Teachers’ Ethical Sensitivity: An international pilot study

Year: 2018

Author: Boon, Helen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Developing preservice teachers who are ethically sensitive and able to make equitable moral judgements to resolve dilemmas encountered in classrooms is considered an essential attribute of quality teaching, advocated historically by early pedagogues (Dewey 1904). Therefore a drive to foster professional teacher dispositions which are responsive to the range of challenges that arise in classrooms is a current imperative in initial teacher education programs (Boon & Maxwell 2016) around the world (e.g.  Walters, Heilbronn, & Daly, 2018; Ji, 2017; Cook-Sather & Baker-Doyle, 2017; Avci, 2017). The Australian requirement for an assessment of dispositional attributes alongside academic ones for entry into higher education teacher training programs (Ingvarson et al, 2014) reflects this international focus.
In the current global context the objectives of this research were to adapt, pilot, and validate a research instrument for assessing the ethical sensitivity as a proxy measure of preservice teachers’ dispositions —that is, their ability to perceive ethical issues arising in practice.  In the first phase of the research, a team of experts in professional ethics education for future teachers from Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, England and the US, collaborated with members of the educational community to construct a qualitative scenario based test for ethical sensitivity. The scenarios constructed involved four situations based on: Religious Symbols, Professional Teacher Conversations, Student Attainment Dilemmas, and Confidentiality connected to Parental Interviews. The second phase, reported here, comprised of piloting the constructed instrument with 75 participants across Australia, Canada and the US. Inter-rater reliability analyses confirmed the scoring applied by three independent raters; Rasch analyses were employed to construct measures from the scores obtained from the participants’ qualitative responses to the four test scenarios, and to assess and refine the instrument’s validity. The final phase of the project involves a large scale international application of the validated instrument which will employ Rasch analysis to differentiate participant groups.
Results of the piloting phase of the project with a mixed sample of preservice and in-service teachers suggest that there are differences in ethical sensitivity pertaining to the 4 scenarios used in the testing. These differences are based on gender, area of teacher specialisation, religiosity, IQ, teaching experience and the contextual factors of each test scenario. Results which will be confirmed by the third phase of the project suggest that ethics courses in initial teacher education programs are desirable for the development of appropriate dispositional characteristics for future teachers.