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Applied Ethics according to Collste, (2012) is;
“the art or science of reflecting on moral dilemmas and moral problems in different social contexts.” (Collste, 2012, p. 18).
He goes on to show us that applied ethics requires a multiplicity of methods to achieve a conclusion to the question under inquiry. These include:

  • Knowledge of all relevant views relating to the question both philosophical and considered judgment by professionals.
  • Factual information from all disciplines or parties concerned. 

This is a reflective process where the conclusion is reached where the morally relevant aspects, the factual information and considered judgement meet. This is described as reflective equilibrium where a deeper understanding of the possible answer to the question is achieved.

Colltse (2012, p. 27) tells us that professional ethics is based on the practice of a profession and that professional work is distinguished by the following criteria:

  • Academic education.
  • Importance of services provided.
  • Professional degree.
  • Professional association.
  • Autonomy.
  • Ethics code or code of conduct.

As educators because of the relationships and obligations we have to learners, colleagues, whanau and the wider school community we face differing levels of ethical dilemmas almost daily. For example; from health and safety to loyalty to confidentiality perspectives. Tensions have always existed between the claims of the four groups to whom teachers have commitments.

Because of this I was surprised to see that New Zealand's first draft of the code of ethics for all educators and support staff and teacher aides was not written till 2003.  

The professional interactions of teachers are governed by the four ethical principles as outlined in the Education Council Code of Ethics. They do not stand in isolation and exist in a continuing relationship of tension best illustrated by the diagram below.

Autonomy to treat people with rights that are to be honoured and defended
Justice to share power and prevent the abuse of power
Responsible care to do good and minimise harm to others
Truth to be honest with others and self.

The challenge for educators is to maintain that balance but sometimes there is conflict between the professional norm with other moral norms. Such as students who receives assistance from a teacher aide to complete an academic standard and you know that they could not have done so without that academic support. It is here that the code of conduct gives the educator a framework to guide their decisions and to act in a morally correct manner through reflective professional discussion where the interests of learners are regarded as being of prime concern. Is this meeting the primary professional obligation of registered teachers to those they teach? Are we nurturing the capacities of this learner to think and act with developing independence? 

To characterise a "good professional" Collste (2012) sees professional ethics as a type of virtue ethics where through reflective practice the virtuous professional develops the capacity and the desire to live up to the professional standards and make the right decision when resolving the competing claims of different ethical principles and different interest groups while keeping the common goal in mind:

"Teachers certificated to practice in New Zealand are committed to the attainment of the highest standards of professional service in the promotion of learning by those they teach, mindful of the learner's ability, cultural background, gender, age or stage of development." Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand. (2015). 

Collste, G. (2012). Applied and professional ethics. Kemanusiaan, 19 (1), 17-33. Retrieved from:

Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand. (2015). Code of Ethics for Certified Teachers. Retrieved from

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