Monthly Archives: September 2014

Do We Need To Know How To Lead Before We Start?

imagesIt is with great interest that I reflect on the need for educational leadership courses in undergraduate courses at university. This is a notion that, until starting my Masters in Educational Leadership, I hadn’t given much thought to. You see I came from a time where school leaders were rewarded for years of service and recognition by others in the education offices which oversaw our school environments.So the question of whether pre service teachers in undergraduate course have a need for being introduced to leadership language and discussion is fascinating me.

Upon much reflection, from both sides of the argument, I can’t help but ask myself perhaps the understanding of leadership, by some in decision making roles, is still based purely on knowledge and experience of and in education but not necessarily knowledge and understanding of leadership. Do we not need a period of time to, respectfully, wean out those who may have reached these roles of decision making  in education purely through “years of experience” in education and graduate studies in areas of education, and who may not see any need for informing new teachers at their initial stages of practice?

I am specifically reflecting on my last school where leadership was “climbing the ladder by years” rather than suitability and knowledge of the social and economic needs of the position. I guess this is evident in many work places but in the education sector, I believe, that this singular way of determining leadership can be extremely damaging as much as it can be beneficial to some in reaching a leadership role.

The focus of an undergraduate study seems logical when we think about the preparation it gives a student entering the profession rather than trying to “find it in the fog” of the everyday in a school environment. Is not a classroom teacher, including a 1st year teacher, a leader of some sort to those students within his / her classroom? Would not the principles of leadership be extremely beneficial to the purpose; the way of and the reporting of teaching?

Then of course, there is the relationship of the teacher with one of the major stakeholders…the parents. Being informed and able to reflect with problem posing language to parents can only demonstrate the understanding that this teacher has of developing the social and the economic aspects of the classroom and the school overall.

In addition, there is the functional relationship between teachers and the communication of educational dialogue. Would not an understanding of educational leadership, by new teacher on staff,  support informed, more constructive and reflective practice of collegial and individual teaching? Even just in a few months for me, as an experienced teacher who held a faith leadership role in a school, there is strong evidence to suggest that the processing and understanding of what makes an effective leader is obtained through experience but can be enhanced through collective discussions including discussions between pre service teachers.

Sadly for me, when I graduated from University my course was about teaching psychology and specific Key Learning Areas. I remember sitting up to all hours surrounded by “craft activities” as a university student questioning whether teaching was what I wanted. I knew in my heart it was but the course elements of the time, 1987-1991, were of little benefit to me as a teacher except to get lots of glue on my fingers. I was a Tertiary student glueing and pasting craft activities to pass a unit!

My mind wonders what difference a course in leadership would have had on my ideology of teaching and the education system. What difference would a course in leadership have in my relationships with the students; the staff and the parents. What difference a course in leadership would have had in my vision for the students. My vision would have gone from “ticking and dating outcomes” alone to understanding relationships in a classroom and school; to understand the importance and need of ethical decision making; moral literacy and developing faith leaders in my students and community. Weighing up between glued fingers and leadership understanding seems obvious to me.

Deciding whether or not leadership units should be incorporated in undergraduate studies…well, that took me six months of tertiary studies in educational leadership to get it and not 20 years of teaching experience! Having the 20 years experience didn’t make me understand the content necessarily more but it did confirm my belief that it has an important role in undergraduate studies.


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Moral Literacy in the Curriculum

Moral literacy is a skill that must be crafted and honed by students, and with the aid of teachers who are well-versed in moral subject matter. It is a complex and multifaceted skill set that is interconnected and must therefore be learned completely in order to be used properly. Teaching students about moral literacy is truly necessary if schools wish to produce productive and responsible citizens.

Nancy Tuana, 2007

Imagine a classroom teacher’s program with Language Literacy, Maths Literacy and Moral Literacy..yes, moral literacy. And just like the other two literacies, moral literacy would have its own set of skills to develop. It is of course, something that is faced by every individual on a daily basis, consciously and subconsciously.

To understand its importance in education we look at the three fundamental areas which Tuana addresses in moral literacy:

Ethics Sensitivity

This, in itself, “…involves at least three major components:

  1. the ability to determine whether or not a situation involves ethical issues;
  2. awareness of the moral intensity of the ethical situation; and
  3. the ability to identify the moral virtues or values underlying an ethical situation. These abilities are complex and require training and practice to master.” (Tuana)

In this area, the student questions whether there is an ethical issue in the first place. An awareness of virtues, such as honesty and compassion, and ethical dilemmas can be advised through ethical frameworks.  But it is not just about deciding whether or not it is an ethical dilemma or not but whether they have the ability to judge the moral intensity of an ethical situation. Making this judgment is a lifelong skill where students will be also faced with these ethical dilemmas in their workplace and lives.

