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

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!

business-1753098_1280-Maialisa

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.

Ethics for Music Educators II

Part II: The Nitty Gritty

(This blog-post is the second in a series of three articles. For an introduction to this topic, you should first read “Part I: Back to Basics” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/08/28/ethics-for-music-educators-i/)

A good teacher is a doctor who heals ignorance and an artist who inspires creativity. ― author unknown

Societal Changes Promoting Ethical Disputes

Brooks When Cultures ShiftMany have suggested that there has been a decline in moral standards that have contributed to ethical disputes in modern society (and in the public schools). Some say that this is attributed to a breakdown or lessening of the influence of organized religion and family values. “When Cultures Shift,” an excellent article in the New York Times (April 17, 2015), David Brooks explores some of causes and effects of this “slip” to our value systems, ethics, and renewed focus on self:

  • Cultural shift in personal mores
  • Consumerism
  • Self-esteem movement, narcissism, and “the big me”
  • Trends towards acceptance of informality and casual behavior
  • Social media and other technology

Brooks remarked, “The big shift in American culture did not happen around the time of Woodstock and the Age of Aquarius. It happened in the late 1940s, and it was the members of the Greatest Generation that led the shift.”

We now live in a world in which commencement speakers tell students to trust themselves, listen to themselves, follow their passions, to glorify the Golden Figure inside. We now live in a culture of the Big Me, a culture of meritocracy where we promote ourselves and a social media culture where we broadcast highlight reels of our lives. What’s lost is the more balanced view, that we are splendidly endowed but also broken. And without that view, the whole logic of character-building falls apart. You build your career by building on your strengths, but you improve your character by trying to address your weaknesses.

So perhaps the culture needs a re-balance. The romantic culture of self-glorification has to be balanced with an older philosophic tradition, based on the realistic acknowledgment that we are all made of crooked timber and that we need help to cope with our own tendency to screw things up. That great tradition and body of wisdom was accidentally tossed aside in the late 1940s. It’s worth reviving and modernizing it. ― David Brooks

Read his entire piece at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/17/opinion/david-brooks-when-cultures-shift.html.

The Role of Education in Upholding Standards of Behavior

All I Ever Learned KDo schools, not necessarily families, serve as the “safety net” for socializing its citizens, and teaching morality, manners, and the values of human relationships? Are teachers held to a higher standard of behavior in order to model these principles and charged with the responsibility of indoctrinating the meaning of “right and wrong” and how to get along with each other? Many would seem to agree, including sample codes of ethics for teachers and this from Robert Fulghum (https://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/842.html):

Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sand-pile at Sunday school.

These are the things I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

― Robert Fulghum in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Philosophies in Moral Development

According to Jacques S. Benninga in “Moral and Ethical Issues in Teacher Education” from Eric Digest (https://www.ericdigests.org/2004-4/moral.htm), “Though codes of ethics may not have played a significant role in teacher preparation programs in the past, professional ethical dispositions of teachers must now be addressed as part of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) accreditation process (NCATE, 2002).” He describes the Four-Component Model of Moral Maturity, a program of ethical education first developed for dental professionals at the University of Minnesota since adapted to other professional training programs including the training of teachers. The program assumes that moral behaviors are built on a series of component processes (Bebeau, Rest, & Narvaez, 1999). “Each component is clearly defined, and educational goals, teaching strategies and assessment methods can be derived from those definitions.”

  1. Moral sensitivity, the awareness of how our actions affect other people.
  2. Moral judgment about complex human activities (Piaget 1965 and Kohlberg 1984)
  3. Moral motivation, a prioritization of moral values over personal values
  4. Moral character (acting on one’s convictions)

three-frogs-with-a-message-1316215 Gerla Brakkee.jpgIn Essays on Moral Development: The Philosophy of Moral Development (New York: Harper Collins 1981), Lawrence Kohlberg illustrates his “Six Stages of Moral Development” from ethical decisions based on adherence to rules/regulations and avoidance of punishment to acceptance of universal principles of justice and respect for human life.

Here is a brief outline of Kohlberg’s six moral stages:

  1. Obedience and punishment orientation
  2. Naively egoistic orientation (satisfying self-needs)
  3. Good-boy, good-girl (approval/conformity) orientation
  4. Authority and social-order-maintaining orientation
  5. Contractual/legalistic orientation (social contracts)
  6. Individual principles of conscience

However,  Carol Gilligan proposes a contrasting theme, “Three Evolving Steps of Caring,” in her book, In A Different Voice (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press 1982).

