Monthly Archives: August 2014

To Lead is Not To Follow: A Reflection on Ethical Leaders and Faith Leaders

 

imagesAn ethical leader. Does this phrase refer to someone in leadership and shows ethical behaviour OR someone who shows ethical behaviour and therefore is leading. Does this phrase always refer to a person in a leadership position appointed to them?

In this post I refer to the latter, an appointed person whose decision making effects others, specifically a school.

An ethical leader does not attain this title lightly.  To gain such a title means that at some point decisions were had to be made that effected other people and which caused conflict between the decisions of the heart and decisions of the mind. An ethical leader is one who remains courageous when faced with these such decisions. To lead is not to follow. To lead is to collect all relevant decision making “matter”, physically and mentally, and align them with their own values and the values and expectations of the school they represent. One school in my local area has a motto based on compassion. If this is one part of the “formula” for the school’s values then the leaders ethical decisions must take this strongly into consideration when making decisions for the entire school community. Their role is to represent the values of the school they lead.

But at what stage does a person’s personal values come into play?  Do they occur simultaneously to those of school values at the time of contemplating the scenario and making the decision? And what happens when their personal values override those of the school they represent? Does the choice always remain personal or is it now strongly influenced by the values of others, the school and the governing body of the school.

Being part of a faith community adds another dimension to the discussion. When faith leadership influences the conscience of the school leader it can quite often coloured by admirable elements of dedication to faith, honesty, integrity, justice, equality and fairness. But these qualities do not always serve the best interest of everyone involved and therefore having to make an ethical faith based decision can be confronting. Making an ethical decision, affecting more than one person, results in something being unfair for at least one of them. For if it was a decision which had no emotional or logical thoughts then the ethical dilemma may not exist. And if it was classed as ethical then it may have been difficult and therefore the result effective on at least one party.

As discussed above, being an ethical leader is not a title easily given. But what an ethical leader allows is a conviction in them from those they lead, that the decision making process is in the best interests of the school and all the stakeholders have been taken into consideration. Consideration does not mean, however, a favourable result.The students’ education is the ultimate scope of the decision making process. Arguably, I would say that their education is the capstone of the decision making process. If an ethical leader, a faith based ethical leader can reach the capstone having their conscience clear and able to justify their decisions then the title “ethical leader” is validated.

 

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To Lead With Heart or To Lead With Head

Values have been absorbing my thoughts lately and the role they play in our lives particularly as leaders. But I am questioning: Does a person, who is a leader, have values or does the values make the leader?

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“Maximising Shareholder Values”

bdo_puzzleIn a time where consumerism and “ME-ism” is rapidly growing the importance of values led leadership is of immeasurable importance.

Let’s take one step back and look at the reason for a person’s values. They are direction markers of behaviour, actions and words. However, I don’t believe these are finite results or markers of behaviour, actions or words. Instead, I believe they effect the next behaviour, the next action and the next thought. As a human being, where do my effective values come to a stop? When does the new value that becomes a part of my life start and when does its effect stop? My thinking is that they don’t. They may change and they may vary in different levels but the “effect” is ongoing and cumulative. I would also express my belief that what I would call “effective values” stop the day we stop breathing.

If this argument is true,  I would then be asking  “What is my values legacy”? What is it that I leave behind as a summation of my values? What is it that I will be remembered by? Definitely my values will determine what I refer to as “values legacy” and if so, what conscious role have I played in determining my “values legacy”?

As a human being, and I used this term specifically, as a human being with much influence in the area of education and faith development I am asking myself more and more, “What is it that I want my values legacy to look like?”

Upon much reflection, I realise that if I can determine, believe and respect my actual values than I will lead my life and the life of others with integrity and honesty. I will leave my life and the life of others with respect and honesty. I will lead my life and the life of others in faith driven by the image of Jesus, a values led individual who made a difference.

Each person who has “invested” in some way with my life: family, friends, students, staff, general community and so on, each of these people are shareholders of my life. In what way will I pay them dividends through my actual values and my “values legacy”? In what way will I maximise their shareholder values?

In leadership my values legacy is my driving force. It is my gift back to my “shareholders” who have invested in my life. I have a responsibility to choose my values as I now know that they are important to my being but their role in the lives of others is instrumental.

 

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A Personal Credo

Screenshot 2014-08-17 10.36.07One of the most rewarding exercises I have done in my professional development is to write my own educational credo. It is a process that I completed using Christopher Branson’s framework on “The Self”. Examining “critical choices, pivotal people and defining moments” (McGraw)  in my life opened a period of self reflection that was at times soothing and others quite confronting.

