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.

Reflections on the Glory Days

Reconciliation: Somber Ruminations of a Retiree

And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days…
Glory days, well they’ll pass you by
          —Bruce Springsteen

Okay, admittedly, this blog may be a little on the “dark side” – so before and after you read this, be sure to go out and take a long walk, hug your spouse or your grandchild or a dog, find something fun to do, indulge in some ice cream – anything to recharge, bolster your mood, and “come back to life!”

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Reconciling with and Redefining Retirement

According to Merriam Webster, the full definition of “reconcile” is the following:

“…to restore to friendship or harmony, settle, resolve, make consistent or congruous, cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant…”

Also referring to online dictionaries like Webster, the terms retiring and retirement mean “seclusion from the world, privacy, withdrawal, the act of going away, retreating, or disappearing.”

bucketlistNope. I cannot accept these archaic definitions! My translation for what it means to face this life-style shift of changing perspectives and expectations, “Crossing the Rubicon” into retirement, is finding alternative but purposeful pursuits, fulfilling “bucket lists,” and reshaping fresh new goals leading to creative ways to self-reinvent and thrive.

The Stages and Emotions of Retirement

In the July 25, 2016 PMEA Retired Member Network eNEWS, I reflected on a few of the ups-and-downs of post-employment transitioning and the emotional journey of re-adjustment, “reinventing” yourself, or as Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz advise in their book (by the same name), “Refire! Don’t Retire!”

In which “stage of retirement” do you find yourself? Are you resting and taking an extended vacation, or currently mapping out your post-employment “plans,” or already diving into your “golden years” with a full schedule of activities, or seeking new goals and your “life’s purpose,” or retreating from everything just to “get your head together?”  —Paul Fox

In a USA TODAY article (2014), Ken Dychtwald (gerontologist, psychologist, educator and CEO of Age Wave, a research think-tank on aging issues) labels the logical progression of Ken Dychtwaldfive stages of retirement that he predicts most people go through after leaving their full-time job. (See http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/10/12/five-stages-of-retirement/16975707/).

  1. Imagination
  2. Anticipation
  3. Liberation
  4. Re-engagement
  5. Reconciliation

I think every retired person should read these, figure out on which step they are, diagnose their feelings, and “move on” toward the final stage of reconciliation.

“Thanks to the ever-increasing longevity, many of us will have decades to learn, teach, play, work and re-invent ourselves again and again after our core career has ended. Perhaps it’s time to retire retirement.”  —Ken Dychtwald

However, I hear from many retirees that, at some point, they experience a period of depression or sadness after they retire, even a profound sense of loss or grief. There are hosts of articles about this phenomenon:

It boils down to coping with a few of these emotional “bumps” along the way:

  • Loss of professional identity
  • Loss of goals, daily routine, and purposeful activity
  • Loss of social network and interaction with co-workers

In my article, “Surviving Retirement: Avoiding Turmoil, Traumas, Tantrums, and Other Transitional Problems” in the Winter 2015 issue of PMEA News, I mentioned how quickly we retired teachers seemingly become forgotten and obscure.

Someone wise once told me not to be alarmed when even your own music students forget you after two or three years. Not having you in class, nor hearing your name on the public address, nor seeing you in the halls, nor watching you direct an assembly, ensemble or musical, it is perfectly natural that your identity will likely fade away as the “graduates” leave and the new enrollees enter the building.

However, since I was still working with the marching band (and had been involved in so many other extra-curricular activities), I figured I might have a year or two before disappearing into obscurity. Surprise! One month from stepping down, I was walking my dogs at the high school and came upon a junior girl and her mother in a “driving training session.” I shouted out “hello” (my Yorkie-poo didn’t even bark), and the girl immediately rolled up her windows and moved away… “Stranger danger?” A few minutes later, when the opportunity presented itself (mom and driver switched seats), I introduced myself and received a blank look when I reassured them, “I just retired from this school. Surely you remember Mr. Fox?” Nope. Don’t expect it. Anyway, there are advantages to losing the spotlight and becoming totally anonymous.  —Paul Fox

This is normal. “Type-A” personalities and “peak performers” must make a concerted effort to limit linking the majority of their self-worth and identity to their employment! Echoed by author Sydney Lagier in “Seven Secrets to a Happy Retirement” at US News and World Report (http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/2010/07/20/7-secrets-to-a-happy-retirement), we should not be addicted to achievement. “The more you are defined by your job, the harder it will be to adjust to life without.”