  1. Decisions based solely on care for their needs.
  2. Decisions based on care for the needs of others.
  3. Decisions based on care for themselves and others.

The Professional Standards and Practices Commission of the Pennsylvania Department of Education resolved these apparently incompatible philosophies:

Despite their contrasting lenses on moral development, when applied to the teaching profession, these two ethical perspectives complement each other.  Teachers should be motivated by a universal respect for human life and also be guided by principles of caring.  In fact, teachers have a fiduciary duty to act in a way that is in the best interest of their students. Inherent in a fiduciary relationship is an imbalance of power where the students place their trust /confidence in the teachers, who are responsible for caring for their students and respecting their needs.  This overarching responsibility of teachers provides an ethical standard of professional practice to which professional educators must abide and has powerful practical and legal implications for their personal and professional lives.

http://www.pspc.education.pa.gov/Promoting-Ethical-Practices-Resources/Ethics-Toolkit/Unit1/Pages/The-Ethics-of-Teaching.aspx

Sample Code of Professional Practices and Conduct

eye-see-you-1239025 Donald CookAs I said in Part I of this blog series, one of the first acts of a new or transferred teacher upon being hired to a specific school district is to visit the website of his/her state’s education department, and make a thorough search on the topic of “code of ethics” or “code of conduct.” There is no defense for ignorance of the codes and statutes relevant to the state you are/will be employed.

A few quotes and material from the Pennsylvania “Code of Professional Practices and Standards for Educators” are listed below. For a complete listing, go to http://www.pspc.education.pa.gov/Statutes-Regulations-Policies-Forms/Code-of-Professional-Practice-Conduct/Pages/default.aspx or download the PDF file from http://www.pspc.education.pa.gov/Documents/Statutes%20Regs%20Forms/Code%20of%20Conduct.pdf.

 

PA PSPC logo

In addition, if you live and work in Pennsylvania, I would strongly recommend you peruse the comprehensive Educator Ethics and Conduct Toolkit produced by Dr. Oliver Dreon, Sandi Sheppeard, and the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission, a multiple-week induction program with coursework, essential questions, scenarios, and researched sources on teacher ethics (for which permission was given to share segments of their text below in professional development forums and workshops). Go to: http://www.pspc.education.pa.gov/Promoting-Ethical-Practices-Resources/Ethics-Toolkit/Pages/default.aspx.

  1. Professional educators shall abide by the Public School Code of 1949 (24 P. S. § § 1-101 – 27-2702), other school laws of the Commonwealth, sections 1201(a)(1), (2) and (4) and (b)(1), (2) and (4) of the Public Employee Relations Act (43 P. S. § § 1101.1201(a)(1), (2) and (4) and (b)(1), (2) and (4)) and this chapter.
  2. Professional educators shall be prepared, and legally certified, in their areas of assignment. Educators may not be assigned or willingly accept assignments they are not certified to fulfill.
  3. Professional educators shall maintain high levels of competence throughout their careers.
  4. Professional educators shall exhibit consistent and equitable treatment of students, fellow educators and parents. They shall respect the civil rights of all and not discriminate on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, culture, religion, sex or sexual orientation, marital status, age, political beliefs, socioeconomic status, disabling condition or vocational interest. This list of bases or discrimination is not all-inclusive.
  5. Professional educators shall accept the value of diversity in educational practice. Diversity requires educators to have a range of methodologies and to request the necessary tools for effective teaching and learning.
  6. Professional educators shall impart to their students principles of good citizenship and societal responsibility.
  7. Professional educators shall exhibit acceptable and professional language and communication skills. Their verbal and written communications with parents, students and staff shall reflect sensitivity to the fundamental human rights of dignity, privacy and respect.
  8. Professional educators shall be open-minded, knowledgeable and use appropriate judgment and communication skills when responding to an issue within the educational environment.
  9. Professional educators shall keep in confidence information obtained in confidence in the course of professional service unless required to be disclosed by law or by clear and compelling professional necessity as determined by the professional educator.
  10. Professional educators shall exert reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions which interfere with learning or are harmful to the student’s health and safety.

― Section 4: PA Code of Professional Practices and Standards for Educators

 

school-1465744-1 elias minasi

The Teacher-Student Relationship

Trust has evolved into the operative foundation of the relationship of students with their teachers. The duty of teachers is to act as a fiduciary in their students’ best interest and to create and maintain a safe environment for their students derives. When a teacher enters into an inappropriate relationship with a student, the teacher violates the recognized student-teacher boundary and thereby redefines the boundary inappropriately. Some unintentionally fall prey to the “slippery slope” of misconduct. The inappropriate relationship shifts to serving the needs of the teacher and not the needs of the student.

