Friday, April 22, 2016

Professional Ethics

As I read a number of education related articles this morning, I was prompted to think about professional ethics.

If you read my blog, you know that my professional ethics were challenged a few years ago when I raised my voice in a heated discussion with a colleague. Since that time I have done a lot of professional work to understand what caused me to feel the level of frustration I felt--a level of frustration that resulted in a raised voice. In the end what created that frustration was the fact that there were many issues leading up to the event for which I had no voice or choice. As one coach explained, I felt "invisible" with regard to the issues of concern. Yet, it is never respectful to raise your voice in the schoolhouse unless it has to do with an emergency response.

With the vacation nearing its end and return to school life around the corner, it's a good time to consider professional ethics.

I looked for a list to use online as a guide and found this list from the University of Maryland. I shortlist the topics below as I think of my own work.

Intellectual Property
Essentially give credit where credit is due for any ideas, words, or images you use within fair share protocols and policies. I went to a good workshop about this and have listed those rules here. In some ways this is a moving target with respect to school life in this tech age, so it's good to help one another stay within the acceptable use realm as we move forward. Also with regard to your own work, it's good to sign your work and post it before sharing it with others if you want to retain some credit for what you do. Again, it's very difficult in this day and age to determine who came up with an idea, phrase, or concept first since share happens all the time and we are so affected by one another's words and work.

Academic Integrity
Be honest with one another. Use your words and work to best support students and the expectations of your position.

Computer Use
Essentially use the same polite behavior that you would use offline, online. Use school computers for work related to your professional expectations, efforts, and development.

Human Relations
Treat all members of the learning team with respect, honesty, care, and kindness.

Professional Integrity
Do your work with best intent, honesty, and dignity. Keep the focus of your work, serving students and families well, as the center of all that you do.

Nurture good values and bring them to work with you each day. Your time at work should serve the work you do and people you serve.

As I read more about this, I really liked this article, 10 Golden Rules to Professional Ethics in the Workplace by Leandro Valente. As I read these, I recognized that every teacher candidate course should begin with these ethics:
  • Strive for excellence: What does excellence mean with regard to your professional role and expectations? This might be a good topic for your teaching/learning team to discuss. 
  • Be trustworthy. Live up to the expectations set on a consistent basis, and speak/act with truth.
  • Be courteous and respectful. This isn't always easy in the fast paced school life, but it's imperative and most important.
  • Be open, honest, and transparent. Regular patterns of share and communication can serve you well in this regard. 
  • Be competent and improve continually. There so many inexpensive and readily available ways to continually improve your practice today. A regular pattern of professional learning will serve you well in this regard. 
  • Always be ethical. "Live by the rules," and if the rules seem unethical, speak up and act respectfully for change. Know the rules well and work with colleagues to interpret the rules correctly as you do your work. 
  • Be honorable and act with integrity. Be thoughtful with regard to all actions and speak.
  • Be respectful of confidentiality. 
  • Set good examples.
As I read this, I realize that there is little that challenges good ethics in school. After all we work for children who are typically fair minded, honest, and wanting the best of people and places. And, in general, our colleagues are in the business to make life better for people so there's not a lot of ethical challenge in that regard. 

I think the greatest challenge to ethics in the school setting lies in the pace of our work. We are on task almost every minute of the day leaving little time for good communication and collaboration. Also, the persistent factory model can be challenging in that roles, structure, schedules, and communication patterns can challenge ethical behavior simply because sometimes these old-time structures create oppressive environments with little voice, choice, or clear expectations for some employees. 

With this in mind, I think that ethics for all in the school environment can be better fostered and improved with the following actions:
  • Consistent recognition and share of the organization's ethical values and expectations. It's best when this is streamlined and made explicit to all in the organization. If there are too many wordy, too-tight rules and expectations, it will be difficult to follow, however, if the rules and expectations are clear and "loose-tight," they will serve the community better. 
  • Creation of open forums for discussion, questions, and revision of systemwide expectations and efforts with regard to ethics. Rather than shunned or disregarded, questions should be openly discussed and entertained. Tough questions are few when an open attitude towards discussion and transparency exists. It's easy to be the good employee when you are not advocating or promoting change. However, if you're the kind of employee who sees room for growth and change, then it can be difficult to continually meet the existing expectations. Good systems of share and development will support ethical work in this regard. 
  • A willingness to coach each other with regard to good work and ethics. Many of the greatest problems and struggles in society occur because people stand by and watch others do the wrong thing. It's good to speak up when you see problems and help one another do the right thing. We need to bring our best professional selves to the job each day. 
  • Regular systems of share, improvement, and revision. Rather than wait until problems occur, if systems embrace regular, inclusive systems of improvement and development, there isn't as much space for trouble to arise. Yet we all know that a system can't anticipate all problems.
  • Revision of old time factory models of school with new age knowledge worker, shared leadership models. New age teaching and learning models will increase checks and balances in school and create a more work friendly, ethical environment where all members have choice and voice over their work leading to the "autonomy, purpose, and mastery" that Pink outlines in his book, Drive, as attributes of successful, dynamic work environments. 
Ethical behavior is essential to the good work possible in schools. If we as educators are ethical then we will model this behavior for our students too.

As I think about these many points, I recognize that it's good to shore up one's practice in this regard at regular intervals too. It's both the joy and challenge of our jobs that we're never there when it comes to the good work possible as there's always room to better that which we do for and with students and each other. Onward.