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, you’re in the home stretch now! You are within weeks of a long vacation break and the chance to rest, refresh, recharge, rewind, and rejuvenate. After what COVID-19 dished out to us, you deserve some time off! Here comes much-anticipated trips, family visits, sleeping in, and going dormant for at least 2-3 weeks!
However, most music educators never totally shut down. We seek out new enrichment opportunities by attending conferences or music reading workshops, researching new methods, and “retooling” for our lessons ahead.
Modeling the annual Peanuts comic strip’s January theme of Lucy Van Pelt assigning Charlie Brown a long and unwanted list of New Year’s Resolutions, yours truly (a retired teacher with a lot less stress) is about to do the same and recommend YOU kick off your shoes, climb into a comfortable lounge chair, tune out all extraneous noise and media distractions, and crack open some “serious summer reading…”
Here are my three favorite books for the season to take with you when you go to the beach or sit by the pool!
In keeping with an alliteration of all those “r’s” to promote healing and health during this “recess,” take time to prepare for 2021-2022 and reflect on and restock your reservoir of resilience, robustness, and resourcefulness!
S is for “SEL”
Yes, the values and life skills of emotional/mental/social “balance” begin at home. But the expectation is that schools and teachers are always relied upon to be the “safety net” – pick up the pieces or fulfill the needs not provided at home. And it should not have taken a pandemic for us to discover how important social emotional learning (SEL) is to the health, wellness, and success of every child (and their family members) we serve in our classrooms, ensembles, lessons, and after-school programs.
“Music educators are in a prime position to help students become socially and emotionally competent while at the same time develop excellent musicianship. For every child to be successful in the music classroom, teachers need to be aware of the whole student. How do music educators create success when students every day struggle with social awareness, bullying, communication, problem solving, and other challenges? This pioneering book by Scott Edgar addresses how music educators can utilize Social Emotional Learning (SEL) to maximize learning in the choral, instrumental, and general music classroom at all levels, and at the same time support a student’s social and emotional growth.”
— back cover of Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music
“Finally! Thank you, Scott Edgar, for your willingness to walk boldly into this often trodden, but rarely addressed aspect of music education you have rightfully labeled social emotional learning. For every music educator, from preschool through a PhD program, we know the opportunity to “develop the whole person” is right in front of us each and every day. Where else in the academic community is there such a perfect forum that cultivates both the cognitive and effective growth of those involved? Ultimately, the rehearsal room/music classroom becomes a society within society, and the skills needed to grow and succeed at the highest levels are simultaneously offered in content and context. And yet, there are very few resources to guide the mentor in a positive, productive fashion. Now there is and this book is a powerful blueprint leading us to a worthy outcome and more.”
— Foreword by Tim Lautzenheiser for Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music
You have a wide variety of choices to explore this topic, and all of these are from Scott Edgar!
The NAfME Professional Learning Community: Music Education and SEL – An Advocacy Tool for Music Educators accessible as a video: https://vimeo.com/426070325
Music for All webinar series:
Episode 1 – Teaching Music Through Social Emotional Learning – Composing with Heart hosted by Scott N. Edgar with guest presenters Brian Balmages, Brandon Boyd, Richard Saucedo, Alex Shapiro (composers) and Bob Morrison https://youtu.be/6HIbK23TmaE
Episode 10 – Teaching Music Through Social Emotional Learning – Narwhals and Waterfalls hosted by Scott N. Edgar with guest presenters Paige Bell and Adrien Palmer: https://youtu.be/BlbxX1DP-5c
Chapter 2: Socialization in the Music Classroom by Jacqueline Kelly-McHale
Chapter 3: Bullying in the Music Classroom by Jared Rawlings
Chapter 4: Music Educators Are Not Counselors
Section Two – Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Music Education
Chapter 5: Self-Awareness and Self-Management in Music Education – Self-Discipline and the Music WIthin
Chapter 6: Social-Awareness and Relationship Skills in Music Education – Sharing and Communicating Through Music
Chapter 7: Responsible Decision-Making in Music Education – Problem Solving Through Music
Conclusion: The Heart of Music Education – Our Common Bond
SEL – the new “buzz word?” What is Social and Emotional Learning?
“Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” — Collaborative for Academic, Social, & Emotional Learning
Social emotional learning describes the development of skills in three domains: self, others, and responsible decision making.
Self-awareness skills such as ability to identify and recognize emotions
Self management skills such as perseverance in the ability to manage impulse control
Relationship skills such as cooperation, empathy, and respectful communication
Social awareness skills such as the ability to recognize diverse thoughts and opinions.
“Responsible decision-making” includes:
Behavioral skills such as situation analysis, anticipating consequences and generating alternative solutions.
Cooperative skills such as balancing personal in group expectations.
The three key pillars of SEL:
Probably the best conclusion I have ever read about the value of SEL in the arts comes from Scott Edgar in the last section of his book:
“The music classroom is a melting pot of students from different backgrounds, musics of different cultures, varied personalities, and diverse values. All of this diversity is united under the common bond of music… Music classrooms, possibly more profoundly than any other academic setting, can help students and teachers cooperate to recognize diversity, engage in respectful dialogue to resolve conflict, and empathetically respect human dignity, because this is how music has functioned for centuries. Music classrooms are social because making music is, has, and always will be a social activity. In a time when there are so many divisive forces, music and music education can be a powerful uniting weapon. The tenets of SEL interwoven into a musical education strengthens both entities. Emphasizing self- and social-awareness makes music education richer and more personal. Music education brings humanity and culture into a world of personal and interpersonal interactions.”
Seven Teachable Skills to Cultivate & Nurture THRIVERS
The latest book by Michele Borba, Ed.D., Thrivers – The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, is a definite must-read from cover-to-cover.
“Michele Borba has been a teacher, educational consultant, and parent for 40 years – and she’s never been more worried about kids than she is right now. The high-achieving students she talks with every day are more accomplished, better educated, and more privileged than ever before. But the old markers of success (grades, test scores) aren’t what these kids need to thrive in these uncertain times – and they know it. They’re more stressed, unhappier, and struggling with anxiety, depression, and burnout at younger and younger ages – “We’re like pretty packages with nothing inside,” said one teen. Thrivers are different: they flourish in our fast-paced, digital-driven, ever-changing world. Why? Dr. Borba combed scientific studies on resilience, spoke to dozens of researchers/experts in the field, and interviewed more than 100 young people from all walks of life, and she found something surprising: the difference between those who struggle and those who succeed comes down not to grades or test scores, but the seven character traits that set Thrivers apart (and set them up for happiness and greater accomplishment later in life).”
Although it is generally marketed as a guide for parents (and grandparents), this is a perfect “program and process” for everyone who serves as youth caregivers and educational professionals. Borba prescribes these steps to use the book with the above evaluation tool:
Assess your child’s character strengths: self-confidence, empathy, integrity, self-control, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism.
Tally up the points, prioritize his needs, and address initially the one or two traits receiving the lowest score.
Read each chapter of “evidence-backed strategies and skills” which can be easily transferred and taught to your child from preschool through high school.
Motivate and help your child to adopt each character strength “as a lifelong habit to optimize his potential in thrive.”
Choose one ability a month, focus on it, and “practice it with your child a few minutes a day until he can use it without reminders.”
For teachers, this is a wonderful “soft curriculum” for nurturing these seven essential personal traits, each broken down into “character strength description,” “abilities to teach,” and “outcomes.” It will become apparent to you that these are directly related to SEL.
Besides the character strengths (#1 above), the reader is introduced to several revised definitions and new acronyms that may help to reshape our perspectives for teaching kids (these are a few samples): C.A.L.M. (chill-assert-look strong-mean it – p. 239), C.A.R.E. (console, assist, reassure, empathize – p. 90), comebacks (p. 240), creativity (p. 178), C.U.R.I.O.U.S (child-driven-unmanaged-risky-intrinsic-open-ended-unusual-solitude, p. 175), digital limits (p. 78), emotions (p. 76), goals (p. 209), gratitude (p. 86), growth mindset (p. 205), micromanaging (p. 171), mindfulness (p. 133), moral identity (p. 148), multitask (p. 110), “the four P’s of peers, passion, projects, and play” (p. 163), parenting styles (dysfunctional) – “enabler,” “impatient,” “coddler,” “competitor,” “rescuer” (p. 127), triggers (p. 121), self-esteem (p. 33), T.A.L.E.N.T. (tenacity-attention-learning-eagerness-need-tone – p. 39), and well-rounded (p. 36).
