Dr. Bobbie Eddins, Dr. Ann Farris, Dr. Brenda Russell, Dr. Jeffrey Kirk, NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL, 30(3) 2013
NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL VOLUME 30, NUMBER 3, 2013 ETHICS TOOLS ANCHORED BY ACTION LEARNING: A PRAXIS FRAMEWORK FOR COLLABORATIVE DECISION MAKINGBobbie Eddins, Ed.D. Ann Farris, Ph.D.Brenda Russell, Ed.D.Jeffrey Kirk, Ph.D. School of Education Texas A&M University-Central Texas ABSTRACTSchool leaders and those who work with them in chaotic campus environmentsface complex issues involving ethical questions. The staggering diversity ofissues confronting school leaders and the speed at which issues arise demand“learning in action” decision making skill. The authors propose in this conceptpaper a praxis framework to guide aspiring school leaders in learning about,using, and teaching ethical decision making skills. The framework is groundedby a three-part approach: 1) the leader’s need to understand and model apersonal values structure while assisting others in the school community indefining their beliefs about their work, 2) the capability of those involved indecision making to use ethical “tools” such as moral principles and ethicaldilemma patterns to define and solve complex issues, and 3) the use of actionlearning as a protocol for decision making in real time. Based on the three-partapproach, a learning-in-action collaborative decision-making process isdiscussed. The use of this process in all courses in a school leadershippreparation program allows students to gain the confidence and skill to developteachers and other school leaders as more effective ethical decision makers. Introduction School leaders and those who work with them in schoolcommunities face complex issues in chaotic environments every day 6
_____________________________________EDDINS, FERRELL, RUSSELL, &KIRK7issues rife with ethical questions. Many believe that prescriptivemeasures and tight control hold the key to effective leadership inpublic schools today. Sarason (1982) suggests that “principals,especially those new to their positions, often choose stability overcreativity, opting to assert authority or withdraw from the fray”(p.160). Some, however, would argue that a much more creative andpowerful course of action rests in the development of school leaders aspurpose holders who collaboratively involve other leaders in learning,leading, and ethical decision making. Although some facets of schoolleadership do not focus on concerns directly related to moral issues,moral purpose is essential to schools’ learning endeavors (Fullan,2003). Starratt (in Cordeiro & Cunningham, 2013) indicates that“coming to terms with what one knows, to explore its use and itsmisuse, to avoid its distortion or manipulation is both a moral and anintellectual obligation” (p.15). He adds that “learning is a moralsearch as well as an intellectual search for truth – truth aboutourselves, about our community, about our history, about our culturaland physical world.” While the truth will remain “incomplete, fallible,partial, and generative,” Starratt suggests that this search is thegrounding work of whole schools – those involved in making soundchoices about themselves and the communities they create. Clearly, one of the most important social justice issues facingschool communities today is the capability of school leadership to actwith a sense of moral purpose and ethical conscience. Because of thesize and complex nature of schools, this necessitates increasedleadership capacity among all stakeholder groups – teachers, students,parents, community members, and administrators – with all leadersgaining knowledge and skill to be collaboratively involved in effectivedecision making (Lambert, 2003). Additionally, the staggeringdiversity of the issues confronting school leaders and the speed atwhich they arise demand a “learning in action” decision makingprocess in which many minds think creatively about the complexissues at hand (Herasymowych & Senko, 2008). The use of a commongroup protocol is an option that provides the parameters for candidconversations in group settings without the fear of alienation or
8NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALretribution; ideally, a process in which focused inquiry and the freeexchange of ideas are expected in an environment of psychologicalsafety. Key to the success of school leaders in growing this kind ofcollaborative capacity building is sound training, particularly inpreparation programs (Beck & Murphy, 1994; Serviovanni, 1992;Strike, 2005). A Praxis Framework for Social Justice and Ethical BehaviorWithin a School Leadership Preparation Program A praxis framework has been created as one option for learningabout collaborative and ethical decision making in school leadershippreparation programs. The framework is grounded by a three-partapproach: 1) the leader’s need to understand and model a personalvalues structure while assisting others in the school community indefining their beliefs about their work, 2) the capability of thoseinvolved in decision making to use ethical “tools” such as moralprinciples and ethical dilemma patterns to define and solve complexissues, and 3) the use of action learning as a protocol for decisionmaking