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Ethics and Educators
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Welcome to "Ethics and Educators" a blog dedicated to the important conversations related to professional decision making in today's P-12 classrooms. NASDTEC hopes that "Ethics and Educators" will provide a venue that permits professional educators to explore topics associated with professional ethics in education, and more specifically, the Model Code of Ethics for Educators. Our goal is that Ethics and Educators will be a community space that illuminates, clarifies and inspires. Consider how you might like to contribute – perhaps through sharing questions and comments in response to the blogs, submitting topics for discussion, or even contributing as a writer. This blog is managed by the National Council for the Advancement of Educator Ethics (NCAEE) under the guidance of NASDTEC Senior Advisor, Dr. Troy Hutchings.


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June 25, 2015: Shifting the Narrative

Posted By Troy Hutchings, NASDTEC, Monday, July 6, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Troy Hutchings, Ed.D.

Senior Policy Advisor, NASDTEC



June 25, 2015: Shifting the Narrative


Since the introduction of the Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE) five years ago, I have had the opportunity to see first-hand how it is being used by practitioners, preservice candidates and educator groups across the country. Their enthusiastic implementation of the Code is impressive.

More than anything else, I have been able to witness how the conversations engendered by the MCEE are making a significant difference already in the function and trajectory of our profession.

The Model Code of Ethics for Educators was unveiled at the historic National Press Club in Washington D.C. on June 25, 2015. As we commemorate its five-year anniversary, let’s take a step back and reflect on its origins, as well as its current and future use.

The Beginnings

The discussions that led to the MCEE’s creation started within one organization: National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC). Founded in 1928, NASDTEC represents state and provincial departments of education and professional standards boards that are responsible for the preparation, licensure, and – if necessary – the sanctioning of K-12 certified personnel.

In 1997, NASDTEC established an annual conference devoted solely to the topic of educator ethics, as well as the investigation and adjudication of educator misconduct. Known as the Professional Practices Institute (PPI), the conference is regularly attended by attorneys, investigators, state directors, education preparation providers and district officials. Attendee conversations in the meeting rooms and hallways of the PPI helped fuel the early discussions that eventually led to the development of the MCEE.

Between 2012 and 2014, NASDTEC organized a series of purposeful initiatives – symposiums, surveys, webinars, presentations, meetings with professional organization partners – to affirm the need and assess the support for the development of a professional code of ethics.

In the spring of 2014, professional educational organizations selected a diverse and representative group of P-12 stakeholders from across the country – practicing paraprofessionals, teachers, school administrators, district superintendents and state department of education officials from around the country – to serve on the MCEE Task Force. The group met for the first time in Baltimore, Maryland in June 2014 and began a year-long process of drafting a code of ethics.

After numerous face-to-face and virtual meetings, the MCEE Task Force disseminated a draft edition of the code for public comment in February 2015. Based on the feedback it received, the final draft of the document was unveiled at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on June 25, 2015.

Limitless Utility

The beauty of the Code – and something that I certainly didn’t anticipate – is that its utility to the education profession does not seem to have limitations. The more I work with practitioners as they engage with the MCEE, the more I realize that it cannot easily be summed up with a quick and easy phrase like “professional norms,” “guide to ethical behavior,” “or statement of values.” Those brief descriptions do not do justice to the full potential of the Code as a tool for educators and the profession.

Consider the middle school English teacher whose choice of literature upset some parents: “Using the MCEE, in conjunction with guidelines from the National Council of Teachers of English, I was able to explain the value of the literary selection to the parents and my principal. But just as importantly, I was able to shift the narrative from what ‘I believe is best’ to ‘as teachers, we believe.’”

Or the high school principal who shared with me that the MCEE now gives him permission to have honest, caring discussions with teachers when they may be approaching a compromising situation: “School administrators don’t always feel comfortable discussing those things with a teacher if a line hasn’t been crossed,” he said.

And when an entire elementary school implemented the MCEE into their daily practice, the changes were unmistakable. “Now we are meeting about the micro-steps prior to an issue occurring,” said one teacher, “and its far deeper than discussing ethical dilemmas – we are discussing the steps that lead to an ethical dilemma.” Another shared that “perhaps the greatest gift of the Code is setting educators on that journey of discussions.” An early childhood teacher proclaimed that “we now feel empowered as professionals.”

