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Ethics in Educational Leadership: Theory & Practice Essay


Being a school administrator is a challenging task, since it involves not only dealing with the issues of lessons scheduling and managing the actions of the teaching staff, but also analyzing the morality issues within the mini-community of school and addressing them efficiently.

Workplace setting: description

Although in theory, managing the work of several teachers at once and making sure that they should deliver proper knowledge to students, training their skills and checking their progress at the same time does sound somewhat complicated, the job of a school administrator is, in fact, rather simple in terms of classes arrangement and scheduling. When it comes to defining the peculiarities of the workplace setting in the school that I work at, I must mention that, even though the schedule is impeccable and the classes are arranged so that each of the teachers should get the exact amount of work that he or she can cope with, the recent situations have shown that the time has come to be concerned about the school ethics.

Among the most troubling aspects of the school ethics breach, the irrational leadership strategies adopted by the teaching staff, as well as the possible attempts at bribery, though not fully proven, should be mentioned. To make the mater worse, teachers say openly that they do not feel obliged to be role models for their students, bringing the studying process down a few notches to mere lecturing and progress check and leaving the issue of positive influence and enhancement of good morals among the students out. Therefore, it cannot be doubted that something has to be done about the leadership style of teachers. The change of the teachers’ organizational behavior, though, will also presuppose that the school administrator should also use a new model of leadership in order to influence the teachers positively. Seeing how the issue in question requires that the students and teachers’ attitude towards learning and teaching process has to be shaped, it will be most reasonable to use such method of perceived ethical leadership as transformational one, which is related to the students’ and teachers’ motivation.

Definition of ethical leadership

Before going any further, it is necessary to define the phenomenon of leadership in order to understand what effect it may possibly have on the students, teachers and other people involved into the educational process. It is essential to keep in mind, though, that there are many ways to define leadership, depending on the perspective, the field or the scope: “after years of research there is no agreed definition of what leadership is or any universal agreement about who might be regarded a leader” (Billsbery 2009, p. 1). That being said, there are still several definitions that are broad enough to spot the essence the phenomenon and help apply it to a particular setting, i.e., ethics. Among the ones that seem to be the most coherent, the following definitions should be mentioned:

  • “Leadership is a special contribution to an organisation” (Jiang 2010, p. 225). The given definition represents an attempt to define leadership based on the functions that it is supposed to perform.
  • “Leadership is a system of authority identified with running an organisation, being in charge or carrying responsibility for a collective function or team” (Spicker 2012, p. 36). The definition of leadership provided in the quote above puts the emphasis on the role of the leader.
  • “Leadership is a behavior that breathes life into organizational performance” (Beinecke 2009, p. 7). The given definition of leadership allows evaluating the necessity to introduce the element of motivation into the setting in question.

It is remarkable that each of the definitions listed above features the idea of motivation as an essential element of leadership, and progress as its only possible effect. Applied to the educational setting, ethical leadership can be defined as the process of shaping the students’ concept of the moral aspects related to learning, allowing them to shape their own moral values, not only regarding a particular issue or subject, but also in a broader perspective, therefore, allowing them to be able to decide whether a particular move will be ethical or unethical. Indeed, considering the exiting definitions of ethical leadership, one will inevitably find out that being an ethical leader presupposes performing the role of a moral compass; for example, Mihelič, Lipičnik and Tekavčič define the given phenomenon as providing the guidance that is “crucial and vital in providing direction that enables the organization to fulfil its mission and vision and achieve declared goals” (Mihelič, Lipičnik & Tekavčič 2009, p. 32).

Leadership in the Workplace Setting

As it has been stressed above, leadership gains new shades of meaning once it is planted into the educational setting, and ethical leadership is no exception to this rule. Seeing how the settings mentioned above are related to the process of not only providing young people with necessary information and training their skills, but also to develop abilities for self-education and realize that knowledge has an intrinsic value, which, in its turn, will evoke their need for self-education and the following lifelong learning, it is clear that the leadership style in educational settings must include ethical leadership as one of the key components. The following features of the school workplace leadership should be noted:

  • Strong emphasis on the result;
  • Significance of students’ performance level;
  • Necessity to follow the state’s standards of teaching;
  • Necessity to show students’ decent results in state exams.