But if a person challenges themselves to really think about what it is that drives their behaviour, their thinking, their co-existence with other people then it is also a chance to strip away the “perceived values” that we carry as heavy accessories in our everyday.

 

Personal leadership is the process of keeping your vision and values before you and aligning your life to be congruent with them”

(The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen Covey)

 

This exercise allowed me to reflect on one particular time in my life which was life changing. It involved the passing of my father and the lead up in time to that as he lived with a horrendous cancer. I found myself making decisions based on his dignity, respect for his person and my love for his being. Often decisions were heartbreaking but they were always made with love in my heart and I would like to think an emotional conscience. And with that came a trust he could hold onto as he faced what was happening to him. What grew from this experience was a mixed bag of values but always driven by my responsibility to him. Subconsciously, I was already deciding on values that were of importance to me without intentional reflective thoughts in most cases.

And so, this defining moment and the critical choices I made developed an extensive list of values and this particular exercise asked I reduce them to just four. These values were brought down to commitment, compassion, morality and honesty. A stripping down of what really was important to me to be able to “live with myself” after he passed. The beauty of it all is when I was able to find the “actual values” then I also found the behaviour more acceptable to my conscience. Many times, these values were challenged to behave in ways that would “keep him here longer” but who was I servicing…myself or his dignity?

This experience allowed me to think about these values in my role as educator. From it came a personal credo which may read “generic” to some from a distance but for me, in writing it, each word was reflective of this time and what was important to me to carry from this defining moment. And because of this, I feel it belongs to me and I can arm myself with it when faced by my conscience. 

After much self reflection, the following statements have been worded personally to focus on statements of truth to myself in a leadership role. They are:

My Personal Credo:

I believe…

I believe I am responsible for my actions and I make my own choices motivated only by my conscience.

I believe that treating people with honesty is a display of respecting their dignity and worth.

I believe that honesty will develop trust and reliability in others.

I believe that committing myself to always upholding the truth is an integral part of my being.

I believe that I have to live with my decisions and actions.

I believe in treating every human being with dignity and respect. (Pope John Paul II)

I believe in myself to lead through my words and actions.

I believe that I have to be aware of my actions and words and how they will affect other people.

I believe that we are responsibility for the way others’ see themselves through our interactions with them.

I believe that my time is shared with many people and that it is a gift to share with many.

I believe that I have to be committed in my role as educator and leader.

I believe that I have a responsibility to always strive for my visions and the visions of others.

I believe that I am a living example of my true beliefs.

I believe that my four key values, compassion, commitment, honesty and morality, are an integral part of my leadership manner.

I believe that I am able to make a difference to any person that I come into contact with. I simply choose what difference that would be.

I believe that I represent the “face of God” to others.

I believe that I can always do better, be better and become better as a serving leader.

 

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Awarded a Degree In Caring

“An army’s success depends on its size, equipment and experience, and morale…and morale is worth more than all the other elements combined”

Napolean

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When I first went to university I entered under a degree in Mathematics and Computer Engineering. I really wanted to always be a teacher but I also had a great love for mathematics, and computer programming was so attractive. So what made me become a teacher and my clear answer was “I wanted to make a difference”. Yes, it is cliche but it is true. But what does that mean…making a difference?

Over the years, it has come to mean many things to me and all, in some way, demonstrate a form of caring. Caring for the students’ welfare; their learning; their self; their families; their emotions and so on. But caring is more than that. It has been said that “Caring teachers listen and are responsive “(Noddings, 2003) and this is an extensive ask to  expect from someone ie teacher with a room full of needs, expressed and inferred. Each student will have needs that they have formed (expressed)  and you, their teacher will also have needs (inferred) that you believe are required or are formed by “higher education institutions”. Caring for those needs is a role only for those who give value to the behaviours and outcomes achieved by teaching this way.

But what if we change the roles here to include two different parties and that being leaders in an educational setting and teachers / staff.  Are there many differences? What makes for a caring leader? I would suggest that the role of the leader is to support their staff to reach goals; to explore their capabilities, to attain trust in their abilities and to a develop cells of community engagement and well being. Some would advocate these qualities and consider them to be “intrinsically motivating” (Maslow and Dewey) and leading to “greater things”.

A caring leader would encourage divergent thinking and teaching. A caring leader would nurture and encourage mistakes for “the greater educational good”. A caring leader would create more leaders within their own staff so that at any one point in time a leader may step to the side, another colleague could just easily step into the role of leader.