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This is my favorite reflection implying our failure to let go of “our glory days,” used with permission from the very gifted poet Nancy Ellen Crossland (see her other writings at http://www.voicesnet.com/allpoemsoneauthor.aspx?memberid=1022350010):

Reflections on an Autumn Day

Where once they hung in glorious array
Golden tinged, copper swirled
Russet swatches
Now trodden and dampened;
What a sad display!

Where once waving and twirling
In crisp autumn days
Clinging to the ground
Plastered on soles of shoes
Forever appear to be bound,

Ah, but a few stalwart leaves hang
Grasping on for life
Another gust, a downpour or two
They also shall join those
trampled leaves askew,

So bid farewell, oh hearty ones
Another season shall again pass
You shall have your days in the sun,

Your brilliance shall never slip away
For always shall be remembered
Your autumn glory days. 

—Nancy Ellen Crossland    11/04/2010

 

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In addition, I noticed feeling these “retirement blues” when I attended the viewing of the late PA music educator Andrew Ruzzini. To be honest, at every funeral, the concept of facing our own mortality becomes more and more difficult. But, even worse, very few people attended Andy’s service, most of his students were unaware of his passing, and my heart ached witnessing the dismal response to the death of one of the most influential band directors in the early years of my former school district! We will all be forgotten?

The Legacy of Heroes and Mentors

The movie Mr. Holland’s Opus lays out a beautiful theme for music teacher retirees: that last scene and the speech of his former student, a clarinet player who struggled to get a good sound, now the governor of the state, was so moving.

Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.  —Adult Gertrude Lang, character in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus
My own idol (ensemble director and violin/viola instructor), the “father of strings in the East Hills of Western Pennsylvania,” Eugene Reichenfeld lived to a ripe old age of 103 years. In spite of a few health issues, he was still teaching privately up to two weeks before he passed on. He was a tireless, very physical, extremely active, fullprospective-music-student-1440071y engaged man. One example, he transformed his backyard by moving a truckload of large rocks around his garden when he was 80 years old. I attended his 100th birthday party where he played an hour-plus recital with three generations of the Reichenfelds. He always told prospective teachers, “Surround yourself with young people and you’ll never grow old.” The comment I wrote in memory of Eugene Reichenfeld in the online guest book (legacy.com) came from the heart: “With our mentor’s passing, orchestra music and education in our area will never be the same. However, thankfully, Maestro Reichenfeld’s legacy is that he ‘passed on the baton’ and inspired so many future teachers to follow in his footsteps… sharing his love of and skill in strings for eternity! The music lives on!”

Three More Reflections for the Road…

I am grateful for finding the final column of Maryellen Weimer, Penn State Professor and Editor of the The Teaching Professor, sharing her thoughts on the things she will and won’t miss after 33 years of teaching: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-careers/retirement-reflections-things-i-will-and-wont-miss/.

If you have the time (and the intellect – he is very deep), you should also read the “retirement notes” of Gary T. Marx: Hither and Thither No More: Reflections on a Retired, But Not Shy, Professor at http://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/hitherthither.html#note2.

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And, thank you, Corita Kent, for summing up the prescription to a happy, healthy, rewarding, and meaningful life… before, during, and after employment!

If you look too far ahead, living only for dreams, or too far back, living only to repeat the past, you will miss the fullness of the present. This is a lesson for both your professional life and your personal life. It is important to have balance in one’s life, so find the time to do the things that you enjoy — athletic or physical activities, the beautiful outdoors, visiting with friends, reading books, volunteering in your community. May you find the satisfaction of living a well-balanced and healthy life. —Corita Kent
PKF
© 2016 Paul K. Fox

More on Retirement…

For additional articles on retirement at this site, please click on “retirement resources” to the right, or one of the following links to other blog-posts: