ethics
We will begin the course with a review of ethics and practice standards for special educators and paraeducators as developed by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC).

Table of Contents

  • Professional Special Educator Standards
  • Voices from the Field

Excerpt from: Rhode Island College, Academic Integrity and Ethics Across the Discipline, https://library.ric.edu/c.php?g=62216&p=400365
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License unless otherwise noted.

Key Takeaways

  • The Profession
    (1) Special education professionals assume responsibility for participating in professional organizations and adherence to the standards and codes of ethics of those organizations.
    ……
    (5) Special education professionals initiate, support, and/or participate in research related to the education of persons with exceptionalities with the aim of improving the quality of educational services, increasing the accountability of programs, and generally benefiting persons with exceptionalities.

Go to and download the Special Educators Code of Ethics

Professional special educators are guided by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) professional, ethical principles (see below) and practice standards (see below) in ways that respect the diverse characteristics and needs of individuals with exceptionalities and their families. They are committed to upholding and advancing the following principles:

  1. Maintaining challenging expectations for individuals with exceptionalities to develop the highest possible learning outcomes and quality of life potential in ways that respect their dignity, culture, language, and background.
  2. Maintaining a high level of professional competence and integrity and exercising professional judgment to benefit individuals with exceptionalities and their families.
  3. Promoting meaningful and inclusive participation of individuals with exceptionalities in their schools and communities.
  4. Practicing collegially with others who are providing services to individuals with exceptionalities.
  5. Developing relationships with families based on mutual respect and actively involving families and individuals with exceptionalities in educational decision making.
  6. Using evidence, instructional data, research and professional knowledge to inform practice.
  7. Protecting and supporting the physical and psychological safety of individuals with exceptionalities.
  8. Neither engaging in nor tolerating any practice that harms individuals with exceptionalities.
  9. Practicing within the professional ethics, standards, and policies of CEC; upholding laws, regulations, and policies that influence professional practice; and advocating improvements in laws, regulations, and policies.
  10. Advocating for professional conditions and resources that will improve learning outcomes of individuals with exceptionalities.
  11. Engaging in the improvement of the profession through active participation in professional organizations.
  12. Participating in the growth and dissemination of professional knowledge and skills.

Adopted by the CEC Board of Directors, January 2010

arrowGo to and read special educator standards from the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) that apply to your program area.

Later in the course we will read and discuss the new guiding principles that have been recently adopted by the NH State Board of Education. New Hampshire Department of Education, (2018,  June 13) Guiding Principles: The Code of Ethics for New Hampshire Teachers.  This Code of Ethics focuses on the teacher as a professional who has a highly regarded impact on students. With this responsibility comes expectations above and beyond other professions. The Code of Ethics has been drafted to address intellectual property, personal relationships and  the impact of social media.

Voices from the field

Voices from the field

Teacher candidates were asked to choose one of the special education teacher standards and discuss how that “looks” in the daily life a special educator.

The standard I chose was 1.1 Systematically individualize instructional variables to maximize the learning outcomes of individuals with exceptionalities.  I see this every day in the school where I work.  The special educators are constantly meeting with their students, or teachers to  supply supports for those that require it, whatever they may be. It all seems seamless, but there are hours of work planning and strategizing that take place behind the scenes. Judith Moore

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1.1 Tailoring education programs to meet the specific needs of each individual student is at the heart of the IEP. It is incumbent upon us as educators to understand that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t suffice in our field. What works really well for one student may not work at all for another student, even if those students have the same diagnosis on paper. anonymous

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1.4 “Create safe, effective, and culturally responsive learning environments which contribute to fulfillment of needs, stimulation of learning, and realization of positive self-concepts.”

The look of this in everyday life is a classroom where students feel safe and nurtured in their learning environment. It is a classroom where students feel confident enough to participate in classroom activities, a classroom where mistakes or wrong answers are not feared, and a classroom where every student feels as though they are an integral part of the group. anonymous

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1.6 Use culturally and linguistically appropriate assessment procedures that accurately measure what is intended to be measured, and do not discriminate against individuals with exceptional or culturally diverse learning needs.

