Educators: Where Your Code of Ethics Should Stem From

Are individual codes of ethics inborn in humans? Many researchers believe that humans are socialized to possess a vague sense of the moral legitimacy of various issues and situations. The degree of stringency that an individual attaches to these is a result of what he or she has experienced through interaction with others, as well as spiritual and religious wisdom, reasoning ability, and secular guides during the course of life. The process of creating a personal code of ethics involves reflecting on and reviewing these interactions to ensure your framework is flexible enough to function in any new situations you may encounter.

Ethical guidance can be derived from many sources. It can reach you subconsciously through adages heard by chance, or even a bumper sticker you see while driving. Humans learn by imitation, finding role models who provide either direct or indirect guidance when dealing with ethical dilemmas. Direct guidance involves asking a role model for advice in a given situation, whereas indirect guidance involves considering what your role model has done or would do in the same situation, based on what you know about your role model. This model-selection process is observable in children when they begin to imitate their parents, sometimes even wearing their clothes or imitating the way they talk on the phone. Likewise, in adulthood, when one is faced with questions like, “What should I do?” or, “Am I approaching the problem in the correct manner?” it’s natural to reframe the question into, “What would my role model have done?” This happens largely on a subconscious level, but nonetheless plays a part in an individual’s final decision making.

Parents also play a part in a more intentional way, by ensuring that they choose the most morally sound educational tools (e.g., specific schools, teachers, or books) for their children so that their children establish ethical values from “good” examples. Historical or literary figures may provide particularly interesting and useful role models from whom to obtain indirect guidance. These role models may also be derived from religion. For example, some Christians wear WWJD bands to remind them to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” in a moral or ethical situation. Buddhists find ethical guidance by considering what the Buddha would have done, deriving their insights from teachings passed down through generations, as well as through frequent consultation with teachers, known as the Sangha. The great holy books of religion, such as the Koran, the Torah, and the Bible, may offer various examples of how to cope with ethical dilemmas.

Factors that affect the development of your code of ethics don’t work in isolation. Instead, they work in close proximity to each other and collectively shape the final outcome in the form of problem solving. In the case of ethical codes, it’s from these factors that you’ll eventually select the attributes that go into making your final decision. These internal processes usually happen so rapidly as to appear automatic. When teachers see something happening that their code of ethics doesn’t allow, they probably don’t have to think twice—their inherent code of ethics immediately guides them to make the appropriate decision. This process is so spontaneous that there’s no room for second thoughts about the decision before putting it into practice. For example, if a teacher sees an older girl taunting a younger girl for her looks, the teacher will probably not stop to ponder the situation before stepping in and separating the two. This is especially true if a pattern of behavior has already been established.

It is an absolute must for every educator to develop reflexive behavior that corresponds to their theoretical code of ethics. The difference between having acted rightly or wrongly may come down to the knee-jerk reaction of a single half-second. Make sure your ability to measure up isn’t in question should it all come down to the wire.

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