Activities throughout the book are categorized for age-suitability: Y = young children, toddlers, and preschoolers; s = school-age; t = tweens and older; a = all ages.
In the final pages of the book, Borba poses some excellent group discussion questions to facilitate a thorough review of her work. A few of these especially resonated with me:
Do you think raising children who can thrive today is easier, no different, or more difficult than when your parents raised you? Why?
What influences children’s character and thriving development most: peers, media, education, parents, pop culture, or something else?
Which of the seven character strengths are more difficult to teach to children today? Why?
What kind of person do you want your child (or your student) to become? How will you help your child become that person?
What are some of the sayings, proverbs, or experiences you recall from your childhood that helped you define your values?
[As a teacher] what would you like your greatest legacy to be for your [students]? What will you do to ensure that your [children] attain that legacy?
Her specific anecdotes, object lessons, and research for each character strength are priceless!
LOVE the Job, LOSE the Stress
In my “New Year’s blog” posted on December 29, 2020, I shared my advice on “how to make a difference in 2021” and told readers to find their own good role models and “positive gurus” to sustain their vision, motivation, and drive throughout the year.
Someone who has recently become inspirational to me is the wonderfully uplifting Lesley Moffat, probably an expert on the search for “mindfulness” in personal life and even during her band warm ups. In my opinion, her transformative stories provide the roadmap for happiness and wellbeing! She now has published two books (you need to read both) – I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me, and Love the Job, Lose the Stress, and if you are still teaching music full-time, you need to peruse her website: https://mpowerededucator.com/.
Now her latest book ties in all of the above enrichment and enlightenment – “successful social and emotional learning in the modern music classroom” – and adds an essential focus on teacher self-care and wellness. What was that saying attributed to Molesey Crawford in Unlocking the Queen Code?
Lesley Moffat has taught high school band for over 32 years in the Pacific Northwest, with her ensembles earning superior ratings and performing all over the US, Canada, and even in Carnegie Hall. She was planning to retire at the end of 2019-2020 when the pandemic hit. (As far as I know at this time, she has not retired yet – “for the sake of her kids” she stayed throughout this challenging time of COVID-19 and the slow reopening of schools!) She clarifies this in the introduction to her Love the Job, Lose the Stress book:
“I completed the first draft of this manuscript on March 3, 2020. Ten days later, schools across the world began shutting down as the coronavirus began sweeping the globe… The ultimate purpose of this book is to share the protocol I created that has become the basis of the social and emotional learning needs for my students (and truth be told, for me). Everything I talk about in this book was true before the pandemic, and it has proven to be as powerful in a virtual environment as it is in person… The great news is that you can give your students the gift of learning to self-regulate, calm down, and focus without distraction through intentional design and practice.”
She offers an intriguing set of easy-to-read chapters in her “hard to put down” 191-page work.
My Life’s Work Is So Much More Than Just A Job
I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me
The Badass Band Director’s Bible
Step One: The Moffat Music Teacher Mojo Meter
Step Two: Identifying the Three C’s – Care, Clarity, and Consistency
Step Three: Identifying Your Priorities
Step Four: SNaP Strategies for Music Teachers
Step Five: Tuning Our Bodies
Step Six: Creating Your Own First Four Minute Protocols
Highlights of suggestions from Love the Job, Lose the Stress
Like her last book, the Moffat Music Teacher Mojo Meter returns. If you are ever privileged to have her as a clinician for a local workshop, it is likely she may send out this survey to the participants in advance. These fifteen questions will provide her an individualized needs assessment of the stressors attendees are experiencing so she can differentiate the planning of her “help session” (page 48).
You’ll have a lot more questions to answer in Chapter 5 (page 50). Read and identify (and define for yourself) her three C’s for success: care, clarity, consistency.
