, Improvisation, and Recapitulation known by all music professionals, each chapter presents a scenario with a moral dilemma that many music educators face in the daily execution of their teaching responsibilities.
How should a music teacher balance learning and performing? What is the best way to handle an angry parent? What are the consequences of the grades teachers assign? What are the best ways to discipline students? How should teachers relate to the administrators and to other teachers? The emphasis here is not on the solution, but on the process. There are many viable approaches to nearly every obstacle, but before any meaningful long-term solutions can be made, teachers must identify their own personal philosophy of music education and recognize those traits that are admirable in another’s style.
―Excerpt from back cover of Case Studies in Music Education, Second Edition, by Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head
Scenarios: How Would You Judge These “Misconducts?”
For additional examples of ethical issues in education, try these links. Personally, many of these fictional video reenactments are hardcore and very painful to view… but may shed some light in any discussion of teacher (mis)behavior: actions from simply inappropriate, unwise, or “bad for appearances” to a range (from bad to worst) of unprofessional, immoral, unethical, and illegal conduct. Some of these stories you will agree should be instantly labeled as the highest degree of unethical practice ― actual “crimes against children” and should invoke punishment if found guilty ― while others may lack clarity and make it difficult in arriving to a consensus.
If you are sharing this article within a group (induction, staff meeting, in-service, etc.), besides selecting the degree of misconduct, you may also want to reflect on the following questions (and also peruse the “essential questions” following the conclusion below.)
What possible issues/concerns might this scenario raise?
How could this situation become a violation of the law, the “Code” or other school/district policies?
In this situation, what are some potential negative consequences for the teacher and the student?
From the Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission Ethics Toolkit:
Keep in mind, discussions about any scenarios of possible educator misconduct should be viewed through the lens of an ethical framework for professional decision-making, not just violations of regulatory policies resulting in the consequences of disciplinary action, revocation of teaching certificate, and/or criminal penalties. As mentioned before (“Ethics for Music Educators – Part I and Part II”), please review Troy Hutchings work:
After culling through a myriad of research (see below), I summarize with a few of my quick “common sense” recommendations which I offer at music teacher conferences or in-service workshop presentations. What are your thoughts on these?
Never put anything in email, text, writing, or anywhere on the Internet that can come back to haunt you.
Do not engage in gossip about other students or professionals.
Avoid unofficial/unsupervised meetings or off-campus personal fraternization with students.
Do not transport individual students.
Do not share photos or personal information on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Gab, etc.).
Avoid physical contact with a student (never touch, hug, hold, push, etc.).
In your presence, allow no harassment or speech/language that is of a sexual nature or can be misinterpreted.
Do not provide closed-door counseling.
Do not give gifts to your students.
Report serious medical issues to the authorities (bulimia, abuse, alcohol-use).
Report any suspected professional ethics violations of colleagues to administration.
The purpose of this three-part blog-post on “Ethics for Music Educators” and studies like “Ethical Dilemmas of In-Service Music Educators” by Joelle L. Lien in Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, was to investigate the kinds of ethical problem-solving music educators face in their daily work and to promote thought-provoking discussion about these matters. Now it is your turn to face these critical issues and/or incidents, openly investigate and illuminate philosophical inconsistencies within your institutions, associations, schools, and/or colleagues, and develop your own “iron-clad” professional code of ethics that truly addresses the daily work of your music education practice.
Additional Discussion: Essential Questions for All Educators
What are the ethical responsibilities of teachers?
How do ethics inform a teacher’s personal and professional actions?
How does the PA Code of Professional Practices and Conduct (or your state’s educator code of conduct) communicate standards for appropriate behavior for teachers?
What does it mean to be a “moral exemplar” or “role model” in the community?
What are the expectations of educators with respect to accumulating either personal or financial gain or advantage (other than their contractual compensation package) through their work in the school system?
How can a teacher foster positive, professional relationships with students?
How is the appropriate teacher-student boundary defined?
What are the professional expectations of teachers with regard to their “electronic” interactions with students?
Why and how should teachers control their public “brand” or persona?
How do teachers’ use of emerging technologies such as social networking, cell phones, etc., present challenges to maintaining appropriate student-teacher boundaries?
What are the professional expectations for working with diverse populations of students, parents and colleagues?
How does your classroom environment promote respect for your students’ individual needs and backgrounds?
What are the professional expectations of teachers regarding their relationships with colleagues?
How can a teacher foster positive, professional relationships with colleagues, parents, and the community?
Special Thanks and Credits for This Three-part Blog-Series
Pennsylvania’s Educator Ethics and Conduct Toolkit by Dr. Oliver Dreon, Sandi Sheppeard, PA State System of Higher Education, and the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission
Nebraska Professional Practices Commission
Connecticut’s Teacher Education & Mentoring Program
Lien, Joelle L. (2012). Ethical Dilemmas of In-Service Music Educators. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education
References for Further Research
Abrahams, Frank and Paul Head. (2005). Case studies in music education (2nd ed.). Chicago: G.I.A.
Allan, J. (2011). Responsibly Competent: Teaching, Ethics and Diversity. Policy Futures in Education, 9(1), 130-137.
Assaf, L., Garza, R., & Battle, J. (2010). Multicultural Teacher Education: Examining the Perceptions, Practices, and Coherence in One Teacher Preparation Program. Teacher Education Quarterly, 37(2), 115-135.
Barbieri, Susan M. (2002). An elegy for ethics? Strings 16(8): 62–67.
Bowman, Wayne. (2001). Music as ethical encounter. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 151: 11–20.
Brandenburg, Judith B. (1997). Confronting sexual harassment: What schools and colleges can do. New York: Teachers College Press.
Brooks, David (April 17, 2015). When Cultures Shift. New York Times.
Campbell, E. (2003). The Ethical Teacher. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Ehrensal, P., Crawford, R., Castellucci, J., & Allen, G. (2001). The American Melting Pot Versus the Chinese Hot Spot. in J. Shapiro & J. Stefkovich (Eds.), Ethical Leadership and Decision Making in Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Elliott, David J. (1995). Music matters: A new philosophy of music education. New York: Oxford University Press.
Fibkins, W. L. (2006) Innocence Denied: A Guide to Preventing Sexual Misconduct by Teachers and Coaches. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Flusser, Victor. (2000). An ethical approach to music education. British Journal of Music Education 171(1): 43–50.
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Special thanks and credits go to Dr. Oliver Dreon, Associate Professor at Millersville University (in Pennsylvania), and one of the authors of the Pennsylvania’s Educator Ethics and Conduct Toolkit,the source of much of the research, quotes, and perspective of this three-part series.
Photo credits (in order) from FreeImages.com: “Ethics” by Olivier Le Moal, “Colorful Xylophone” by Henk L, “Listening to Music” by Ned Horton, “Music 3” by Carol Kramberger, “Music” by Ricardo Vasquez, “Parade Band” by Sarah DeVries, “Girl with Guitar” by Stacy Brumley, “Kids Singing Christmas Songs” by Ned Horton, “Playing Harp” by Gerrit Prenger, and “Brass Tubas” by Aron Kremer