Notes: Ethics & Education 3: Why is being an educator an “ethical profession”?

Ed logo 1.jpgIn these seminars we looked at metaphors in common images about the role of education and those who provide it, such as the central place in humanity, torch to guide and enlighten, global connection, literacy, peace and hope, working together etc. ed-logo-2

We also discussed what constitutes a “profession” and compared the teaching profession to others, and the value placed on them.

We explored some fascinating questions about education being value-laden, our extra responsibilities as we’re dealing with children who are always more vulnerable than adults, managing relationships with other partners  involved (such as parents, school admin, Ministry), how we as teachers are models for our students whether we like it or not, what happens when our personal ethics conflict with professional ones, whether the transmission of values (whose values?) is our responsibility and how best to do this, the hidden curriculum…


Metaphors in images about the role of education and those who provide it

1 – humanistic, connection, care, social and physical, all around ed is humanity

2 – teacher as a torch or a light to guide the way. Education described by carrying a torch, the forerunner of a civilisation idea. Role is to enlighten. Finnish badges for teachers’ profession was a torch

3 – globe,connected to whole world beyond the classroom and own pupils e,g. Through contents of teaching, open book of literacy being essential (not just reading, also numerical, environmental, media literacy, multiple literacies etc.) so that you can operate in society and access knowledge and understanding, equity shown in boy and girl but also represents other forms of equity, dove of peace and tolerance, window and sun represent the hope for future.

4 – different curricula – life is the ocean, we’re all on the same boat, working out the direction together, keeping society afloat.  


Compare professions and crafts and their value-basis

E.g. medical doctors take care of health and well-being of human beings, have Hippocratic Oath; lawyers taking care of justice, law and order, everyone’s right of representation when charged with a crime (sidenote, ironic they had key role in Stalin’s regime). Shirwan question about the role of executioners – professionals or not as they have no autonomy and carry out orders from above.

Role of teachers / professional educators. Huge responsibility to take care and support human development. Traditionalists who think it should be based on past traditions, others think it should be based on present needs and others about future. Teachers in most countries have autonomy in carrying out the methods, but have to teach to a curriculum which varies in prescriptiveness from place to place. Are teachers professions? Varies from country to country. Can depend on flexible national guidelines are, the value of education and role of teachers.

Can we trust teachers to be the experts on what is best for their students? Why or why not? In Finland there is a comprehensive teacher education programme, all teachers must complete a master’s thesis / research degree. In NZ have 3 year BEd (primary) or 1 year grad dip following 3 year undergrad for secondary or intensive primary ed programme.



  1. Education is value laden by its nature, whose vision is good? We don’t teach things we don’t think have value. Can be distinction between education and training? Finland has been strict about calling it teacher education rather than teacher training.. Can be used to control and maintain status quo but also to free and develop. Policy papers and textbooks fascinating insights into values and aims of different countries’ education systems. Even hours we dedicate to some subjects over others reflects certain values.
  2. Pupil, particularly a child, is less competent and has less power. Dealing with special needs and learning difficulties in various students. Idea that the standard of morals in a classroom or wider society can be seen in the care taken for the most valuable and least powerful. Discussions with or newsletters home to parents about values in our classrooms? Dealing with issues of bullying etc and strategies to mitigate and create happier and fairer culture in schools/class. Interesting that bullying is often only tackled when a problem arises, rather than pro-actively and intentionally creating an environment from the beginning in which relationships could be safer. Difference in role between classroom / subject teacher and tutor/form teacher who has a more pastoral role.
  3. Many partners involved, e.g. parents have the right to define the good for their child – or do they? Many interests involved, and can lead to tension and conflict. What do we want for our own children? Want them to be happy in school, that their voice would be heard and respected, that they would be safe. Of course many also care about grades / achievement, but if children are safe, interested and motivated then they will tend perform more highly. Are teachers seen to be an extension of parents’ ethical role in their absence? This can create conflict between home and school when there are differences in values and strategies for behaviour management. Curriculum and national or school guidelines can help in these instances. Emily – parents worried their young children’s reading and counting development, at the end they were commenting on the emotional and social development (ECE)
  4. A long-term relationship. Client? What other professions would spend so much time with the people they work with (ie students)? International and private schools with fee – parents as customers and students as clients. Should be a more collaborative relationship. If you do as the customers/parents say then your autonomy is limited and therefore so is your professionalism.


Discussion here about idea of racist groups in Finland (for eg) as having “no ethics”, but rather have a different moral framework and worldview – they believe that what they advocate for is right. Hard for us who believe in at least the ideals of human rights to understand. Ability to justify actions and world-views based on different ethical frame-works, e.g. Israeli IDF vs Palestine Hamas etc. Some of these situations reflect the need for law and legal frameworks, (though Israel violates international law and rarely rebuked bc it cannot be enforced due to veto power of USA in UNSC etc.) Also discussion about Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, based on the Heinz dilemma, his empirical research and its flaws.  


5) Pedagogical paradox – both socialising and supporting critical thinking, innovative ideas and transforming (teachers as transformative intellectuals?)

6) Connected to culture and conception for human being (pedagogical worldview), freedom? Affects worldviews, has effects

7) Often quick decisions are needed – based on values or tradition which become clear in these situations

8) Difficult to decide about the limitations of the person.

9) Education has an effect on people and through that on society and future generations as well

10) As an educator you are a model whether you want it or not – about what??? Joyful learning, curiosity, fairness and empathy, openness and tolerance to others’ perspectives and honesty about reflecting on own perspectives and continuously developing them, kindness, attitude towards learning, resilience, human with flaws and being genuine, being reflective, critical thinking and questioning…. They will learn so much from what we do and say, and perhaps as much from what we don’t do or say – we must be aware of this always. Do the students in the long run see our basic aims and values?