In Chapter 6 (page 67), she wants you to identify your priorities. This is your chance to dream big! You’ll have to read her story (with wide swings of emotion) about her Jackson HS Honors Wind Ensemble performing at Carnegie Hall.
Also returning from her previous book, Chapter 7 (page 81) shares her Start Now and Progress – or SNaP to it – strategies for music teachers. Revisit her amazing tale about doing (of all things) push-ups: “By taking small incremental steps that build upon what I did each day before, I was able to take a skill that was very difficult for me on April 1 and do it 60 times just 30 days later.” She sums up three SNaP Strategies “for busy band directors” (page 90).
Gratitude for the attitude
Don’t miss her Chapter 10 (page 156) and “Lesley’s Top Ten Badass Band Director Tips!”
Finally, probably worth 1000-times the price of the book and all the time you will put into it is her Chapter 8 “Tuning Our Bodies” (page 103) and Chapter 9 “Creating Your Own First Four Minute Protocol” (page 129). This is where you will take what you read, reflect on her philosophies and system of classroom management and warm-ups, and adapt it to your situation. Adding to your teacher’s toolbox the techniques of mindfulness, breathing exercises, and listening skills – and practicing them with your students daily – will make all the difference in the SEL of your own lessons and overall program.
BRAVO and thank you Lesley for being so intuitive, upfront, and personal… and being so generous in sharing your secrets!
We applaud your efforts, and agree with Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser who said in the Foreword to Love the Job, Lose the Stress:
“This latest-greatest contribution offers a tried-and-true blueprint for vocational success while embracing the critical importance of fueling one’s mental, emotional and physical health. Spot on! Bull’s eye!”
“This is not a book you read and then put on the shelf; rather it is a file cabinet of priceless data certain to boister the health, happiness, and good fortune of every (music) teacher.”
“As music teachers, we teach students how to develop all kinds of skills, from mental to physical, in order for them to be well-rounded musicians. We show them how to properly form and embouchure, the correct fingerings to use, how to read music, what proper posture looks like, how to be artistic and expressive, and so much more. And we always tell them to “pay attention and “focus.” But do we ever teach them how to pay attention and focus? The secret to getting students engaged, focused, and curious so you can teach them all the cool stuff about music is teaching them how to actually build those skills until they become habits. Once you’ve taught them how to learn, then everything else becomes a million times easier for you and for them.”
— from the back cover of the Love the Job, Lose the Stress
Now you have it… a collection of at least three potential life-changing inspirations for summer study.
In addition to these “finds,” I need to mention a couple other educational publications for your consideration (see picture below). But, first-things-first as Stephen Covey would say! Check out Music Education and Social Emotional Learning – The Heart of Teaching Music by Scott Edgar, Thrivers – The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine by Michele Borba, and Love the Job, Lose the Stress by Lesley Moffat. PKF
Spring 2020 Final Lecture to the Music Education Graduate Students
by Rich Victor, PMEA Past State President and Adjunct Instructor for the University at Buffalo Graduate School Online
Originally posted in the Facebook group PLAN: The PA Leadership Advocacy Network
This course, “Supervision of Music Learning Programs,” was focused on programs as they existed before this year. Obviously, some things have changed.
What has changed and what has stayed the same? To answer that question let’s take another look at this graphic from Unit 4.
All decisions should flow from the mission statement. That should not change.
As you discovered, most school district mission statements focus on ideals such as “success, life-long learning, and becoming responsible citizens in the community.” An effective music department mission statement will be in alignment with the stated district mission. It will inform the administration and the community how the study of music helps the district achieve their stated mission through the skills and knowledge children learn in music. It also explains what children would lose if the subject were not offered because no other discipline is available in the school district where children can learn those skills and knowledge as well as in music classes.
The school mission and the department mission define the WHY.
Once the WHY has been determined, then the district must determine the WHAT. WHAT learning activities need to be offered to the students in the district in order to help them achieve the desired outcomes stated in the mission? The answer to that question should help determine the curriculum for music.
The content for the music curriculum is determined partially by the district and department missions, partially by state mandated Arts Standards, partially by local school district inter-disciplinary curriculum requirements, and partially by the music department’s desire to provide each child with a comprehensive and high-quality music education based on National Standards.