Of course, this makes sense.

The interpretability of The Model Code of Ethics for Educators allows for robust professional discussions and targeted applications that are unique to every schooling community.

Moving Forward

Since its introduction, the Model Code of Ethics for Educators has been rapidly adopted by a wide range of educational organizations, including state departments of education, county offices of education, school districts and educator preparation programs. As the promotion and implementation of the MCEE continues, we should ask ourselves this germane question: What impact will professional ethics have on the everyday working lives of educators?

In a series of articles that I wrote for RealClear Politics in 2016, I envisioned a future in which professional ethics was a natural part of the preparation and professional learning of educators – as it is in other professions:

 At first, the changes would be structural – teachers would receive training on professional ethics in preparation programs, have discussions involving ethical issues with mentors as they navigate the early years of their careers, and ideally, continue to get refreshers in the form of professional development in which teams of teachers revisit the principles of professional ethics … and discuss with each other how they apply to their own challenges in the classroom.

All of this would go a long way toward helping individual teachers navigate the complexities of their role and become more aware of the unintended consequences of the thousands of decisions they make on a daily basis. But over time, once the idea of professional ethics has become engrained in the field as a whole – and as important to teaching as content and pedagogy – the impact could be transformative.

Educators would avoid falling into the trap of assuming that misconduct is a discrete event and something that only happens to teachers that lose sight of their personal moral compass. Instead, it would acknowledge the collective risk that all teachers face as a result of the demands of their overlapping roles and the intensely personal relationships they are expected to follow.

In turn, this understanding would give teachers permission to approach each other in candid, professional discussions about uncomfortable subjects. This kind of professional environment would allow teachers to self-regulate as a field. And the collective awareness of professional obligations fostered by this environment would allow many situations to be addressed before damage is done and the teachers’ reputations – and students’ lives – face irrevocable harm.

But that is just the beginning. If these kinds of conversations are brought to light in transparent ways, parents and the community as a whole also could understand the challenges that teachers face … over time, this understanding could lead to a much deeper respect for teachers – and the profession as a whole. Perhaps more than anything, that’s what professional ethics can bring to the field – a rethinking of teaching as a true profession, in the eyes of policymakers, the public, and most importantly, in the eyes of teachers themselves.[1]

Although this work is just beginning, the initiative to empower educators through the development and implementation of a professional code of ethics may have a far greater impact than we could have initially imagined.

And that’s because the concept of professional ethics generally – and the MCEE in particular – places responsibility back in the hands of the practitioner. Perhaps most importantly, the Code is successfully engendering collective conversations which, as the middle school English so artfully articulated: “… shifts the narrative from what ‘I believe is best’ to ‘as teachers, we believe.’”

[1] Hutchings, T. (2016). Professional ethics and professionalizing education, RealClear Politics. October 21, 2016.


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Abolishing the Discomfort

Posted By Troy Hutchings, NASDTEC, Monday, June 15, 2020


Troy Hutchings, Ed.D.

Senior Policy Advisor, NASDTEC


Abolishing the Discomfort

Amid our country’s most recent racial reckoning, let’s not forget that schools have historically been – and will no doubt continue to be – a legal battleground for society’s struggle with racism, equity and equality.

The systemic challenges that our educational system faces are profound. But let’s be perfectly clear – it is the individual educator who has the greatest potential to be the arbiter of change and the engine of social progress.

Regardless of the community or grade level, educators will be navigating difficult and potentially polarizing conversations when school resumes this fall – with colleagues, parents, students – related to race relations, power structures in society, the appropriate methods of confronting and challenging societal inequity, and how best to discuss deeply controversial current events.


As we consider how to shape these conversations, we need to honestly and thoroughly examine the impediments that may constrain appropriate action.

This past week, one high school educator in Maryland did precisely that. In an article entitled My Failures as a White Teacher Confronting Racism in the Classroom, teacher Dylan Craig courageously examines why he, and I dare say many of us, have faltered or stood silent when faced with subtle or even blatant displays of racism.