A caring leader is not an advocate for shaming; degrading; ordering or inflicting expectations. A caring leader is not a spectator of teachers but a co-worker. Caring leaders are learners themselves on a daily basis. Caring leaders still strive to attain curriculum aims but are encouraging of conversations that frequent the discussions on what makes an aim possible and needed.  Caring leaders are not just about mandating practices but encouraging conversations between staff members and students.

In an educational environment the role of a caring leader, that is a listening and responsive leader, will continue to determine the culture and practices of its inhabitants

So, overall, being awarded a certification in teaching / education is to teach and to educate. Being awarded in Educational Leadership is to lead in the possibilities for these teachers and students with a listening and responsive, that is a caring, manner.

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When Only the Anglo West Won’t Do in Education

images-2Recently, I read an article by Walker, A. (2003) “Developing Cross-cultural Perspectives on Education and Community” and what I found fascinating was that much educational research and theories in educational administration are based on Anglo-American culture and don’’t take into consideration that the subject may bring to the “research table” a different culture. How long have I simply accepted that theories were adaptable to cross cultural or universal platforms of education?

It has allowed me to explore the notion that different cultures may have different forms of management,  different forms of learning and different forms of psychology.  And that each culture may eventuate and exist with a different economy or Religion.

What was an awakening statistic was that less that less than 8 per cent of research is on non Anglo-American subjects. That means that over 90 per cent of educational management theories are Anglo American. This is a crazy figure to reflect on. Yet we continue to accept and assure educational managers that there is universal acceptance of the research findings even though ‘Claims to knowledge are made on the basis of limited samples as though they are a universal application”.

One stark example of cultural difference is the educational comparison with western goals to “develop the fullest potential in the individual student ” whereas in East Asia education  has a bigger goal of finding the fullest potential for national development”.

At this point then I question the transferring of values in leadership from one culture to the other and making the assumption that they are relevant or in the best interest of many?? How much knowledge and experience are we ignoring from varied cultures by simply accepting Anglo-American theories as the forerunner for leadership training?

Of course in a place like Australia, with such a high rate of inter-cultural and cross cultural statistics, it would seem logical that a means to accommodate and understand cross cultural issues needs to be addressed as part of the leadership development instead of believing that “worthwhile theory will only flow one way”.

Saying this seems “educationally noble” but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. In a place like Australia, where does the cross cultural management start and in which culture does it finish? When culture consists of so many factors such as values and ideals, and they determine the behaviours that follow from them, and they are to be accepted by such a large group of people, then the expectation to make educational management culturally sound sounds like an exhausting exercise.

Even though modernists suggest that traditional cultural values are on the decline, you have to question the validity of this. If values are formed from “defining moments”, usually in early childhood, then the proposal that traditional cultural values are dwindling suggests that this is a generation or two away. And if that is the case, why are these cultural values still existent at all?

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Teachers Don’t Know It All

photo    Over the last fews days I have been the proudest mother on the planet. Both my daughters, aged 10 and 8,  sang and performed as part of Opera Australia’s “The Magic Flute”. At that age I was more concerned about whether I had a handball square at “little lunch” time or whether I had the latest Holly Hobby colouring pencils and accessories, which were the craze when I was their age. Would I have sung on stage with Opera Australia and the answer would be a clear no. But in fairness to my own parents the opportunities were quite limited for me as I was growing up for many reasons. And overall I would never have had the singing voice to sing anyway.

But the point of this post is to have educators be more open to different learning spaces and arenas to learn within. Over the last week my children have gained so much knowledge about theatre, singing, independence, the arts, teamwork, self discipline, timing, personal responsibilities, movement and the list goes on. How does a teacher program all these things in a couple of days within classroom walls and be assured that the students were attaining them. If I had tried to teach my children what they had gained recently I can be sure that it wouldn’t have been half as appealing as it was to be taught but professionals in the field.

So why is it that we teachers feel that they need to know everything to be able to teach our students. Perhaps teaching should include the term facilitator of learning or learning planner and leave the learning to the “professionals”. Inviting people from within our communities should be encouraged. The curriculum should be allowed to be more fluid. It fact it should be encouraged to be more fluid. Instead we contain our curriculum within the confinements of a classroom and expect ourselves, teachers,  to be the experts at everything.

I also ask teachers to be mindful that these students, outside the classroom arena, are engaged in incredible learning experiences and to acknowledge the learning that is happening in these areas without the usual classroom teacher involved.

It doesn’t make sense  to me anymore that we limit our students learning to one individual. Please, I ask you to consider, extending the walls of the classroom to include more opportunities and more people in the learning process…how much more exciting would it be!

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