The outcomes from those learning activities – the WHAT – should not change.
In pre-COVID-19 times, the next decision would be to determine how much time is needed for students to master the curriculum and succeed in their activities. How many years will each facet of that curriculum require? How many hours of instruction should be allocated in each year and WHEN should that time be scheduled in order to provide the maximum number of learning opportunities for each child?
The WHEN might stay synchronous or change to asynchronous instruction. The number of instructional hours provided to each teacher and each subject may need to be flexible. That is yet to be determined and we should prepare for all possibilities. However, keep in mind that the WHEN should not alter the WHAT.
Once it is decided how many hours of instruction should be allocated annually and when those hours would be scheduled, then the district must figure out exactly how many teachers will be needed to deliver that instruction and what qualifications those teachers should possess. The “WHO” part of the process – the staffing piece of the puzzle – should still be driven by the needs of the curriculum and should not change.
It will be the HOW and WHERE parts of this process where the largest changes will occur.
Obviously, the decision WHERE teachers and students will be in the fall will impact HOW music will be taught and what equipment and materials can be used for learning activities.
Facilities in school buildings must be adapted to provide appropriate space for instructional activities to take place and to conveniently store all of the materials and equipment used in those activities while following whatever social distancing protocols and approved procedures for safely handling musical materials are adopted. The WHERE may continue to be the student’s home or a combination of school and distance learning. Once again, we need to prepare for all possibilities.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the outcomes of the K-12 music curriculum – the WHAT – should not change. Teachers need to keep “the end in mind” rather than just focusing in on their own period of time with each student. Then, following the principles of Understanding by Design, K-12 music staff must work as a team to create appropriate learning activities that are designed to help each student make progress through each grade and ultimately achieve the specific learning outcomes of the K-12 music program using the WHEN, WHO, HOW and WHERE pieces that we will have to work with.
As my friend and colleague Bob Morrison said in a recent presentation “Change the HOW not the WHAT!”
Yes, it will be challenging. The challenges caused by these changes may appear to be daunting at first, but they are not insurmountable!
Fortunately, there are some great thinkers in our profession who are already coming up with ideas to make the best of the situation for both classroom and performance teachers. Even if you are the only music teacher in your school district – you are NOT alone! Wonderful ideas for solutions to these challenges can be found in social media and through webinars.
The most important thing to know at this time is that discussions are occurring right now in every school district throughout the country. When students might return to school, and how classes might be scheduled will be determined soon. You must be proactive and become part of that decision-making process BEFORE the decisions are made! Be at the table so that decisions affecting music education in your district happen WITH you and not TO you.
The future of music education is in YOUR hands. It will be what you make it. Good luck and keep in touch!
Editor’s note: As a follow-up to Rich Victor’s article, check out these PMEA webpages:
Richard Victor is currently Adjunct Instructor for the University at Buffalo Graduate School Online.
Richard Victor had a 37-year career as State College Area High School Band Director. In 1987, he was also appointed to the position of Coordinator of Music for the State College Area School District. He was President of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) from 2000-2002 and served as its Advocacy Chair. He was President of the PA Unit of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) from 1989-1993, the PMEA All-State Jazz Coordinator and PMEA News Jazz Editor from 1993-1998, and chair for the NAfME Council for Jazz Education from 2014-2018. He has also served on the advisory board for the NAfME Teaching Music magazine and held the office of President of the Penn State Alumni Blue Band Association. Other professional memberships include Phi Beta Mu and The Gordon Institute for Music Learning (GIML).
Mr. Victor has been a guest conductor and adjudicator for concert band and jazz events in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and currently serves as an instrumental adjudicator for Music in the Parks. He frequently provides services as a clinician, consultant, and/or featured speaker for school districts and music events throughout Pennsylvania. He has presented sessions at five NAfME (formerly MENC) national conferences, three NAfME Eastern Division conferences, and the 2008 Americans for the Arts National Convention. He also has been a presenter for six different MEA state conferences, three JEN National Conferences, and three International Conferences on Music Learning Theory.
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?