Ethical sensitivity is an awareness of why people react to a dilemma a certain way, and what would be the most effective decision to make based on the intensity of the situation. In a world, which through technology is becoming more accessible, this sensitivity and awareness of different behaviours and choices will serve to accommodate varying and individualised approaches to ethical situations. Tuana calls this being an “ethical adjudicator”.

Ethical Reasoning 

Ethical reasoning skills also involve at least three different abilities. They involve:

  1. an understanding of the various ethical frameworks;
  2. the ability to identify and assess the validity of facts relevant to the ethical situation, as well as assessing any inferences from such facts; and
  3. the ability to identify and assess the values that an individual or group holds to be relevant to the ethical issue under consideration (Tuana, 2007)

Moral Imagination

Johnson (1993) referred to moral imagination as the “ability to imaginatively discern various possibilities for acting in a given situation and to envision the potential help and harm that are likely to result from a given situation”. Moral imagination is difficult to teach and often relies on values such as empathy and “putting the student in the other person’s shoes”. Narratives have always been helpful to develop moral imagination. Narratives such as “To Kill A Mockingbird” or “The Diaries of Anne Frank”. Moral imagination is not just about identifying ethical decision and the repercussions of our decisions but it is about experiencing the ethical decision from a varying point of view.

imagesTo teach Moral Literacy is a lifelong task. To decide if something is an ethical dilemma, what skills are needed and how to respond are skills that students should be supported in developing just as they are in Maths Literacy or Language Literacy. And life’s experiences will allow the student’s to “fine tune” their literacy. Having the foundation set in their schooling years can only aid in developing citizens who not only recognise ethical situations but act in a way that collates individual and collective values.


Tuana, N. (2007), “Conceptualising moral literacy”, Journal of Educational Administration, 45(4), p.p. 364-378.


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When Respect Does Not Equal Obedience to Authority

Unknown-3As a teacher of over 20 years experience I have always highlighted the phrase “be respectful”. This has always been to everyone but particularly to adults in the child’s world. But are we delivering a generation of respectful children or obeying children? At what stage do we determine if the ethics we are teaching them are socially acceptable and allowing them to be “functioning citizens” or hanging them onto obedience practice.

Reflecting upon ethics, right vs wrong, good vs evil suggests that there is “good” and there is “not good”. But who determines what is good? I would suggest that teaching a child to be functional and constructive in their social setting is teaching them ethics. But by teaching them to “do as they are told” is only teaching children to be reactive to obedience thinking.

A social experiment I was introduced to many years ago is playing on my mind as I question whether we are teaching children respect or obedience. This experiment is called the Milgram Experiment (click link for details). Perhaps our thinking when teaching children to be respectful is not to suggest comments such as “Do as you are told” or “be respectful to adults” but instead perhaps we should be suggesting that they “Ask yourself what your moral compass is telling you do”, and of course informed lessons and discussions on your moral compass would be in order.

Using such terminology allows the child to be accountable for self reflection and determining their own set of values. Perhaps, we are “dumbing our kids down” by suggesting they do as they are told when it comes to behaviour. Perhaps with this personal reflection at a young age we are arming our students to think about what is important to them and how to function with others around them. If this is the case, the students are more likely to make informed ethical decisions rather than dictated, directed decisions based purely on their age and maturity, and decided upon by another person.

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Personal Moral Integrity


It is apparent that the role of ethics in any leadership role is widely accepted as an integral part of any decision making process. Many organisations realise the importance of the role of ethics and the work of Shapiro and Stefkovich highlight the importance of ethical decision making. In 1994, Starratt informed the use of 3 types of ethics: Ethics of Care; Ethics of Critique and Ethics of Justice. Shapiro ad Stefkovich introduced the fourth on of Ethic of Profession.

The included ethic examined here is the Ethic of Personal Moral Integrity where Chroistopher Branson extends the notion that all the other ethics are interrelated for a leader to come to a final decision. To make a decision relies on knowing many aspects of the other ethics mentioned above.

To do this a leader needs to have an understanding of whether there is an ethical dilemma in the first place. Knowing what it is that makes a moral dilemma allows the leader to come to a decision based on knowledge rather than just personal bias and attainment.

