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What you can do to help your students do the right thing in your profession:

The process that leads to effective moral action can be roughly divided into three components:

1 – Moral awareness: the process of identifying the ethical issues involved, the parties who have a stake in the action, what is at stake, and what are the action options.

2 – Moral judgment: the process of weighing the ethical considerations that bear on the situation and determining the moral course of action.

3 – Acting in accordance with moral judgment: deciding what the right thing to do is not enough.  One still needs to form the intention to do the moral thing and deal with practical obstacles in order to act effectively.

Below are some of the ways that you can help your students do better each step of the way.



Challenge students to look for the ethical aspects of situations

If you don’t, most likely they won't bother looking for these themselves.  If you do, you’ll encourage this as a habit.

Alert students to obstacles that may impede moral awareness so that they develop a habit of mindfulness about these obstacles

View list of obstacles that may impede moral awareness
Often, just being aware of these obstacles can be enough to guard against them.

Challenge students to role-play various parties impacted by the actions in question

Seeing the world from the perspective of others and empathizing with others is central to moral awareness. Getting your students to role-play is a good way to encourage that.

Encourage students to be creative in identifying action options

Many of us resign ourselves too quickly to the options that appear obvious to us.  The more options we identify, however, the better our decisions can be.

Help create high expectations regarding the importance of good moral inquiry

Help create the classroom, departmental, and school-wide expectation that investigations on topics that potentially touch on moral issues, will include a critical examination of the moral impact such practices may have on all affected parties.  Such an expectation would replace the norm common today, which is largely to ignore the ethical implications of professional practices presented in classroom discussions.



Provide opportunities to practice ethical judgment by examining issues from IOU angles:

  • Ideals – how do the actions/policies measure up to your ideals about what someone with good character does?
  • Obligations – what obligations does the acting party have to others?
  • Utilitarian considerations – what are the positive and negative consequences of the actions in question for the greater social good?

Alert students to the obstacles that may blur judgment so that they develop a habit of mindfulness about these obstacles

View list of obstacles that may impede good moral judgment

We know about many of these obstacles: prejudices, self-serving leaps of reasoning, etc. Being aware of these can help.  

Provide students with opportunities for self-reflection on their decision-making process and on their vision of themselves as professionals

Self-reflection on one’s ethical decision-making process can lead to greater attention to the details of that process.  And self-reflection about who you want to be can help you focus on taking the steps needed to become that person.

Help create expectations that encourage students to approach ethical situations reflectively

Help create the classroom, departmental, and school-wide expectation that ethical situations are to be approached reflectively and by focusing on the IOUs.



Prompt students to consider seriously the obstacles to ethically courageous action – and to become aware of the costs of inaction

This may help both to motivate students to do the right thing and to prepare them for effective ethical action.

Recount memorable stories from your field that illustrate ethical courage   

These might be published stories, your own antidotes, or perhaps those of a guest speaker. Few things can give your students an idea of the realities of acting on one’s moral convictions in your field than hearing it from you.

Help students identify the arguments the opposing side is going to use so that they are prepared to deal with them

Effective ethical action often requires the ability to argue one’s position effectively.

Help students find common ground with a balance of inquiry and sincere, direct, and well-considered advocacy

Effective ethical action – particularly in terms of its long term consequences – often requires being able to find common ground with those who might find the action disagreeable or not in their interest.