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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