According to Craig, it is not enough to act on discriminatory comments made by students in the hallways and classrooms by applying rote disciplinary actions and demanding half-hearted apologies:

I faltered, not because I felt the discussion was over, or because I felt they had learned something. I stopped because I was uncomfortable. I questioned whether it is my place to discuss false meritocracies. I falter when students frame discussions of human rights as arguments between liberal versus conservative viewpoints, and I fear being accused of indoctrinating students. I falter as I see my students fall back on their personal political views of individualism. School is meant to be a place to allow students to think for themselves and develop their own views — but what views are they developing if those views are based on a false narrative that I am too uncomfortable to address?[1]

Dylan Craig’s experiences are not unique. His honest reflection speaks for educators across the country and exposes what I think is a harsh reality – when faced with deeply disconcerting issues, we may falter because we are uncomfortable acting in isolation.

By identifying our collective professional values and obligations, we strengthen our resolve in countering dangerous and damaging narratives when working with students, colleagues, and other members of the schooling community. Codes of ethics contain the norms that affirm and empower collective professional action. The conversations they engender help to shatter the professional isolation that lead us to question purpose and role – the very competing tensions contained within Mr. Craig’s reflective writing.

Here is the beauty of a broadly agreed-upon code – it unequivocally states what we believe and the standards to which we aspire. Practitioners stand united in their convictions regardless of the turbulent currents in public discourse.

There is a reason why equity and equality are prominent themes in the Model Code of Ethics for Educators – quite simply, they are each central to the mission of professional educators. The Code recognizes and enshrines the fundamental obligation of all educators to acknowledge and deconstruct the barriers to opportunity faced by any student – regardless of whether those barriers are brazenly explicit or insidiously implicit. Eleven MCEE standards, articulated in all five of the Principles, are devoted to the professional responsibilities of equity, equality, and anti-discrimination.

But those MCEE standards go beyond merely stating professional values – they express an ethical standard of purposeful movement. Rooted in action phrases, they refute complacency or neutrality.

Our responsibility to the profession entails not just holding oneself accountable to the ethical standards, but also our colleagues and the broader school community. As uncomfortable as professional accountability may be – it needs to be done. In just the two weeks since the death of George Floyd, news outlets have reported that a public school superintendent, as well as several teachers and coaches, have been fired or resigned due to insensitive, tone deaf, or racist social media posts.

We can do better.

Let’s be emboldened by our stated collective professional norms and obligations as articulated in the Model Code of Ethics for Educators, allow ourselves to have the difficult conversations – and in the process, abolish the discomfort that is often rooted in professional isolationism.


[1] Craig, D. (June 5, 2020). My Failures as a White Teacher Confronting Racism in the Classroom. Maryland Matters.




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Ethics During a Pandemic

Posted By Troy Hutchings, NASDTEC, Thursday, March 19, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, July 15, 2020



Troy Hutchings, Ed.D.

Senior Policy Advisor, NASDTEC


Ethics During a Pandemic

Professional ethics is greater than a code. It’s a spirit. An ideal. Remaining steadfast to the calling that propels our life’s work.

I was reminded of this yesterday during a phone call with a school district administrator. I started our meeting with an apology – maybe now wasn’t the time to discuss a tangential topic like professional ethics when her large urban district, like all districts, was grappling with the impact of the Coronavirus.

“Nothing is more important than professional ethics at a time like this,” she stated with conviction.

Her response was not what I expected. And in all honesty, I was struggling to make the connection between the Model Code of Ethics for Educators and the pandemic.

But it wasn’t about a code of ethics.

When the administrative team at her district was faced with developing a strategic plan specific to this crisis, the prospect of completely redesigning schooling was the most viable option – and it needed to be completed in a matter of hours. Imagine the pressure.

The clock was ticking.

But they decided that all decisions needed to emanate from a community-created framework – the district’s mission, vision and the pillars of their strategic plan. They worked diligently with a focus. Overriding objectives were created, all aligned to the district’s mission, which then gave birth to short-term and long-term strategies needed to provide for the basic needs of the students, the employees and the community during this time of crisis.

Facing an overwhelming avalanche of decisions, I can almost hear the superintendent say to her cabinet, “Let’s take a deep breath and step back for a second – let’s revisit the core of what we believe.”

We sometimes forget that schools are the epicenter of society – involving not only educational practitioners, but also resource officers, nutritionists, social workers, probation officers, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, audiologists, court-appoint advocates, as well as medical and mental health professionals who all work cohesively within the schooling environment – and we haven’t even mentioned basic provisions such as breakfast and lunches.  

