Modeling as Moral Education: Documenting, Analyzing, and Addressing a Central Belief of Preservice Teachers

Jan. 10, 2013

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Vol. 29, p. 167-176. (January, 2013)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aims to describe the beliefs of preservice teachers regarding the moral work of teaching.

The participants were 92 preservice teachers , who completed an open-ended questionnaire in an undergraduate educational foundations course in a U.S. metropolitan research university.


The results reveal that the vast majority of participants expressed the belief that we can indeed teach children to be good.

Furthermore, modeling as means of moral education is found to be a dominant theme in the data.
Among the discussions of modeling, several sub-themes about the nature of modeling and its role in teaching are reported.

The first among these is that the observation of the consequences of the actions of models is a part of the modeling process, or is what makes it work.
Another common sub-theme was a reference to who serves as models.
Prominent among those discussed were family members, teachers, and peers.
Respondents also expressed a confidence in the influence of home-life, and a concern about the consistency of the models students are exposed to across home and school.

The data also reveal the commonality of the belief that while we can teach children to be good, teachers and parents cannot ensure the moral goodness of students and the actions that they take.
Participants often framed this belief in terms of children having the ability to choose or decide what is right/wrong and/or what to do, or to exercise agency

The authors argue that the expressed beliefs regarding the influence of home life, along with the exercise of choice/agency by students, appear to serve as both an explanation of the more general belief that we can indeed teach children to be good, which sets limits on the effects of modeling.
Further, participants’ expressed beliefs about modeling are often accompanied by references to other mechanisms by which moral education and development take place. The most common among these in the data include
(a) the direct instruction of values/morals/rules/traits,
(b) learning through direct experience, and
(c) the exercise of moral reasoning.
In sum, preservice teachers express a wide range of psychological beliefs about the MWT, many of which appear to be rather complex.


The authors conclude that one of the most common and confidently held psychological beliefs about the moral work of teaching, which emerge from this study was that moral education involves modeling.
Furthermore, the sub-themes show participants expressing beliefs in the importance of students observing the consequences of modeled behavior, who serves as models and the significance of their relationships to the learner, as well as concerns about the consistency among models children are exposed to.

This research helps teachers educator to enrich and clarify extant beliefs, and challenge misunderstandings among preservice teachers about modeling.
The research also suggests that teacher educators may face a challenge in helping their students appreciate its limitations as a means of affecting the moral functioning and development of their students, as well as the importance of other social and psychological factors that play a role in moral education and development.

Updated: Feb. 25, 2015