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Building a business
Ethics Unwrapped: A powerful tool

Mention the topic of ethics and what reaction do we get? A blank stare, a loud sigh and rolling of the eyes, or perhaps an affirmative nod but “we don’t have time for that now.”

Ethical behavior by managers and employees can have a huge impact on reputation, profitability, and community well-being. Yet, how do we as early childhood professionals—those working directly with children, managing a school, or training future caregivers—make it real and meaningful in everyday life?

Ethics Unwrapped, a series of videos available free and online from the University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, could provide the answer. Each of the 49 videos, lasting 5 to 10 minutes apiece, explores a different concept, such as conformity bias, obedience to authority, loss aversion, and conflict of interest, all of which affect ethical behavior.

The video “Framing,” for example, explains how an employee might frame an issue to present it in the most favorable light, without considering negatives consequences but staying loyal to company goals. In the case of NASA’s Challenger mission, engineers voiced concerns about safety but managers overruled them based on dollars and cents.

We see individual young people, many of whom are university students, talking about situations they have encountered that call up ethical questions in class, on the job, and even in personal relationships. The narratives are interspersed with clever and often humorous animation that provides transition and illustrates concepts. Each video contains online questions for discussion and a list of resources for further study.

The content draws from behavioral research and includes mention of real-world and hypothetical ethical lapses in the corporate world—Bernie Madoff’s bilking of investors, Martha Stewart’s lying about stock trading, and Arthur Anderson’s fraudulent auditing of Enron Corporation. With a little thought and discussion, we can apply these examples to our work in education. For starters, how about those times we are tempted to fudge on the truth to cover up a mistake, or to go along with something not quite right because everybody else does it?

Consider showing a video in a staff meeting, professional development workshop, or training class and then encouraging discussion. Find the series at As the series reminds us, it’s not always easy to be a good person.


Prevent teacher falls


“I was walking in the hallway the day before the school year started when I heard a crash,” said Maricella, the school secretary. “I went into the kindergarten classroom and found Ms. Hendrickson on the floor. She had gotten up on a chair to hang something on the wall and fell. She looked dazed, so I called an ambulance.”

Fortunately, Ms. Hendrickson suffered only a slight concussion and returned to school after a couple of days. “But after that accident, we bought stools or stepladders for every classroom,” Maricella said.

Like Ms. Hendrickson, teachers and caregivers often need to tack or reach items up high in their classrooms. Maybe they’re too busy to look for a stool or stepladder, and stepladders may be locked away in a maintenance closet. A teacher may resort to standing on a chair, table, box, or other surface to reach for something or change a smoke alarm battery.

A fall, like the one above, can cost a sizeable sum of money for ambulance and health care as well as lost work days, whereas a stool or stepladder costs from $20 to $60 apiece.


Stools and ladders
Forget straight and extension ladders that lean against a wall. They’re used in construction. Instead, consider an A-frame stepladder or sturdy step stool. Stepladders come in various heights—2-foot, 4-foot, and 6-foot, with a corresponding number of steps. Eight-foot and taller stepladders are probably too tall for classroom use.

Ideally, each room will have its own stool or stepladder, and it may vary according to the person using it. Talk with caregivers and teachers to get their opinions. Consider the following:
Person’s height. A person 5 feet in height may need a taller stepladder than a person 5-feet 8-inches in height.
Person’s body weight plus estimated weight of items carried. The maximum weight a stool or stepladder will hold is specified on the label (200-300 lbs., for example).
Greatest height a person may need to reach. It may be just above the person’s head or a light fixture in the ceiling.
Material of which the stool or stepladder is made. They may be made of steel, aluminum, plastic, fiberglass, or wood.
Number of steps.
Stool or stepladder’s weight for ease in carrying it.
Storage. A stepladder will fold up.
Slip-resistant pads on the steps and bottom of the feet.


Guidelines for use
Store the stool or stepladder where the teacher will have convenient access to it, but out of the reach of children.
Avoid using the stool or stepladder in the presence of children, even when they’re napping. It’s best to use the stool or stepladder before children arrive in the morning or after they leave in the afternoon.
Place the stepladder on a level floor and check stability. Fully extend the spreaders and lock them into position. If possible, have another person hold the stepladder. This second person can also hand things up and help unload things coming down.
With stepladders of 6 or 8 feet in height, never stand on the top two steps.
Keep your body centered between the two side rails. Instead of leaning to the side, get off and move the stepladder.
Never climb up the back of a stepladder. The horizontal bars are designed as support for the frame and not to carry the weight of a person.
Never use a stepladder as a straight ladder propped against a wall.


When there’s a hole in the boat: A lesson


Janis, director of the Live Oak child development program, comes into the office one morning to find the office staff huddled around a computer.

“What’s the matter?” she asks.

“It’s the hard drive,” says one. “It’s been erased.”

“How could that happen?” Janis asks.

Heads turn toward Tracy, the newest employee.

“I guess I did it,” Tracy says ruefully. ”Last night I stayed late to download the employee handbook, and somehow I accidentally hit the delete button. Then I called my boyfriend to try to get it back, and he tried to talk me through backup, but things just kept disappearing.”

Janis sits down in front of the screen. She is no computer expert, but she can see that something is terribly wrong. “Maybe a virus?” she asks. “Ok, I’ll call a tech service.” She spends the rest of the day working with the computer technician.

On the way home that evening, she considers what to do next. Get a better backup system? Yes, we should have done that long ago. Fire Tracy? No, it was an accident. She must have panicked and didn’t know the right person to ask for help. How will we rebuild the stuff that was lost? The staff will just have to do it, and they’ll probably feel resentful. How do I get them to work as a team? At that moment, she crosses the bridge over the river and looks out the window. She gets an idea!

The next morning, she calls the staff together. Tracy sits looking at the floor and twisting her hands.

“It wasn’t a virus,” Janis reports. “We recovered a good bit of what we had lost, and I’ve authorized a new backup system. But we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

“Now, we’re not going to do any finger pointing. This was an accident,” she continues. “It’s like we’re in a boat rowing in the ocean, and someone has dropped a hammer that made a hole in the bottom. We’re not going to complain about the hole or who dropped the hammer. We’re going to get busy fixing the hole and keep rowing.”

Everyone sits in silence for a moment. Tracy slowly raises her head and looks around at the other staff. Some unfold their crossed arms, and others nod their heads. Janis begings assigning tasks for scanning hard copies, emailing vendors, and rebuilding files.

Two weeks later, the office is humming. A new backup system has been installed, Tracy has electronically scanned an old hard copy of the employee manual, made the necessary revisions, and saved it to the hard drive. Everyone has the files they need and are actually glad that some of the oldest, out-of-date files are gone.

Janis smiles to herself. “We fixed the hole and kept on rowing.”