There are many ways this can look in the daily life of a special educator.  I have watch special educators give assessments orally instead of the child having to write down his/her answers, I have seen them give them more time, or questions rewritten to be at their reading level.  I have also seen entire assessments be completely modified to enable a nonverbal child to use his pecs board or communication device to answer.  They come up with creative ways for their students to be successful and be able to prove their success and show their knowledge in their own ways. anonymous

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1.6 When we think about assessing, its usually following a standardized test.  However, to fully measure what a student knows the assessment should be relatable to their everyday lives.  Therefore, it is important to get to know your students as individuals. This allows you the opportunity to learn and understand their cultural background and beliefs. It is just as important that assessments be provided in the student’s primary language. The same goes for information that is sent home (parents may not be able to read important IEP information if it is not in their native language). Nicole Coonrod

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I sought out a standard that best relates to what I do now and that is 1.8: Support the use of positive behavior supports and conform to local policies relating to the application of disciplinary methods and behavior change procedures, except when the policies require their participation in corporal punishment.  As I mentioned, we use a  Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) model of behavior engagement at our school.  We believe a behavior is a form of communication.  I.E. a student calling his para educator ‘a dummy’ may be his/her way of saying “I don’t know the words to express that I don’t understand the lesson that was just presented.”  At my school, our case managers look at behaviors as a form of communication and that is how we work with them.  I think this is true with a lot of special educators. Jacqueline Godin

1.8  I have worked with positive behavior programs as my role as a paraprofessional.  In my role I use a lot of ABA  as well as, behavior charts to help students change their behavior.  I have found that it is easier to help shape a students behavior through positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement.  With one student I worked with I was able to ignore the negative (as long as it was not hurting the student or others) then when the appropriate behavior manifested, I would reward that positive behavior.  In my school we try to provide a lot of proactive support versus reactive support.  Being proactive helps to eliminate some behaviors.  It also shows the student that the people around them care so they are more apt to want to engage in positive behaviors instead of the negative behaviors they were exhibiting. anonymous

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It’s hard to imagine that any teacher would inflict corporal punishment on any child, yet students with disabilities face corporal punishment in public schools at disproportionately high rates according to a report by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch.  Paula Lombardi

Read more at: American Civil Liberties Union, (2009). Impairing Education, Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public School. Retrieve from https://www.aclu.org/report/impairing-education-corporal-punishment-students-disabilities-us-public-schools

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1.12. “Recommend special education services necessary for an individual with an exceptional learning need to receive an appropriate education” (Council for Exceptional Children, 2015). In the daily life of a special educator, an example of how this could look is, after a student is in the classroom for a few months of school, the Special Education Teacher voices a concern about a preschool students ability to effectively complete tasks that require a lot of fine motor strength to the occupational therapist. Together they decide that the student would benefit from OT sessions and takes the next steps to getting this put into the students IEP to help the student be more successful. Julia Lewis

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When I read this standard (1.12), I thought about what I have seen happen in the classroom. This standard may occur in daily life if a teacher recognizes that a student in the classroom is not responding to curriculum and other supports that are put in place in the classroom. They may bring their concerns to the grade level special education teacher/case manager. Then the special education teacher/case manager will observe the child and begin the referral and evaluation process to determine what supports need to be put into place for the child to receive an appropriate education. Isabella Desimone

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1.17 Only use behavior change practices that are evidence based, appropriate to their preparation, and which respect the culture, dignity, and basic human rights of individuals with exceptionalities.  Occasionally, there are students who have behavioral struggles. That being said, the student must still be respected and have their dignity preserved. If a student was having a difficult time in the middle of a classroom, the special educator may find that bringing them to another room where they can have privacy to handle their emotions would be the best choice. That goes along with substandard 1.8, where they must use positive behavioral supports in times of behavioral struggles, refrain from averse techniques, and do not use corporal punishment. (Council for Exceptional Students, 2015) anonymous

