Model Code of Ethics for Educators

Don’t you love this quote from TeachThought?

“Teaching isn’t rocket science; it’s harder!”

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?

  • Educational background
  • 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
  • Professional ethics

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.”

MCEE Framing Document

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.”

Troy Hutchings, Senior Policy Advisor, NASDTEC

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.

http://pimaregionalsupport.org/event-2610673

“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;

My comment: Keeping up-to-date and current, we are fortunate to avail ourselves with the exhaustive tools and resources of media, music, and methods provided by groups like the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association and National Association for Music Education.

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;

My comment: As professionals, we should volunteer to help write our school’s courses of study, content units, and learning goals for the subjects we teach, and take advantage of the National Core Arts Standards, the PMEA Model Curriculum Framework, and the state’s standards.

“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:

  • Intent
  • Setting
  • Length of time
  • Frequency or patterns of repetition
  • Comfort level of the student
  • Age level of the student
  • Happening in public
  • Who started it?
busyteacher.org

“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.

PKF

Resources

PIXABAY.COM GRAPHICS:

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

On the Road Again…

PA_Turnpike_Commission_logo.svgI hate the Pennsylvania Turnpike… but I’ll get over it!

Over the 43+ years that I’ve been involved in music education conferences starting in college and attending our annual events in Lancaster, Hershey, Valley Forge, and everywhere else, I have used this “blessed” road.

Oh, it’s much better now. There are more stretches of 70 mph speed limits, and even the rest stops and restaurants are improved than they were 10 and 20 years ago. However, the twisting-twining roads, usual “bad weather” (why does it always rain or snow during the state conference?), need to jockey for position with all those large tractor-trailer trucks, etc. always challenge my nerves and patience.

Hey, it’s what we do. And I’ll never give it up.

The annual trek for acquisition of professional development remain such a critical element for self-improvement, program assessment, and personal enrichment. The annual spring and summer conferences of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association offer an incredible depth of new materials, methods, and perspective, not to mention the all-so-essential networking, “catch-up with colleagues,” and collaboration of ideas.

As they say in the movie Shawshank Redemption (1994), “get busy living or get busy dying.” In this business, we have to look forward, seek innovation and reinvention, “build a better mouse trap,“ and absorb advice from “the latest and greatest” clinicians and “people on the move.” That’s how you GROW!

For more than four decades, I have never attended a day of professional development or a conference that I didn’t learn a myriad of new things, feel refreshed and recharged, and return to “make a difference” in my classroom, my school, and my program.

pmeaSoon I will be attending my 51st PMEA conference (counting springs and summers). I always feel a little nostalgic this time a year when I recollect all of those PMEA District, Region State, and All-State festivals, the latter held in conjunction with the music educators conference. I’m also remembering all the times I took my students to these events, capturing memories of specific individuals, singing in their choral parts in the car, swapping old stories about previous orchestras, choirs, and conductors, and providing a few last-minute tips on how to take auditions.

Now that I’m retired, my time is more devoted in making presentations and sharing a portion of what is now a vast vault of hard-won knowledge, skills, and experiences in order to help my colleagues with their unique situations and problems. They say that “work” provides us with the three essential elements of purpose, structure, and community. Even in retirement, participating in PMEA provides me all these things and the chance to continue to interact with like-minded and committed music educators, literally for the good of the profession.

In my capacity as PMEA state retired member coordinator, I sponsor a breakfast meeting prior to the Friday morning sessions at the annual spring conference, and I have the pmea conferenceprivilege of keeping “in tune” with fellow retirees, active practitioners, and even members of our PCMEA pre-service music teachers. This has stimulated my mind, kept me current, made me a better listener, and fostered a lot of moments of satisfaction knowing that I can still help dedicated professionals in the career that I devoted most of my life.

For those of you who have never attended a PMEA spring conference, shame on you. The annual state-of-the-art music teacher clinics, music industry exhibits, keynote presenters, and “best in the state” performances are provided to inspire you and “recharge your batteries.” Take a few personal days and see what’s up. For Pennsylvania music educators during April 19-21, 2018, we are at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (For a schedule of sessions, concerts, and meetings, go to https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/2018-Conf-Schedule-from-Spring-News-edit-3.26.pdf.) Next year, we will convene in my hometown, Pittsburgh, a combined in-service conference with the biennial NAfME Eastern Division.

Lancaster-City-Marriott

Finally, for those of you who have retired from day-to -day teaching of music classes, going to PMEA spring and summer conferences also offers you the opportunity to explore our fine state, visit historical sites, taste the cuisine, soak up the landscapes, and see the unique attractions in each city. Lancaster is a great place to take excursions. Did anyone suggest “road trip” for the grandchildren? Here are a few of the local (family-friendly) attractions you could “squeeze around” the official PMEA-scheduled events:

Pittsburgh_skyline_panorama_at_night

When you plan to come to Pittsburgh during the first week of April 2019, I want you to take an extra day if you can and enjoy our cultural attractions, sports events in one of the three stadiums, landmarks like the Blockhouse, Fort Duquesne, Point State Park, and the three rivers themselves, and go to places like the Carnegie Science Center, Andy Warhol Museum, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, etc.

So much to do and so little time…

PKF

 

You are cordially invited to…

MM1

…a PMEA session for soon-to-retire and retired music teachers

MM2

 

© 2018 Paul K. Fox