It is argued that a leader, in the decision making process, is defining the common good by the decision that is made. But what is important to note, is regardless of what personal moral integrity a person has at some stage it could be argued that a personal bias and understanding would be brought into the decision making process. The point where the leader comes to the process, the self reflection before and during the process and the decision making within the process are all tinted in some way by the leader’s self reflection and self inquiry, points of values and moral integrity.

So the question is asked: Is there any decision made that is not biased in some way? Can a multitude of leaders be presented with the same dilemma and come to a multitude of decisions even if all are courageously working for the “common good”? My answer to this is a strong yes. A person’s  personal inner reflection and their established values will influence any decision making process. Branson refers to “moral masquerading” where we may present a particular moral ethic in our decision but is it accurate of our true inner belief? I believe that no decision made is truly unbiased and whether consciously or subconsciously, the leader will always, in some way, make decision based on their own personal moral integrity.

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Grief and Turbulence in the Educational Setting

UnknownAbout four years ago, as a parent at my children’s school, we were advised that we were to amalgamate with another local primary school. I, for one, through perhaps ignorance, had no idea this was coming. But when a letter is sent home with the new name of the school plus the Bishop’s name and signature attached, I realised that the decision was made and there was no going back. I personally didn’t have a problem with it. Worse things could have been happening to my children. What I saw was “simply” a school getting bigger with lots of positives coming our way. More resources, a Learning Centre for Children With Special Needs and a new vision for the school were just some of the bonuses of this “turbulence” happening.

“Turbulence Theory” is a theory defined by two academics Shapiro and Gross. “Turbulence Theory” is explored as changes in an environment which impact on the overall decision making process and the ongoing effects of this decision making process. What I didn’t expect was the ongoing turbulence that arose from this amalgamation and that which continued for a couple of years. Even to this day, there ae still “older, original parents” who still throw in the concerned comment about the amalgamation.

What I have come to realise is that through turbulence there is always a form of “grief”, too. The grief comes from change or disruption. And depending on your positionally, especially for those families who were shifting schools geographically,  in the  “turbulence”, the grief can be escalated or minimised. Grief is what provokes the concerns of change, the concerns of the disruption.

Turbulence, especially in education, in my view, refers to change not necessarily instability. Instability comes when there is no integral vision in place. Instability through turbulence comes when the decision making process is based on an individual’s ideology rather than a collective need.

Where no communication is informed. When a plane suffers turbulence, the Captain will immediately respond with communication to staff and passengers. There is a reassurance, regardless of whether it is ongoing or not, that the “Captain” is still steering the plane for the common good of all on board. Turbulence in ethical decision making processes plus the element of grief is considered and understood to expect that it may need communication. Whether instructional or conversational .

When there are people on the fringes of the decision making processes,their opinions and their concerns need to be centred. When there is ongoing reactive turbulence in the decision making arena a clear ethical decision making process needs to be used so as an overall vision is always “ahead”. In our situation, the turbulence was not an isolated occurrence with one issue. It reacted on the school motto, uniform, size of classes, the teacher placement, sporting teams, geography and layout of the school. These were to name a few of the turbulent issues.

What is important to note is that a leader will not be able to clear the path of turbulence, and just like a pilot, he / she may not see any turbulence coming especially when making decisions in what was previously “clear, blue skies”. As  a leader, we need to be aware that it can happen; where all the stakeholders are in the turbulent times; the decision we make to “soften the flight or landing” are driven by common good and that we expect that there may always be more turbulence as a result.

In our school’s case, I personally believe that through flying through some seriously “turbulent” times we have come out flying “bright, blue skies” in many areas.

References: Shapiro, J. & Gross, S. (2007). Ethical Educational Leadership In Turbulent Times: Resolving Moral Dilemmas (pp.47-62).  Philadelphia, PA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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Ethical Reflection and Ethical Decision Making.


Demonstrating ethics in leadership is undoubtably a complex regard for many elements of the decision making process. What is considered moral i.e. a clear distinction between right and wrong, is not always the case with ethical decision making.

What is of consideration, according to Shapiro and Stefkovich (2007), is the three core Ethics of Justice; Critique and Care. But they continue to include the Ethic of Profession which in itself is often misinformed as Ethic of Justice.

If we take a glance at each we see the interrelationship of them all in the decision making process. In isolation they are but a reflection, in consolation they are a decision.

Ethic of Justice   has a clear distinction in the rights of the individual within the law. It is about making decisions that respect each individual in the community and given each a democratic equality. But it is also teaching students justice, respect and equality for all. And extending this to be evident in not only the school community but in the wider community as well. The ethic of justice brings together the “rule of the law with the abstract concepts of fairness, equality and justice” (Shapiro et all, 2005). In education the Ethic of Justice also plays the role of foundation for legal principles and is often reflected upon when making decisions of a policy, laws, rights and legal basis.