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While reading through “Standards for Professional Practice” from the Council for Exceptional Children, standard 4.4,Collaborate with both general and special education professional colleagues as well as other personnel serving individuals with exceptionalities to improve outcomes for individuals with exceptionalities” stuck out to me. During my time in special education I have come to realize how important collaboration is to best help your students. In special education, collaboration can look many different ways. It could be with general education teachers, occupational therapists, paraprofessionals, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, parents, and the list goes on. The IEP team is a great example of the importance of collaboration. The IEP team is purposefully built to bring people of different specialties to the table so they can help one another build the best plan for the individual student and to identify any specialized help that may be needed.   Anonymous

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Standard 4.1 states:   Recognize and respect the skill and expertise of professional colleagues from other disciplines as well as colleagues from their own disciplines (Council for Exceptional Children, 2015).  I meet twice a week with general education teachers in my “team.”  The team teaches the same cohort of students.  I also meet weekly with the Literature Professional Learning Community.  In addition, I meet weekly with the Special Education Team.  Every group has a different set of priorities to consider.  Because I feel like I am brand new again, it is extremely important and helpful for me to consider the expertise of the other team members.  I walk away from every meeting having learned something.  It is a humbling experience at times, but being open to learning and appreciating the skill of others has been one of the most helpful and accessible tools for me this year. Jessica Warning

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4.4 I currently work within a preschool where “collaboration” excels and the students and their families benefit greatly.  Our teams are in constant communication with families, providers and with each other.  We often sit and have brain storming/problem solving sessions to work on issues we are facing with students. We have teachers and support teams that are open to trying new ideas and changing strategy until we find what works.  The best part is, these ideas come from varying places (sometimes paras, specialists, parents or admins).  We truly have an open-door collaborative approach. It’s an amazing and supportive environment for the teachers and the children.  This is a daily focus and without frequent reminders that we are a team, that collaboration could easily get lost in the daily shuffle. Without collaboration our special educators and case managers would likely feel overwhelmed and potentially lose sight of their responsibilities. Having a team to rely on to deliver individualized instruction and support, or lean on for advice and strategy is key to delivering on our student goals.  I am very lucky to have my placement at this school! Deanna Hanley

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One thing I’ve noticed from watching different case managers is the importance of patience. Another very important characteristic is being able to handle confrontation. Emotions can run high among different staff, and a special education teacher must remain calm and understanding, regulating their emotions. I used to watch my supervisor listen understandingly to teachers who were very upset by some students in the program. He had a way of making everyone feel like he was on their side and looking out for their interests–others in special education, general education teachers, and students. Rachel Stoudt

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As a first-year para I am seeing how important the standards that fall under 5.0 are to the special education program and this is very true of 5.3 Provide ongoing information to paraeducators regarding their performance of assigned tasks (CEC, 2015). I want constructive feedback from the special education and classroom teachers I work with for my professional development and to have a better understanding of how best to meet the learning goals of the students with whom I work. The special educator is responsible for a lot of “moving parts” and making sure that the paraeducator understands their own role and responsibilities is so important to this process. I have always felt comfortable asking my supervisor questions and for follow-up feedback with how I am applying any interventions, accommodations, and modifications. Having this open communication has been so important because we interact with the students differently, during different times during the day, and in different settings and contexts. Rebecca Foss

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One special education standard in regards to paraeducators is: 5.4. Provide timely, supportive, and collegial communications to paraeducators regarding tasks and expectations” (2015). Among all of the other responsibilities that come with being a special educator, supervising and supporting paraeducators who work with the special education students is also a priority. In the daily life of a special educator, this standard may ‘look’ like checking in with the paraeducator via email or in person, answering any questions they have about their tasks/responsibilities, and clarifying aspects of the student’s IEP or behavior plan for the paraeducator. They also may be following up on data that the paraeducator has been collecting, and letting the para know if they should be doing anything differently. Caitlin Dubisz

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5.4 This standard resonated with me because I worked as a paraprofessional for two years and now this is my first year as a case manager, so I have experienced both sides of this professional relationship. I have worked as a paraprofessional under a case manager who did not provide clear explanations of what I was expected to do. On the other hand, I have worked as a paraprofessional under yet a different case manager who always gave me clear explanations, valued my thoughts, and always supported me and helped me follow through with expectations. Now that I am a case manager, I model myself after the latter. I always try to communicate frequently with my paraprofessionals, give them clear expectations, and value their input. anonymous


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