11) Your personal and professional and societal values might conflict with, you work on certain structures.

12) Education is normative? What is the basis? Nowadays we often talk more about learning than education…why? Aim of learning, so aim of education? Are we afraid of taking responsibility for the learning of our students? Education is structured and can be used to create norms, but must avoid creating conformity – in which issues is conformity useful and needed, in which do we need to have more diversity and freedom? Everyone is happy to talk about how teachers should do their job, but fewer want to talk about how society can support them in their job. Do we try to make learning a more neutral term? Is the term education more political?

13) Internationalisation has brought many new ethical issues. Talked already about diversity and we need more time for this. Technology of course brings many ethical issues. Finland talking about huge technological leap we need to take at school. Helsinki 70% of teaching should be. Is technology a value as itself? Or is it a means, that we can use in life and learning for all sorts of purposes? Enormous benefits but also risks we need to balance. Communication and knowledge sharing capacity is amazing.

14) Basic questions about the nature and goals are easily neglected (the hidden curriculum). Why should we change? Why is it good for people to learn this? Why is it better than another strategy or subject? When we are not aware of these then the hidden curriculum comes to the fore. We do so much without realising why.


Code of ethics for educators

PURPOSE: e.g. to motivate, to inspire, to clarify, to give identity, to keep up good quality, to inspire. Can be very different between various countries. In some it’s very much to control. In countries where educators more considered as professionals the focus is more on motivation etc. Finland’s code of ethics: “A teacher’s professional ethics and ethical principles”

Spheres of concern – oneself, close others, remote others, constructed environment, global, important issues etc.


Different teachers and personalities is a good thing, but what needs to be in common? Difficult for schools to meet their aims. Also the interviews and applications for EdGlo programme these were taken into account. Universally accepted values and principles, e.g. care and dignity for every child, often based on universal human rights.

Where do we see this common core? → What is our orientation to work? What do we consider important? What do we consider a “good” teacher? How you treat other people? How are problems approached and solved? What is considered professional? How sensitive we are to moral issues? What do we recognise in structures? What is encouraged and supported? (even the raising of an eyebrow can be a value bomb) What is allowed and what is not, and is this clear to students? How are the ‘weakest’ taken care of? What is the relationship between words and actions? etc.

Atmosphere, aims, vision, mission, values, rules, curriculum, contents (what is emphasised), policy, leadership, whole pedagogical and action culture (ethos)

Process is important!!


Approaches of educating in moral consciousness (e.g. Chazan 1985)

Whose role? Parents and/or schools?

  1. Formal education – decisions in not having teacher grading and performance pay, comprehensive free schooling, not having standardised tests, not having streaming → all of these are ethical decisions / show values. Performance pay – pits teachers against each other, they begin to teach to the test or the evaluation or whatever measures the performance of the teacher, so much is out of control of teachers such as home life. Absolutely against professionalism that teachers are the best judges. Evaluations and test results are unreliable. It takes all the joy from the job! Finland has been an example where we haven’t had any of this – inspectors, grading of teachers, standardised testing… and still in international comparisons has been doing well.
  2. Certain subjects – hours dedicated to certain subjects can denote value.
  3. Value transmission
    1. Justifications:
      1. ‘Universal’ / agreed on values or ethical principles e.g. non-violence.
      2. We must all live in this society.
    2. Examples:
      1. Many children’s books e.g. “Minna ja Manu” and other parables
      2. Danger: could be used for many purposes, totalitarian systems, brainwashing and indoctrination, conformity.
      3. Is it used or should it be used?
    3. Methods
      1. value-laden words e.g. good, naughty
      2. suitable associations
      3. slogans, repetitions, titles
      4. no or few alternatives
      5. seeing things as black and white, simplified answers
      6. stress, rhythm, melody in school songs
      7. emotionally appealing
      8. addressing people directly: you
      9. experiences of identification: stories, art, models, uniforms…
    4. Does it suit certain age groups better?

Visible and hidden curriculum

  • Is it even necessary to a certain extent?
  • OBS. character building, e.g. McIntyre and Popov
  1. Value clarification – Raths, Kirschenbaum, Harmin
  • Don’t accept value transmission
  • Offers situations where people have to meet their values, clarify them and discuss them (hopes, dream profession and why, books you like, how you spend your time, coat of arms, motto for life, dilemmas, another planet / island what would you take with you and why?)
  • Is this enough? Is it good for all age groups?
  • Is everything relative and just a question of how you think or feel about it?

→  Starting points

  • humans learn through self reflection and consciousness raising
  • societal values change
  • you must know several alternatives and be free to choose
  • consequences must be evaluated
  1. Community of ethical inquiry = Matthew Lipman and mary Sharp
  • Doesn’t accept mechanical value transmission etc.
  • Conclusions sought and hopefully some found
  • Individual consideration necessary but not sufficient, societal issues and common environment must be considered as well
  1. Supporting natural moral development – Lawrence Kohlber’s longitudinal studies and stages of moral development
  • conscious efforts to raise level have suceeded.
  • moral reasoning not enough for moral actions, though there’s some connection
  • teachers should use fdialogue and various justifications
  • helps if you can identify the level of moral reasoning among students.
  1.  Ethics of caring – Nel Noddings and Carol Gilligan
  • Principles: caring and continuity
  • Circles of caring
  • Constancy and continuity is important – aims, policies, curriculum, place, people
  • Methods: modelling, dialogue, practice, affirmation
  1. Pedagogy of discomfort / transformative
  • Present difficult dilemmas to force people to think critically and otherwise
  1. Holistic approach to observing ethics:
  1. Personal and interpersonal level



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