in real time. Based on the three-part approach, a learning-in-action collaborative decision-making process has been developed.The use of this process to solve real problems in real time in allcourses in a school leadership preparation program allows students togain the confidence and skill to develop teachers and other schoolleaders as more effective ethical decision makers. Part one of the praxis framework, understanding and utilizing aset of personal values, is essential to leading consistently. Fullan(2003) cites the need for a strong sense of moral purpose in order toget through troubled leadership times. In the midst of a variety oftasks and the diversity of people involved in the school environment,school leaders can quickly lose sight of higher purpose and groundingbeliefs. Leaders who take the time to explore their own beliefs havethe opportunity to develop critical consciousness about their work that
_____________________________________EDDINS, FERRELL, RUSSELL, &KIRK9can be used to anchor their leadership efforts. The development of acode of conduct or ethics lays a foundation for leadership behavior.Sergiovanni and Starratt (2001) advocate for the creation of aneducational platform of “basic assumptions, beliefs, attitudes andvalues that are underpinnings of an educator’s behavior” (p. 84).Many authors offer value sets as characteristic of ethical leadership.Included in a discussion by Northouse (2010) are respect for others, aservice orientation, a concern with fairness and justice, honesty, anddesire to build community. Starratt (2004) provides three overarchingvirtues to be valued in the leadership of schooling – responsibility to ahost of stakeholders for authentic learning, quality teaching, and ahealthy and effective environment; authenticity in relationships withlearners to promote authentic learning; and presence in affirming,critiquing, and enabling the relationship between responsibility andauthenticity. A process to define a set of values set is offered byKouzes and Posner (2003) as foundational to exemplary leadershippractice. Unique to each individual, a personal set of values willprovide guidance in defining leadership practice. School leadersshould be able to create such a set and guide leaders and others ontheir campuses in the development as well. Also important and readily available to school leaders are toolshelpful in diagnosing and solving ethical issues, part two of the praxisframework. Attention to personal values, ethical principles, anddilemma patterns in the pursuit of a sound decision may result in abetter “fit” for those involved. Five basic principles from ethics theoryprovide a lens to see ethical dilemmas from different viewpoints andserve as a rudder in finding solutions. Three principles are mainstaysof discussions on this topic: ends-based thinking (utilitarianism) withactions benefitting the greater number, rule-based thinking (categoricalimperative) defined by the moral duty/suitable role everyone shouldfollow in similar situations, and care-based thinking (altruism, theGolden Rule) focused on a concern for others. Gregory (2010) offerstwo additions: communitarianism which speaks to the common sharedvalues of the community with members taking responsibility for theirpart, and Rawl’s justice as fairness perspective which advocates for
10NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALequal rights to the same liberties and all opportunities open to all.Also helpful in the diagnosis of ethical issues is the use of right versusright patterns in ethical dilemmas as defined by Kidder (2009): 1)individual versus community in which the rights of many are balancedwith the rights of the individual, 2) short term versus long term whichexamines the benefit of short-term gains with the effect of those longterm, 3) justice versus mercy contrasting the desire to see justiceserved with feelings of empathy being right as well, and 4) truthversus loyalty in which a balance between the two may be difficult.The use of these tools in diagnosis and decision making is helpful ingenerating workable solutions. The third part of the praxis framework calls for the use ofaction learning as the anchoring process for more collaborativedecision making. Current literature provides a good number ofapproaches and processes for more ethically sound decision making.Strike (2007) outlines four characteristics of a good decision: 1) thedecision is supported by evidence, the ends aimed at by the decisionare the appropriate ones, 3) the decision can be morally implemented,and 4) the decision has been legitimately achieved. Utilizing bothethical and legal principles, Stader (2013) discusses a three-stagedecision making model: Stage one – define the problem, the parameters, the primary decision maker, and acceptable outcome. Stage two – research to determine legal and ethical factors, input by presenting the problem to others for possible solutions, and evaluation of possible solutions. Stage three – making a decision from the options, implementing the plan, and evaluating the acceptability of outcomes.While these and many additional examples have merit, the addition ofthe action learning protocol as an option for decision support providesmany unique praxis-related components.
