Ethics Paper


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Ethics Paper

  1. 1. Ethics in Leadership 1 Running head: ETHICS IN LEADERSHIP Ethics in Leadership: The Call for Morality and Caring Michael Parent Seton Hall University ELMP Cohort XI
  2. 2. Ethics in Leadership 2 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 school leaders? 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
  3. 3. Ethics in Leadership 3 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 –
  4. 4. Ethics in Leadership 4 both in instructional practices and in social practices. To do this, Jason has a plan for transformation. 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
  5. 5. Ethics in Leadership 5 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.
  6. 6. Ethics in Leadership 6 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).
  7. 7. Ethics in Leadership 7 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). Summation 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
  8. 8. Ethics in Leadership 8 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, 1994).
  9. 9. Ethics in Leadership 9 References 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: RoutledgeFalmer. 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), 516-518. Zaretsky, L. (2005). The ethical dimensions of school leadership [book review]. Journal of Educational Administration, 43(4), 521-525.