Ethics in Leadership 1
Running head: ETHICS IN LEADERSHIP
Ethics in Leadership: The Call for Morality and Caring
Seton Hall University
ELMP Cohort XI
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As school districts are increasingly called upon to provide students with a
thorough, efficient, and purposeful education, there is a growing demand for dedicated
and principle-centered leaders. These leaders must be knowledgeable in effective
instruction, promote and support learning for all, and must be committed to collaborating
with all stakeholders of the community. What are the essential needs of this type of
administrating? Is there something, or some things, that are inherent or necessary in good
Much research has been conducted on the core components of quality education
administrators. From Dewey’s philosophy to Sergiovanni’s research, the need for school
leaders to be moral, ethical, and value centered is apparent, indeed necessary, if one aims
to be an effective, worthwhile, and valued school administrator.
A School In Trouble
Ann Onimus Regional Middle School is located in a rural northwest New Jersey. It
is a school that educates over 900 students who come from three low socio-economic
communities. Over the past few years, the middle school has seen a spike in violent
activities, substance abuse, and institutional vandalism. Subsequently, the teachers,
parents, and the students have grown unhappy with the school. Instruction has been
suffering (discipline problems were mounting, affecting quality of instruction), students’
involvement in activities was lacking (the number of students “connecting” to the school
were dwindling), the school’s intramural athletic programs were falling apart (due in
large part to numerous citations for unsportsmanlike conduct), and attendance was poor.
The stakeholders have lost faith in what was once a proud and effective school. In fact,
some new teachers are now talking of leaving the school for a more satisfying
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environment. There seems to be no turning this around.
In response, the administration attempted to deal with these problems by enacting
new discipline policies that outline severe and stiff penalties for students who violate
them. Letters to parents were sent home indicating the new “no nonsense” rules and class
meetings with every grade level were held so that each student clearly heard the
administration’s new policies. However, to the dismay and wonder of the administration,
and some faculty members who were part of the new discipline policy crafting, the
school remained a cauldron of anger and dissatisfaction.
One Man, One Plan
Jason is Ann Onimus’s new principal. He has been hired as the Principal at Ann
Onimus Middle School replacing the long-time principal who recently retired. Prior to
ascending to the position of Principal, Jason had served for eleven years as Ann
Onimus’s most beloved Language Arts teacher and the department’s supervisor; his
record included teaching courses such as Shakespeare and Gifted English and managing
the middle school’s award winning yearbook as well as overseeing the improvements of
the Language Arts curriculum. His appointment to the principalship has been lauded by
his peers and seen as judicious by his former students and was due, in large part, to his
ability to communicate with the students and foster change.
As part of his three year Professional Growth Plan, Jason wants to address Ann Onimus’s
problems by altering the focus of the school. In his first faculty meeting, Jason outlined a
vision for the school that included developing teacher-leaders, and honoring and
exploiting ethics and morals founded in democratic societies. In short, Jason wants to
establish Ann Onimus as a school of sound and shared ethics, principles, and morals –
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both in instructional practices and in social practices. To do this, Jason has a plan for
Jason aims to hold classroom meetings; rather than “one way” communication
assemblies, Jason would like to enter into dialogue with the school’s student leadership.
He planned on having monthly “sit-downs” with the elected members of the Student
Council and volunteer members of the faculty. Jason also wanted to begin to bring these
same elected students into the discipline policy creation process. He stated that the
authoritarian style of the past administration was hindering progress and needs to change.
When questioned by the veteran faculty as to why his plans would make a difference,
Jason simply stated, “The students need a voice. The faculty needs a voice. They need to
know we care about their views. We need to have an honest conversation about our
school and what is going on and about what is right and wrong.” Subsequently, the
entrenched faculty members are now questioning Jason’s abilities and his appointment.
The administration and the disenchanted veteran staff of Ann Onimus Middle School are
sorely in need of what Sergiovanni would deem as the need to replace communication
with conversation (Sergiovanni, 2001, p. 34). In order to build a moral and caring
community, school leaders should stop the communication (a unilateral transmission of
ideas) and begin conversation – a back and forth of sharing ideas, discussing issues,
finding solutions, and coming to a mutual understanding. Only then can a school
become a caring community – a place where all stakeholder’s voices and ideas are met
with sincere listening and reflection.
Wolfgramm (1995) notes that, “…our schools need to become places where an
ethic of caring forms the centerpiece of the school program.” This is not to say that
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Wolfgramm expects only the administration of schools to demonstrate caring; it is not
their burden to bear alone. He goes on to say that two factors are essential for a caring
community to develop in a school: (1) individual teachers must care [about the school’s
direction, the students, and the goals of the community], and (2) the school as a whole
must become a caring community [support staff, parent groups, and the students
themselves]. But how does one begin to create this culture?