_____________________________________EDDINS, FERRELL, RUSSELL, &KIRK11 Action learning is a decision making process that utilizes manyof the steps found in current models while grounded incollaborativediscourse. In a recent review of literature, (Cho & Egan,2009), action learning was characterized as a process of inquiry which“is based on the pedagogical notion that people learn most effectivelywhen working on real-time problems occurring in their own worksetting” (p. 434). Two themes resonate across the literature on actionlearning: work-based real issues and team learning. Herasymowychand Senko (2008) concur, noting that the real time nature of theprocess provides the flexibility to deal with change and complexity.They indicate that focusing on the learning that occurs in solving aproblem becomes the focus rather than just solving the problem. “Youget the best of both worlds: you learn from your actions while solvingthe problem… There is a paradox in action learning: when you slowdown to learn from your actions, you actually speed up your ability totake actions that are more effective in the long term” (p. 7). Certainlythe use of team learning is not a new theme, with writings and researchthat include positions by Senge (1990) that team learning is afoundational building block in an effective organization and Raelin(2008) that when peers can take the time to offer perspectives intoeach other’s workplace problems within a collective inquiry process,learning occurs within the context of the work. Herasymowych and Senko (2008) cite the emphasis ongenerative rather than adaptive learning in an action learning problemsolving cycle. They indicate that adaptive learning focuses onproblem solving, just one part of the learning, while the second part ofthe learning is generative and requires people to be conscious of their contribution to the organization’s problems, and how they can change the ways in which they think and act in order to solve those problems…Without generative learning, organizations and the people within organizations fall prey to the same reactive thinking and behaviors that are used each time a crisis arises, even when these behaviors no longer work. (p. 14)
12NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALReg Revans, widely considered by to be founder of the action learningprocess, emphasized the need for a balance between action andlearning, with learning providing the generative results and actionfacilitating any necessary change (Revans, 1998). Cho and Egan’s(2010) review of the literature supports this notion, highlighting therecurring theme that “solving a problem or addressing an issue iscritical only if there is learning from the experience” (p. 435). Honey and Mumford’s (1995) research indicates that peoplesolve problems in a four-stage process: generate and analyze data onthe action, make sense out of the data through patterns andconclusions, make decisions and formulate plans that produce desiredresults, and take action on the plan. This natural learning cycleprovides for both action and reflection. To strengthen the learning,Honey and Mumford identify four learning orientations – active,reflective, theoretical, and practical – that define participativepreferences within the learning cycle. When learning orientations arediagnosed, two or three dominating orientations are usuallydiscovered, providing opportunities for participants to “shine”naturally in the learning cycle and learn to operate effectively in allfour orientations. According to Herasymowych & Senko (2008), theeight elements of the action learning process can be seen through thelearning orientation lenses: reflective – step one gather data and steptwo question assumptions; theoretical – step three generate a summarystatement and step four generate ideas; practical – step five test ideasand step six make a decision, and active – step seven take action andstep eight tell the story. By cobbling together the action learning process with valuessets, ethical principles, and ethical dilemma patterns, a learning-in-action ethical decision making process is created that is usablethroughout the school environment. Most closely aligned to Kidder’sethical checkpoints decision making process (2009), the followingoutlines the steps for a learning-in-action process anchored by actionlearning (Herasymowych & Senko, 2008) and viewed with ethicaltools.
_____________________________________EDDINS, FERRELL, RUSSELL, &KIRK13Step I – Diagnosis of DataThe following considerations are critical before analyzing data: Describe the situation (the non-negotiables, what’s working, what’s not working, who is being affected and how, what will happen if nothing changes, expectations for those involved, any steps taken so far to resolve the situation). Check to see if any law or policy has been broken. Describe any ethical dilemmas (patterns) at play in the situation (truth v. loyalty; short-term v. long-term; individual v. community; justice v. mercy). Describe personal values possibly influencing actions by those in the situation. State the problem in one to two sentences as you understand it.Step II – Opportunities for Leverage To ensure optimal application of effort: Generate ideas for improvement that could resolve the problem. Test each idea on merit by identifying positive and negative results and who/what will be needed to make the idea work. Be sure to discuss the presence of ethical principle lenses from the traditions of moral philosophy and ethical theory (ends- based, rule-based, care-based thinking, communitarianism, and justice as fairness). Utilize a leverage matrix to prioritize ideas by effort needed and value added.Step III – Plan for Impact To ensure best possible outcomes and to minimizeunanticipated negative consequences:
14NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL Choose idea(s) to action plan. Describe situation if the ideas are implemented (ideal outcome). Utilize an action planning format to create a plan to take action on the idea(s) to include tasks/accountability, resources required, timeline/end date, and desired results. Describe the possible pitfalls to watch /plan for when the action plan is implemented.The