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Business Ethics: Lesson Plans, Knowledge Management, Ethics and Capitalism Collide

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Recently I read of a new website where teachers can post and sell their lesson plans to recover the time that they had spent in developing these plans. On the surface, this sounds reasonable and why would anyone object to teachers making a little more money through such a capitalist venture and leveraging their intellectual capitol?

However this question is much more about understanding the importance of retaining intellectual capital (knowledge management) within the educational system and how this demonstrates questionable ethics on part of the teachers.

Consider the following scenario:

I am an instructional designer (person who writes training programs) and employed full time. Part of my job is to create activities that promote learning for the target audience. Do I have a right to sell those activities on my own time on a website? Even though I am not a lawyer, I know that this would be highly unethical and probably illegal. These activities are the direct result of my job description. My employer has already paid me for their creation.

Now, I am a teacher who is paid to educate young people. Also, I am paid to attend numerous professional development days in which I learn to create specific lesson plans that promote learning for my students. Do I have a right to sell those activities on my own time on a website? From a legal standpoint, I don’t know the answer to that question. However, from an ethical standpoint, absolutely not! What is happening is that I am being paid twice to perform the same work. Some individuals call this double dipping and in many proven cases it is illegal.

As a former public school teacher, elected school board trustee and now a performance improvement consultant, I have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars lost by school systems because they had not created a knowledge management process. Lesson plans created during school hours and during time designated to teacher professional development should be archived by the school corporation so that every teacher benefits from this knowledge. Just think about all that lost knowledge and wisdom and its very expensive price tag.

Professional development is truly expensive. According to Northern Central Regional Learning Laboratory (NCRL), a quick search revealed the following allocation of funds for professional development:

Illinois over $100 million annually for professional development

Iowa over $50 million

Michigan over $20 million

Ohio over $25 million

Additionally within each school day, teachers receive paid preparation time to work on their lesson plans, grade students’ papers, etc. For many teachers, the designated time is not enough and time must be spent after school hours to complete their daily tasks. And the question then arises, if I am doing it on my own time, then I own the intellectual capitol and have the right to sell this capitol. However, many salaried people take their work home to finish it and are not compensated for those efforts. In the real world, it is part of the job.

What for me is most troubling about teachers selling lesson plans (that in many cases are the intellectual property of the school) is one of ethics. Since I was a former teacher, I experienced first hand the extra hours invested in preparing my room, grading papers and creating engaging learning activities. Yet, coming from a small business background, doing all this perceived extra stuff wasn’t really all that extra because it was part of the job, plain and simple. To go out and sell the fruits of my labor that were paid for by my employer would be totally unethical and probably would get me fired. Yet, teachers are being encouraged to engage in unethical behavior and they probably believe it is OK.

And finally there is the issue of copyright. In many teacher professional development workshops, the speakers distribute sample lesson plans. With today’s technology, a quick scan and a few edits can change the visual ownership of the lesson plan, but the intellectual capitol still belongs to the presenter of the workshop. Of course if a student did this, it would be cheating or plagiarism.

As a small business and education coach who has created hundreds of learning activities to help clients better understand key concepts, I have always acknowledged the source of the activity such as a concept, story or quote when it wasn’t mine. This keeps me always aware of my own ethical standards and ensures that I hold fast and true to those standards.

So before any teacher sells what they believe to be their lesson plan, maybe they need to identify where that plan came from and ask themselves: “Have I already been paid for that lesson plan?”

Leanne Hoagland-Smith coaches small businesses to large organizations and high school students to entrepreneurs to double performance by closing the gap between today’s outcomes and tomorrow’s goals. Please feel free to contact Leanne at 219.759.5601 or visit and explore how she can help you from the free articles to the improvement tips.

One quick question,if you could secure one new client or breakthrough that one roadbloack, what would that mean to you? Then, take a risk and give a call at 219.759.5601 to experience incredible business.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith - EzineArticles Expert Author

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  • Posted On January 12, 2007
  • Published articles 283513

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