Ethic of Critique is within and most definitely outside the classroom walls. This critique allows for persons, in this case specifically educators, to question the running of a school environment; to question the decision making process; to question who is making the decisions. If we are to look for the sustainability of an equitable society than our classrooms need to be ones that are reviewed for equality and justice. Our teachers should approach education as a way of promoting equity and justice through race  and gender not just through talks and conversations but in their decision making process.

Ethic of Care relates to the ethic of justice and the respect of each and every human being. Be they male, female, Western, Eastern, Christian, Jew and so on. In 1992, Nel Noddings stated, “The first job of the schools is to care for our children.” For many students their own concern is that adults are making decisions that are not of importance to their person. They feel like adults  don’t care about them.  In 1993, Jane Roland Martin introduced the 3C’s of care, concern and connection. These are arguably vital in our schools if students are to see their place in education as one of a personal issue rather than one of achievement for the schools and on particular people in leadership roles. Making decisions with an ethic of care displaces the importance once held in business like models and returns them to models of concern for the individual and others that may be affected by the decision. Care also highlights the importance of connection between all within the community so as the best decision is made and specifically not just from one viewpoint. The Ethic of Care relies on listening and learning from each other, our cultures, our beliefs and our understandings. The Ethic of Care allows for the individual to think about who I may affect by my decision and how I will affect them.

Another ethic added by Shapiro and Stefkovich is that of Ethic of Profession which is often just filed under Ethic of Justice but academics such as Shapiro and Stefkovich suggest that this is an ethic integral to the establishment of a moral and ethical decision making environment. Regardless of the profession, the ethics driven within it should establish expectations of the profession but be flexible enough to relate to the everyday decisions that are needed to be made by individual leaders and not just members of the profession.  However, the question asked is when does a leader or professional switch from following the professional code of ethics to their own individual code and values? Does a leader need to be more reflective on their own values? What drives them between right and wrong. Critically though you have to question the stability of this approach. Individuals are most definitely responsible from their decision making process but if there were no professional ethics involved then we would have to examine the initial stages of choosing those in leadership roles. Would this choice best reflect the profession; the expectations; the purpose and the vision of the profession? What happens when an individual’s code doesn’t align with that of the profession. In the case of medical practitioners who support euthanasia, for example.

In the case of educational professionals, the fundamental belief is that decisions are for the best interest of the student who is often unable or given little preference to the decision making process. We as leaders, need to make sure our voice is in the best interest of the student. Stefkovich rates this to the 3 R’c of respect, responsibility and rights and all relate back to the best interests of the child.

A leader needs to take all ethics; care, critique, justice and profession to implement a decision making process that keeps the needs of the student first and foremost over their own benefits and that of other stakeholders.


Shapiro, J. & Gross, S. (2007). Ethical Educational Leadership In Turbulent Times: Resolving Moral Dilemmas (pp.47-62). Philadelphia, PA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Shapiro, J., & Stefkovich, J. (2004). Ethical Leadership and Decision Making in Education: applying theoretical perspectives to complex dilemmas. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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Governance Capital

images-1Using the word Governance initially was a very sterile, cold and domineering term. But what is very quickly becoming obvious is that Governance is very much a colourful palette of leadership, membership and management.

What was, for me at least, a term that purely defined management, particularly lawful and economic management, is really a term of multiple capitals. This is particularly so in Catholic institutions which I have been reflecting upon lately. Clarity of “effective governance”, for me personally, has to have public information and display of spiritual capital; people capital; economic capital; intellectual capital and stewardship capital.

This myriad of “capitals” capitalises on the overall running and effectiveness of an organisation, institute or company. Governing is about bringing these capitals together in an environment which has clarity in its mission, its purpose. Governance is about leadership which is directed by ethics, respect for human dignity,  transparent behaviour, striving for the common good and open discussions.

Governance is about respecting the role that traditional intelligence of the company had in bringing it to its present state. In reflecting on the intelligence of the companies traditions to bring meaning and purpose to the future direction of leadership and membership.

Governance is about service to others especially in the beliefs held of Catholic traditions. Governance is providing opportunities for this service and celebrating the extent of stewardship.

No longer is the  word Governance cold and sterile, grey and non-human. Instead it is replaced with a “living” word which presents its meaning in the people, the leadership, the organisation, the traditions, the future and the presence of the company.


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