use of the three-part praxis framework – development of a valuesset and critical conscience, the skill in using ethical tools, and the useof the more collaborative action learning approach to decision making– may be infused throughout the coursework in a school leadershippreparation program. The first course in the learning sequencecombines a study of leadership theory (Northouse, 2010) with anexamination of ethical leadership and decision making topics.Students develop a knowledge base about ethics through reading anddialoguing about oppression (Freire, 2000), servant leadership(Greenleaf, 2002), ethical dilemmas (Kidder, 2009), ethical leadership(Starratt, 2004), moral imperatives (Fullan, 2003), and the work ofHeifetz concerning conflicting values and Burn’s development oftransformational leadership (in Northouse, 2010). Each studentdevelops a personal code of conduct, utilizes the blended learning-in-action process to make decisions in a complex case study, and designsa plan to improve ethical decision making on his or her home campusas the course practicum activity. The praxis framework and learning-in-action decision makingprocess are used in the following semester to begin development of apersonal best leadership project with defined values (Kouzes &Posner, 2003); additionally, a personal mission and a values-driveneducational platform are created. Students collaboratively examinetheir personal anchoring documents to practice the identification ofcommonalities which will serve as the basis for a shared collection oforganization foundational documents – school vision, mission, guidingprinciples, and portrait of a graduate. In each subsequent course,
_____________________________________EDDINS, FERRELL, RUSSELL, &KIRK15school leadership students utilize their personal anchoring statements,the shared foundational statements of their cohort, and the learning-in-action decision making process to examine ethical issues related to thecourse content: high expectations and the student learning plan(curriculum, instruction, and assessment); communications, diversity,and community relations; the supervision and growth of faculty andstaff; and the leadership and management of a safe and engaginglearning environment. Upon completion of the preparation program,students have gained the skill to facilitate others’ learning aboutethical leadership and decision making specifically related to thepraxis framework and the learning-in-action decision making process. The use of ethical tools and the learning-in-action decisionmaking process by leaders at every level in the school setting isessential. Ethical issues are usually not created in isolation. Mostteachers, students, and other stakeholder s in the school communityhave not been trained to deal with the complex ethical dilemmascreated in the midst of accelerating change. In most situations, no oneis wrong and multiple truths are to be expected. Unless leaders atevery level in the school community can learn to think and actdifferently, problems will go without generative solutions. MacKenzieand MacKenzie (2010) point out that while all educators areresponsible as professionals to share a responsibility to their schoolsand students as well as to hold to a set of professional standards, “thereare times when the standards of an employee’s profession come intoconflict with the needs or wishes of others with whom he or sheworks” (pp. 97-8). Additionally, the authors agree that “teachers donot always define professional obligations in the same way” (p. 58).Insert the views of parents, students, administrators, and othercommunity members to the complexity of issues, and interactions canbe laden with ethical challenges. Just as campus administrators struggle with heavy workloads,so do teacher leaders. The broader issues faced by the schoolcommunity, many of which contain the themes of social justice, are
16NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALoften pushed to the back burner in deference to an out of controlstudent or an irate parent. But the decisions about how the values of the school are articulated and manifest in the school also happen on a daily basis. It is not a question of what the school’s mission statement says but about how daily practices and policies represent and model that vision and that mission. (Blankstein & Houston, 2011, p.151)A deep understanding and substantial skill related to ethics and ethicaldecision making process that is developed across a whole preparationprogram of study and application will serve school leaders well as theybuild the capacity of leaders throughout their campus communities tounderstand and use sound and collaborative decision makingprocesses. As an option to making isolated decisions concerningcomplex issues found in every area of school life, the use of the praxisframework and the learning-in-action decision making process has thepotential to assist leaders at every level in guiding the development ofgenerative solutions in participative settings. Mindfulness as Ethical Thinking Margaret Wheatley (2007) promotes the need for mindfullearning, noting anytime you can keep yourself from instantly reacting, anytime you can pause for just a second, you are practicing mindfulness…. Instead of letting your reactions and thoughts lead you, you step back and realize you can choose your reaction… Instead of being angry, you hesitate for a moment and realize that you have other choices available. (p. 131-32)Through action and reflection, leaders at every level of schoolcommunities have the option to be mindful about their craft.
_____________________________________EDDINS, FERRELL, RUSSELL, &KIRK17 Preparing administrators for ethical practice requires more than the establishment of courses. It demands that faculty and students engage in ongoing reflection and conversation about their beliefs and commitments and the ways in which practices and policies support or contradict these. (Beck & Murphy, 1994, p. 95) The praxis framework and learning-in-action decision makingprocess described in this paper for the study of ethics by school leadersis one option for growth.
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