Taking control of teachers’ ethical distress

Ethically challenging situations at work faced by teachers are common and may cause significant stress. The project examines teachers’ experiences of ethical distress and the factors related to it. In addition, a research-based method is produced for the teaching sector for collective control of ethical distress. The method is applicable for use in schools.
Opettaja seisoo selin kameraan ja katsoo nuoria oppilaita, jotka ovat kännyköillä.




The experience of ethical distress is individual, but its roots are in a shared work environment. As the work changes, the sources of ethical distress also change.

The purpose of the research project is to investigate the occurrence of teachers' ethical distress and the factors related to it. Ethical distress may be caused by situations where the teacher's personal values are in conflict with the environment’s values or the teacher has to choose between non-preferred alternatives. Ethically challenging situations are often related to social interaction or the terms and conditions of work. For example, the  challenging situations faced by students may make the teacher feel inadequate, or the lack of resources and time can make it difficult to meet students' needs.

Finding solutions to ethical distress requires structuring the changing work environment and developing the work together. The aim of the study is to find collective solutions for dealing with ethically challenging situations. In addition, a method for the collective control of ethical distress is developed with the schools involved in the project. 

Data and methods

The project uses the existing data of the Finnish Public Sector study (FPS) from 2018, 2020 and 2022. In addition, teachers and principals from the schools in two cities are invited to participate in interviews and contribute to the method development process. The process includes:

  • a service design workshop
  • training workshops
  • experiments in schools
  • interviews of work pairs who have tested the method 

Results and impact

The project creates understanding of the ethical distress experienced by teachers and its connection with changes in teaching work. 

The method developed as part of the project supports work communities to deal with situations that cause ethical distress, and develop work practices that help in controlling ethical distress in a changing work environment. 

The method works as a tool for supervisors and principals to manage the well-being of work communities. Developing and testing the method together with education professionals ensures its usability in and suitability for the school environment. 

Research group

Maarit Kauppi, Project Manager

Anna-Leena Kurki, Expert in charge of method development

Suvi Vesa, Senior Specialist

Heli Clottes Heikkilä, Senior Specialist

Anu Perälä, Senior Specialist

Jenni Ervasti, Senior Researcher

Pyry Silomaa, Specialist 


The project is funded by the Finnish Work Environment Fund. 

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Contact us

Maarit Kauppi

Maarit Kauppi

Maarit.Kauppi [at]
+358 30 474 3058