When teachers become confidants, friends, or counselors of students, a dual relationship is created which creates an ambiguity in the student-teacher relationship where roles are less defined. This ambiguity helps to foster inappropriate actions and educator misconduct.

headphones-1415466In addition, in almost every state education system, there are “mandatory reporting” regulations. Teachers are held responsible to ensure that their colleagues conform to the appropriate standards of ethical practice as well. In other words, if you know something is wrong and you do not report it to an administrator, you could also be liable and subject to hearings, discipline, and even prosecutions for negligence of your duty to protect the best interests, health, and safety of the student(s) involved.

 

Vulnerabilities

Teachers who are experiencing difficulties in their personal lives or are socially or emotionally immature may be particularly susceptible to the “slippery slope” of blurred teacher-student boundaries. Typical vulnerabilities include the following:

  • Viewing students as peers
  • Suffering from adult relationship issues
  • Immaturity
  • Need for attention
  • that-s-lame-bad-and-or-stupid-1537799 Daino_16A sense of invulnerability
  • Absence of a developed personal moral compass
  • Lack of personal crisis management skills

New or inexperienced teachers, those near their students’ ages, educators who look or act “cool” or “trendy,” or share common interests or an overlapping circle of friends, may be tempted to share inappropriate feelings or become “too close” with their children.

Every behavior or decision made by a teacher with respect to his or her students should be prefaced with the question:  “Whose needs are being met by my course of action?” There can only be one acceptable answer to this question: “The needs of the student!”

 

Social Media

In terms of teacher ethics, communicating digitally or electronically with students may lead to a blurring of appropriate teacher-student boundaries and create additional challenges to maintaining and protecting one’s privacy. Texts, emails, and social media postings are not private, and may be seen by others, forwarded, and/or copied or printed. Out of context, they may be misinterpreted, appear to be inappropriate, and/or lead to a violation of “The Code.”

computer-and-apple-1241514 Ales CerinIt 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.

When I started teaching in 1978, we did not have “social media.” (Actually, if you can imagine this, there was no Internet yet, most of us did not have computers, and flip or smartphones and tablets were only the subject of science fiction or Star Trek.) Guidelines for use (or abuse) of social media were not even a “seed” in our imaginations.

When MySpace and Facebook came upon the scene in 2003-2004, most school administrators recommended “stay away from these.” The online sharing and archiving of photos initiated the adoption of many other social media apps (Flickr and later Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, etc.), which provoked new challenges in maintaining privacy, appropriateness, and professionalism. However, soon after, school leaders started rolling out “teacher pages” and school web-pages, online bulletin board services, interactive forums, virtual learning environments like Blackboard and Blended Schools, and other educational tools that encouraged two-way communications among students in a class and the teacher. Technology is here to stay… so how should we use it safely?

The American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE), a non-profit organization dedicated to placing qualified teachers in the classroom, released its “10 Social Media Rules for Teachers,” appropriate tips for protecting educators:

  1. Know your school district or state’s policies on social media.
  2. Never “friend” or “follow” students on your personal accounts.
  3. Keep your profile photos clean.
  4. Do not affiliate yourself with your school on a personal profile.
  5. Do not geo-tag your posts with your school’s location.
  6. “Snaps” are forever! Anyone can take a screen shot of your posts.
  7. Never mention your school or the names of staff or students in any post.
  8. Set your Instagram account to private.
  9. Never complain about your job online.
  10. Never post photos of your students on social media.

―Summarized from https://www.americanboard.org/blog/?p=249

girl-with-smart-phone-1616794 Eric Gross

 

To be continued…

Part III: Issues and Scenarios in Music Education… will review:

  • Pedagogy
  • Enforcement
  • Finances and Resource Allocation
  • Relationships
  • Diversity
  • More Scenarios – How Would You Judge These Incidents?
  • Bibliography

 

Special thanks and credits go to Dr. Oliver Dreon, Associate Professor at Millersville University (in Pennsylvania), and one of the authors of the Pennsylvania’s Educator Ethics and Conduct Toolkit, the source of much of the research, quotes, and perspective of this three-part series comes.

 

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order) from FreeImages.com: “Ethics” by Olivier Le Moal, “Three Frogs with a Message” by Gerla Brakkee,  “Eye See You” by Donald Cook, “School” by Elias Minasi, “Headphones” by Benjamin Earwicker, “That’s Lame, Bad, and Stupid” by Daino_16, “Computer and Apple” by Ales Cerin, and “Girl With Smart Phone” by Eric Gross.