Ethical Leadership

I received this reply from one staff member to an invitation to a training I set up: “This is a violation of the teacher’s contract”. My direct supervisor, the union grievance chair and the director of human resources were all cc’d on this message. The training I set up required that some attendees flex their contract day to attend the entire training. Though this is a required training that we have run without complaint for eight years, it was a violation of the latest contract agreement between the district and teachers. The situation was made stickier by the fact that I’m in the teachers’ union. An argument could be made that the proper stance of a union member is strict contractual adherence. On the other hand, “working to the rule” has always seemed an unnecessarily inflexible position that both demeans the teaching profession and shunts aside the concerns of the students.

This type of ethical situation is not uncommon in a school system that is underfunded and has shifting targets for success.  To that end we need leaders who are balanced, thoughtful and, perhaps above all, approach the work with an ethical framework that puts our students first while maintaining the dignity of the staff.

School leaders concern themselves with determining the priorities of the school and then to ensure those priorities are adhered to in order to fulfill the ethical duty of ensuring a high quality education to all students.  To that end it is administration’s duty to monitor the progress of the students, implement only the strongest interventions when they are not making adequate progress and ensure we are delivering those interventions with fidelity. High quality curriculum and high expectations are not optional. Student time is valuable and we must make sure that we are maximizing it. This is an ethical issue. It is not acceptable to do an adequate job. We must be exceptional for the children who attend our schools.

Teachers are at the center of this work and we must remember that the reaching profession is fraught.  “To be blunt: schools, systems, and countries end up with the teachers they deserve. It’s really a question of how much each society supports and values its teachers, and what it does to build and develop the teaching profession” (Hargreaves, 64).  It is my responsibility to support our teachers in a way that communicates the value and esteem they should be accorded. I believe it is unethical to deny teachers the professional regard they deserve. Accordingly, teachers should be granted a degree of autonomy commensurate with their skill set while balancing the need to work toward a common goal.

The above scenario brings out the tension between what is best for children and what is fair to teachers. These values do not always have to be in conflict but at times are. From the perspective of the teachers, it’s important to protect their time according to the contract. Contractual protections are hard won and rather than attempt to erode them it is the school leader’s job to abide by them. On the other hand, the training in question is not only required but focused on ensuring that the mostly behaviorally challenging students are well served. It can’t be the case that student need always takes a backseat to contracts. An ethical approach to this dilemma retains professional regard for teachers with what is best for students. Per Fattura and Capper, “…leaders embody the conviction, resolve and pure heart to lead on behalf of learning for all children in integrated, heterogeneous environments” (Fraturra and Capper, 37).

The school leader makes decisions that have a moral impact on the students and staff. It is imperative to remember that it is the administrator’s job to weigh competing interests and determine which aid in achieving the goals of the school while remembering that we work with at-risk, underprivileged students who have historically been discriminated against who deserve the very best education we can give them.  This work can be murky because the situations are often “right/right” rather than “right/wrong”. Examining the issue through different frames and viewpoints can help clarify the best decision that can be made given no clear answer. This is what we ask of our leaders.  Not to lead righteously but confidently in the direction that is best for all.


Works Cited

Frattura, E. M., & Capper, C. A. (2007). Leading for social justice: Transforming schools for all learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. New York: Teachers College Press.