Providing educational services is about putting systems into place to meet the needs of ALL students and their families in an equitable fashion. Can you imagine the enormity of that task?

Think about it – even during heightened anxiety, increased scrutiny and with little time, the district’s core ideological framework became the starting point for the myriad important decisions that would need to be made during an unprecedented crisis.

All decisions flowed from that touchstone – an ideal to frame a district’s ethos, and a collectively agreed-upon vision to guide those important decisions.

Now that’s acting in the public’s best interest. That’s professional ethics – even without a code.



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Professional Ethics: It's All About the "We"

Posted By Troy Hutchings, NASDTEC, Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, July 15, 2020



Troy Hutchings, Ed.D.

Senior Policy Advisor, NASDTEC


Professional Ethics: Its All About the "We"

During her opening remarks at this year’s Professional Practices Institute, the current NASDTEC President shared a line from a series of well-known commercials to illustrate the collective knowledge held by the conference attendees:

We know a thing or two, because we've seen a thing or two.” 

The tagline communicates experience, a resulting professional wisdom, and perhaps most critically, it infers trust.

I couldn’t help but consider how that slogan embodies the kind of agency that professional ethics strives to achieve. At its very core, professional ethics makes a promise: “You can trust us – we are acting in the public’s best interest.”

But what assurance does the public have that we are acting in its best interest? After all, this is a profession that values and even relishes professional autonomy – which works well with teaching methodologies and classroom protocol, but it may not necessarily inspire public confidence when serious situations occur.

Social psychologist Albert Bandura, provides insight through a concept he calls “collective agency … people’s shared belief in their collective power to produce desired results.”[1] In other words, practitioners working together to navigate the complexities of a profession that has multiple duties, overlapping obligations, and a staggering amount of high-stakes responsibilities.

Collective agency has the potential to tap into the shared wisdom of educators – their experiences, their preparation, their knowledge, and when used with the Model Code of Ethics for Educators, the profession’s collective values.

But most importantly, there is an exciting and dynamic synergy involved when colleagues work together in response to emerging situations and issues. It connects us to each other as educators, and as professionals – regardless of the grade levels or subject areas that we teach.

I have witnessed literally hundreds of educator groups working together to resolve ethical dilemmas – in schools as well as workshop and research settings – where collective agency is occurring in a vibrant manner. Practitioners discussing together the competing tensions, possible risks and consequences of complex situations that may be unique to their learning community. Laughter and stories always emerge – resulting in a shared honesty and transparency. And by using a common set of standards – the Model Code of Ethics for Educators – they have a guide in working towards a common solution:

  • Third grade teachers in a suburban elementary school created a professional response to parents who were insisting that teachers utilize personal social media platforms for communication purposes.
  • Coaches at a small rural high school realized that they were all facing the same dilemma – the one student who has no way to get home late at night after an athletic event. Together, they created a solution that didn’t involve placing students in their personal vehicles – yet ensured student safety.
  • High school educators who were implementing SEL strategies into their classrooms were concerned about how to cultivate caring relationships in a safe manner. They created agreed-upon boundaries – which actually enhanced the teacher-student relationship, while at the same time ensuring professional integrity.

Professional ethics speaks with one voice. It relies on the shared wisdom and experiences of practitioners when responding to the unique variables present in each situation. It removes decision-making from the wheelhouse of an individualized personal morality and places it in the hands of a collective and unified profession.

By exercising collective agency, there will rarely be accusations related to conflict-of-interest, self-serving decisions, or immunity from the common good. Quite simply, it inspires public confidence.

In a profession that routinely considers decision-making as an individual and isolated endeavor, let’s recognize the efficacy of collective agency.

It’s all about the “we.”

WE know a thing or two, because WE’VE seen a thing or two.”   

[1] Bandura, A. (2000). Exercise of human agency through collective efficacy. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 75-78.



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The Greater Priority

Posted By Troy Hutchings, NASDTEC, Sunday, January 5, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Troy Hutchings, Ed.D.

Senior Policy Advisor, NASDTEC


The Greater Priority

The question resonated with candor and clarity in the hushed board room.

