Life is so much easier when there is a clear “right” way and “wrong” way. When we discussed contrived situations and hypotheticals, there is always a clear answer. But real life doesn’t work that way. Real life ethical dilemmas have no obvious or right answer. You can probably convince yourself to both sides of the argument. There are a lot of competing factors that play a real role in the situation. In our jobs we are faced with this situations on a regular basis. Maybe you’ve gotten so good at dealing with them you barely notice them anymore. But even for a veteran teacher – these situations can be beyond challenging. I spent several semesters teaching ethics to graduate students in ABA. My colleagues would joke with me why I wanted to teach such a ‘dry’ class but honestly I loved it. I loved getting my students to explore the intricacies and “grey” areas that they were faced with on a regular basis.

Consult the law. With every ethical situation that comes to you, the first thing is to consult the law. Are there any guidelines for this? Are there legal ramifications in any way? Can a student with IEP go on the bus without an aide? What are the regulations related to toiling with a student of the opposite sex? What happens if my staff isn’t certified in a restraint procedure? Know if there are any legal answers before you even get started on any internal debates over what you ‘should’ do. My go-to website for everything special ed law is the Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy Website. They usually have an answer for everything.

Discuss the situation with a trustworthy colleague or mentor. Now I am not advocating blabbing and gossiping all over the place what is very likely confidential information. That is a sure fire way to help turn your one ethical dilemma into two ethical dilemmas. But have two brains involved in the problem solving process can be helpful. It’s also usually insightful to get another point of view that you may not have considered. Whether you are determining the wording for a sensitive discussion with a parent or when to go to your administrators with a challenging issue with a staff member – get a little advice. Preface the discussion by putting some confidentially terms in place and approach the colleague in a “I need some advice” framework and not “I want to complain about my job” headspace.

Write it out. Sometimes we get so stuck in our heads that we get disorganized and may lose sight of some important little details. Take some cues from your visual learners and write out the options and potential consequences. Make a pros/cons list or a little mini flowchart to see how the options change the end result.

Have a paper trail. I’m not saying cover your butt. Actually yea, cover your butt. Not in a sneaky, did-something-wrong way but in a have-a-way-to-prove-I-followed-protocol way. In our world there are so many cooks in the kitchen.

There are teachers, case managers, clinicians, vice principals, principals, paras, parents, etc. Balls will get dropped and in sensitive situations you may need a way to show that you weren’t the one to drop the ball. Make extra copies of incident reports so you have your own copy, cc your administrators on challenging emails with parents or outside clinicians, keep a collaboration log for meetings with staff, send emails or texts about important meetings so you have a record. I’m not saying this to be paranoid, but in the worst case scenario – a paper trail isn’t a bad thing to have.

Above everything, always have the best interests of your students at heart. This probably goes without saying but sometimes we can get lost in the bureaucracy or wanting to look good for a new principal or avoiding rocking the boat. At every step along the way when sorting through an ethical dilemma, think “What is best for this student?” that question will likely lead you to the right solution. It may not be the popular or easy solution but it will be time to put your advocacy pants on and fight for it. Because it’s probably the right choice.

Sasha Long
Sasha Long

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