Ethical Conundrums Revisited – Part II

More About Ethics in Education

“Food for Thought” for Teachers

Resolving Problems in Daily Professional Decision-Making

 

Business Ethics

For a review of Part I of this article, please visit https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2018/08/20/ethical-conundrums-revisited-part-i/. The entire blog-series can be read (in reverse chronological order) at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/ethics/.

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 business-woman-2137559_1920_andreas160578you 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?

MCEETo 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:

  1. What possible ethical concerns might this scenario raise?
  2. How could this situation become a violation of state law, the “Code” or school/district policies?
  3. In this situation, what are some potential negative consequences for the teacher, student, parents, school staff, and/or community?
  4. 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?

 

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Responsibility to Students

MCEE III A 2, 5, 6

Study scenarios on INAPPROPRIATE RELATIONSHIPS:

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:hug-1315552_1920_markzfilter

  • Intent
  • Setting
  • 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.”

However, young/rookie teachers may be surprised about one violation included in the official definition of “sexual misconduct,” judged as “crossing the boundaries” and inappropriate by most state codes: “exchange of gifts with no educational purpose.” (Reference from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission)

 

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MCEE III C 1, 2, 3

Study scenarios on STUDENT PRIVACY RIGHTS:

Legal protections for student confidentiality are mandated by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other Federal regulations. (See previous blog-post, “Ethics Follow-up” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/ethics/.) You must remain very discrete about divulging or transferring any “non-directory data” about “your charges.” The operative saying is, “When in doubt, don’t give it out.”

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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.

 

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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.

board-3700116_1920_athree23MY 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
  • Musical skills
  • Dramatic skills, which may be further categorized/ranked by oral/voice technique, projection, character development, understanding of text, and stage presence
  • Dancing/movement skills
  • Type of projection: the potential for acting a comedic vs. romantic role
  • Height (relevant if partnered with another character)
  • Overall preparation

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.

 

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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.

The suggestions of Mind Tool’s article “Five Ways to Deal With Rudeness at the enraged-804311_1920_johnhainWorkplace” are applicable (read their entire blog-post at https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/five-ways-deal-with-rudeness.htm):

  1. Be a good role model.
  2. Don’t ignore it.
  3. Deal directly with the culprit.
  4. Listen.
  5. Follow-up on any offender.

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.”

 

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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.”

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “meadow” by geralt, “business woman” by andreas160578, “trumpeter” by klimkin, “fear” by ElisaRiva, “fear” by markzfilter , “bag” by Pexels, “privacy policy” by succo, “conference” by geralt, “Board” by athree23, “argument” by RyanMcGuire, “enraged” by johnhain, and “music students” by musikschule.

Ethics Follow-up

 

Part IV: More Perspectives and Resolving a Few “Loose Ends”

Prior to this article, I recommend reading the following:

 

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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?

club-2492011_1920-qimonoEducators 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.

Well, we don’t have to just pick on Pennsylvania “bad-boys” (and girls). According to https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/01/20/more-teachers-are-having-sex-with-their-students-heres-how-schools-can-stop-them/?utm_term=.6ee23703b040, the following statistics give teachers everywhere a black eye from shore to shore!

  • 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.

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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.

 

Mandatory Reporting

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.”

― Pennsylvania Department of Education: http://www.pspc.education.pa.gov/Educator-Discipline-System-and-Reporting/Mandatory-Reporting/Pages/default.aspx

 

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 enforcement and/or child protective services.”

― Pennsylvania Department of Education: http://www.pspc.education.pa.gov/Educator-Discipline-System-and-Reporting/Mandatory-Reporting/Pages/default.aspx

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.

questions-2212771_1920-geralt_euAlways looking for the signs of…

  • Physical abuse
  • Self-abuse or thoughts of suicide
  • Sexual abuse
  • 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.

 

Confidentiality

These are the regulations on protecting student privacy rights, and violations of which (even unintentionally) are “breaking the law.” (Sources: www.pc3connect.org/otherdocs/confidentiality%20and%20the%20law.pdf and http://searchhealthit.techtarget.com/definition/HIPAA.)

  • 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.
  • confidential-cropped-1726367_1920-HypnoArtHealth 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)

 

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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:

  1. Is it legal?
  2. Is it consistent with the profession’s values?
  3. Is it consistent with the teacher’s code of conduct?
  4. Is it consistent with your district’s policies?
  5. Would you be comfortable if this decision was published online or in the newspaper (or made known to your “grandma”)?
  6. 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.

http://www.royceassociates.com/the-grandma-litmus-test-for-ethical-behaviour/

 

Final Thoughts

“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”

– Rear Admiral Mary Brace Hopper, an early computer programmer

board-1848717_1920-geraltProponents 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.

males-2110573_1920-3dman_euMy 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!

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PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

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.