“What is the greater priority for educators – an understanding of professional ethics or an understanding of the regulations that govern an educator’s practice?”

After listening to my testimony on professional ethics and the Model Code of Ethics for Educators, the Chair of the state’s Educator Ethics Task Force reframed the question: “As we contemplate whether to recommend  additional requirements to educator preparation programs, should the top priority for teacher candidates be an understanding of professional ethics or an understanding of regulations?”

I have worked with thousands of educators throughout the country and have come to a conclusion that will probably startle and certainly dismay parents and other community stakeholders – teachers generally have little to no knowledge of either professional ethics or the regulatory frameworks that govern their profession.

And that’s a travesty.

Codes of conduct (e.g., laws, certification statutes and district policies) are designed to protect all stakeholders within the school community. They establish basic boundaries – the bright red lines that cannot be crossed without significant consequences. But codes of conduct are not aspirational. They are written to establish the lowest threshold of acceptable behavior for all educators.

Professional ethics, on the other hand, are collectively agreed-on standards that prompt, guide and inform decision-making. They can be contextualized to unique settings and situations while assisting practitioners in choosing the most appropriate course-of-action.                                         

Both are important. Both define and inform a professional standard-of-care. Both establish norms for professional practice. Both inspire public confidence. When used together, educators’ decisions not only bear public scrutiny, they assuredly reflect the highest levels of beneficence and public trust – a profession acting in the best interest of those that it serves.

Yet, the question that was posed to me on that day asked me to choose one or the other – the greater priority – an understanding of professional ethics or an understanding of regulations?

I responded without reservation: “a thorough understanding of policies, statues and law should always take precedence.”

Let’s examine this a bit more closely.

Clear and unambiguous conduct absolutes are necessary in a fiduciary profession when teachers act in loco parentis with society’s most treasured resources – its children.

But it’s not enough to merely pass out a list of district policies and have educators acknowledge they have read them. Practitioners will always have insightful and germane questions pertaining to specific situations. Consider a situation that is familiar to most educators: a district policy might state that putting a student in an employee’s personal vehicle is not allowed, but every educator will be able to provide multiple scenarios when it might be necessary. So, let’s provide opportunities for robust discussions without judgment.

In addition, I have found that most teachers are not aware of the statutes that govern their professional license, let alone the federal and state laws that specifically apply to educators. Everyone knows that a romantic relationship between a student and an educator is forbidden, but how does the law define “student”? Does your state do so by age, by graduation date, by supervisory relationship or some other metric? In one state, high school graduates are considered students until August 31 of the year they graduate. In another state, the defining threshold is 90 days if the educator had direct supervision of the student, and 60 days if the supervision was indirect. Consider the damaging consequences of not fully discerning the subtleties of state specific laws!

As paradoxical as it may seem, even the Model Code of Ethics for Educators acknowledges the deference that should be given to policy and law. The very first two standards of the MCEE clearly acknowledges this regulatory priority:       

  • MCEE I.A(1): “… understanding of the Code (MCEE) is not in itself, a defense to a charge of unethical conduct.”
  • MCEE I.A(2): “… knowing and upholding the procedures, policies, laws and regulations … regardless of personal views.”

In addition, there are many other MCEE standards that nod to the importance of adhering to policy and statutes.[1]

When confronted with a new situation or one that presents significant but conflicting tensions, the first step in the decision-making process should always be to refer to applicable codes of conduct and consider their application to potential decision points. Once the practitioner is satisfied that the minimum threshold of acceptable behavior has been cleared – which is an obligation as a state-licensed professional – then the broader ethical implications should be considered. The Model Code of Ethics for Educators is designed to afford practitioners the opportunity to discuss the situation in the context of our professional responsibility to act in the public’s best interest, while minimizing professional risk to themselves and the schooling community.

I was able to provide an unwavering response to the Chair’s question because a solid grounding in law, regulation and policy should be a prerequisite given the immensely important duties ascribed to educators.

But it was only a partial answer.

Educators not only need to be law abiding; they need to be ethical as well. And that’s a career-long objective that the MCEE can facilitate.



[1] MCEE Standards: I.B.5, IV.A.4, IV.B.3, IV.C.1, IV.D.1, IV.D.2, V.A.4, V.A.5, V.B.1, V.C.2, V.C.3 


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