Finally, a return to ethics. Perhaps finally is the wrong word. I have just completed an assignment on ethics (actually I began this post a couple of weeks ago when I had just completed an ethics assignment).
Ethics are an extremely complex issue, although they seem relatively straight forward. Moving forward I still wonder what implications this has for teaching as inquiry – an embedded part of the NZ curriculum and as much an expectation of teacher practice as reflections and professionalism.
This inquiry into your teaching practice involves a reflective cycle, upon which you take focus and action your findings within the classroom. This could be called action research, although it may vary slightly.
If, however, we as teachers are doing research which we are sharing with our peers, do we not owe it to the students to involve them so they realise what is actually happening? Beneficence and non-malfiecience (I still struggle spelling those two) are pretty straight forward and almost go without saying. Deception – I cannot imagine this issue coming up as a deliberate part of any teacher inquiry. Yet, what are the ethical implications in terms of informed consent and anonymity/confidentiality?
Informed consent carries with it the participant’s right to not just know what they are involved in, agree to be involved and the right to withdraw at any stage. How does that work when it is a professional obligation and, in some cases, you might be required to do an inquiry around a student? What about the power differential here? If I ask a child to do something like this, they are already in a position of being conditioned to comply* What potential consequences do they imagine if they say no? ** What are the implications for the teacher – do you go ‘tough’ and do it anyway or do you have to redirect your inquiry to focus on other students?
As far as anonymity/confidentiality is concerned, this is next to impossible in a small school community. In my school you know all the students (or just about all the students) and have taught or interacted with all of them at some point in time. Sharing results with other teachers on staff can be interrupted with … ‘is that______? I recognise that handwriting etc’. I have experienced this myself. An inquiry into behaviour featured a quote from me. My name was not attached but it was very obvious to all that I was the one who had written it. It was embarrassing
and felt unnecessary (even though the quote was apt and completely professional).
What about if, upon the completion of an inquiry, others from outside the school want to know about your results and have your information presented. What happens then? Is it this point that ‘research ethics’ become important when in fact they are important throughout the whole process? Or is this just creating work for work’s sake?
I read a statement which essentially said research is not research unless peer reviewed and published. If this is the case then the above debate is unnecessary. I would arg
ue that often these inquiries are research, even if they are only ‘published’ in a staff meeting, in which case if anyone has an easy answer please send it my way! I have found none amongst my readings.
*I often present children with the opportunity to decide not to do a task, or for feedback about something. Often this takes considerable reassurances to get them to believe me. As they work more with me they do come to see that I mean it. Even then they will still check. A reflection on me and the system perhaps. After all, our very system is set up to teach compliance, socialisation, academic hierarchies and reinforce cultural ways of knowing.
**It can be very exciting when kids say ‘no – I don’t want to’ for the first time. They are beginning to experiment with choice. They feel comfortable and safe enough to step out Sometimes that’s okay, and other times I will respond, ‘tough – it’s teacher choice,’ negotiate and alternative (or move into non-verbal cues (i.e. the teacher’s look) if they are just boundary pushing). Context!