Bottery would say that Jason is on the right path. As noted by Greenfield’s 2004
article in the Journal of Educational Administration, Bottery (1992) states, “…the ethical
school administrator must lead in a manner wherein one’s leadership is critical,
transformative, visionary, educative, empowering, liberating, personally ethical,
organizationally ethical, and responsible. His perspective encompasses prescriptions for
action within a view of schooling that embraces the development of children and adults
as a primary purpose.” Jason is clearly thinking what Bottery is thinking: an
administrator must bring his personal ethics, institutional ethics, and the moral imperative
that the welfare of the children and the faculty are paramount, to the discussion he wishes
to begin in his building. In a sense, Jason has become a transformational leader. Yet
how does he begin his plan for transforming Ann Onimus’s culture? Jason must first
begin with and honest assessment of himself – a reflective exercise.
C. Coombs, in Begley and Johansson’s book The Ethical Dimensions of School
Leadership, says that reflection of personal ethical and core values is needed before one
can begin to transform the landscape (Zaretsky, 2005). What Jason must do is to define
what his ethical foundation is – his moral code – prior to sharing it with his colleagues
and the students. Jason might find Dewey’s concept of reflective methods helpful.
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Willower says of Dewey’s concept, “For administrators, [Dewey’s] reflective process can
help to frame decisions which represent choices from competing values… [reflective
methods] epitomize thoughtful administrative practice, the praxis of the ancient Greeks,
and they facilitate ethical practice” (Willower, 1994). After a thorough assessment of
himself Jason can begin to the change process. But who should change first? The
students or the staff?
Greenfield would say that Jason must first obtain followers – the staff that seeks
change in the vein that Jason does. “The transforming leader recognizes an exploits an
existing need or demand of a potential follower… the transforming leader looks for
personal motives in followers… engages the full person of the follower. The result of
transforming leadership is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts
followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents” (Greenfield, 2004).
Without a dedicated following of staff members who will eventually be the leaders of the
change in the school, Jason’s desires and plans will be for naught. He cannot do this
alone – the school needs leaders, not another benevolent dictator. Jason must first
discover these potential leaders, and then develop them as leaders based on their moral
and ethical beliefs. To bring in those who oppose his new ideas would be disastrous;
Jason must seek out and embrace those who share his principles.
Once a core team of potential leaders has been identified, Jason can then begin to
reshape the values of the school. In fact, this is Jason’s moral responsibility. Starrat
notes that any school administrator’s moral responsibility is to help the school “define
and develop itself as a learning community, to help the members of that community make
meaning of their worlds and reinvent their schools” (Greenfield, 2004).
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Jason’s leadership team must first consider the actual – what Ann Onimus is, what
it believes, how it works, and what makes the school itself. According to Willower
(1994), “Efforts to move organizations in the direction of desirable aims… will always be
complex and difficult… But it will be a less risky adventure if the administrator has a
sensitive grasp of the sociology, politics, and psychology of the particular setting.” Jason
and his team cannot move forward without understanding the context in which they
operate and wish to effect. To do so without this knowledge would be foolish and prove
to be useless.
Secondly, as Jason’s team gathers, the leadership team will have to take stock of
what is currently being provided for the students and the faculty; services, activities,
supports, and growth opportunities must all be clearly identified and targeted for change,
or even implemented if necessary. Although this aspect of transformational leadership is
rarely seen as vital, Rebore notes that, “it is the [moral] responsibility of each educational
leader to continually search for what is ethically good in providing services for students
and in supporting the activities of the school district employees” (Mills, 2006).
It is not enough to simply comprehend administrative theory. Ethical and moral
leadership requires the ability to understand who we are as individuals, where we stand
(in a cultural context), and what we believe to be ethical practice in all aspects of
administration. In short, an ethical and moral leader, especially one who, like Jason,
wishes to address the ethics and morals of a school and who wishes to create a new
identity for a school, must be – the very center of his composition – a reflective leader.
In turn, reflective leaders engender reflective leaders out of followers. Reflective leaders
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are capable of becoming great transformational leaders, but only inasmuch as they are
willing and able to understanding their morality and be reflective in their practices. As
Dewey states, “Moral life is protected from falling into formalism and rigid repetition. It
is rendered flexible, vital, growing… Growth itself is the only moral end” (Willower,
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Greenfield, Jr., W. D. (2004). Moral leadership in schools. Journal of Educational
Administration, 42(2), 174-196.
Mills, R. (2006). The keirsey temperament model: a model for helping educational
administrators facilitate ethical decision making. Education, 126(3), 512-517.
Serviovanni, T. J. (2001). Leadership: what's in it for schools? New York, NY:
Willower, D. J. (1994). Dewey's theory of inquiry and reflective administration. Journal
of Educational Administration, 32(1), 5-23.
Wolfgramm, H. F. (1995). Needed: an ethic of caring on our schools. Education, 115(4),
Zaretsky, L. (2005). The ethical dimensions of school leadership [book review]. Journal
of Educational Administration, 43(4), 521-525.