Academic journal article International Education Studies

Bringing Ethics into the Classroom: Making a Case for Frameworks, Multiple Perspectives and Narrative Sharing

Academic journal article International Education Studies

Bringing Ethics into the Classroom: Making a Case for Frameworks, Multiple Perspectives and Narrative Sharing

Article excerpt


This article argues for the need to discuss the topic of ethics in the classroom and presents five frameworks of ethics that have been applied to education. A case analysis used in workshops with educators in the field of Special Education is described, and the benefits of sharing narratives are discussed. The authors offer suggestions, grounded in education literature, for addressing ethics explicitly and for developing a critically reflective perspective toward ethical decision-making.

Keywords: ethics, teacher, education, decision making, case analysis, narrative

1. Introduction

1.1 Introduce the Problem

Many of the concerns confronting teachers in U.S. public schools today, indeed around the globe, require ethical decision making. Teachers may experience tensions between personal beliefs, professional codes of conduct, and moral values when facing ethical issues. In a review analyzing 22 articles from Teaching and Teacher Education, Bullough (2011) found that teachers understood and responded to ethical dilemmas differently and showed different levels of ethical sensitivity. Some made ethical determinations about what was the right thing to do based on their own personal ethics and life experiences, others gave priority to social and institutional norms, and yet still others held a more malleable and thoughtful view attending to a wide range of moral prerogatives (Bullough, 2011). Clearly, teachers need tools to support consideration of multiple perspectives surrounding an issue, tools to facilitate their thinking (Cartledge, Tillman, & Talbert-Johnson, 2001).

Researchers continue to argue that the teacher education field should approach professional ethics in ways similar to other licensed professions, such as psychology, medicine, and law, with direct teaching on the topic, and explicit statements regarding the rights and privileges of clients, patients, and practitioners (Barret, Casey, Visser, & Headley, 2012). Unlike these professions where there is more focus on direct instruction on the topic and specialized coursework for teaching ethical decision making, teachers usually engage in an experiential process in which they have to learn to make ethical decisions about instructional practices on their own (Huling & Resta, 2001; Moir, 2009). For example, preservice teachers in special education learn about the special education law and how it needs to be implemented, but many of them do not engage in discussions of specific ethical concerns that emerge from time to time and challenge their decision making. For example, they need to learn how to evaluate parents' or students' rights in relation to a school policy. In managing student problem behavior, many teachers do not develop awareness about how sometimes their inflexibility and lack of understanding of individual student needs can escalate problem behaviors. They do not learn how to balance flexibility of thinking with consistency in decision making. By engaging in conversations that are structured around various ethical dilemmas, they can learn to use tools to facilitate their thinking and evaluate their own decision making.

Our purpose in writing this article is clear and simple, while our topic, ethics, is in many instances murky and elusive. We aim to explicitly examine implicit notions of ethics, and to highlight existing conceptual frameworks of ethical conduct that have been applied to school settings. We present a fictitious case study we have used in workshops with educators to elicit critical dialogue in a non-threatening context. Our goal in the workshops is for teachers and administrators informed by frameworks of ethics, to hone a critical perspective about their own decision making. We describe how case analysis sparks the sharing of personal narratives and explain the process of narrative self-construction. Finally, we offer suggestions for incorporating ethics in professional development for in-service and pre-service teachers. …

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