Key features definition

The aforementioned issue regarding the ethical faults in leadership in the educational setting raises the question whether the basic features of ethical leadership can be defined by default, and whether such phenomenon as ethics can actually exist within educational setting. As the further consideration of the phenomenon of ethics will show, it is crucial that different ethical approaches should be utilized in order to come up with an ideal strategy.

Leadership evaluation: defining style and efficacy

When it comes to analyzing the specifics of leadership in the setting of the public school in question, it should be stressed that the teachers do not restrict themselves to the authoritative style solely. Some of the teachers use charismatic approach successfully; however, sadly enough, they do not use the given approach to its full potential, providing the students only with the image of their role model, yet failing to use this model as an example in making ethics related choices.

Ethics and leadership: observations

As the results of two independent researches carried out within the school settings, show, at present, the leadership style chosen by most of the teachers can be defined as an authoritative one, which results in the students, though being disciplined and well-behaved, still lack independence greatly. Moreover, the fact that the teachers often break the existing ethical rules sends the students a bad example. According to the results of the first research, which was an anonymous survey conducted among the students, most of the teachers judged the students’ performance not according to the approved standards, but based on their own idea of what a good performance must be, which does seem rather unfair. In addition, it has been revealed that some of the teachers actually hinted the students whose performance was far from being stellar at the possibility of bribing, which is downright wrong.

The results of the evaluation conducted among the teachers also led to some disappointment, seeing how most of the teachers admitted that they did not feel obligated to reinforce the significance of morality among students and did not consider themselves responsible for their students’ behavior.

Ethics in Leadership: A Variable Predisposed by Factors or a Constant?

As the analysis provided above shows, defining the role of ethics in education is relatively easy compared to the choice of ethical principles, especially when considering these principles applied to particular scenarios. Indeed, the differences between the ethical principles of the people belonging to different epoch, culture or nation may differ in a most strikingly uncomfortable way. As a result, deciding on the choice of the set of principles that are going to provide the ethical measurement in the school environment becomes very complicated. Since students of different cultural and social background attend school, and teachers of different cultural and ethnical background teach students, conflicts concerning ethical dilemmas ware unavoidable. To give a particular example, in the school settings under discussion, American teachers and students make the majority, yet there is also a considerable amount of African American students and teachers, several Latino students and teachers, and people of other ethnical and cultural descent. Hence, the clashes of culture are unavoidable when it comes to solving ethical issues.

In addition, it is worth keeping in mind that, based off of the principles of various ethical teachings, the given type of leadership is very vague in its principles by default. For instance, there is the Utilitarianism principle, which presupposes that the ends justify the means and that the result is the only means of ethical measurement; there is also Relativism, which means that duality is the only way to consider specific ethical dilemmas; there is Kantian ethics, with its famous Categorical Imperative, which declares that the initial motivation is what the ethical value of a certain action must be defined by – just to name a few. Though the postulates of each teaching can and, in fact, have been debated over, they still provide direct and strong moral principles, which one can adhere to. Seeing how these theories often state the exact opposite principles, e.g., Utilitarianism and Kantianism, the former defining the result as the only measurement, and the latter considering the intent as the key to the evaluation of an action, a school leader must choose moral principles for school to base on very carefully.

Judging by the arguments offered above, it is most reasonable to choose the ethical system or a combination of ethical dimensions that will allow for creating the most favorable environment for the learning process. Therefore, both the general features of educational setting, as well as the ones that are characteristic only of the given school, are to be taken into account. To start with, it is important to bear in mind that the existing code of ethics for a school administrator focuses on the need to provide the students with a specific set of particular knowledge and skills. Therefore, it can be assumed that the result is what must be considered as the defining measure the ethical value of a certain teaching approach or step. However, it should also be born in mind that the task of a school administrator is also to provide the teachers with the guidance that will allow them to inspire lifelong self-education in students, which means that the intent should also count, as the element of a lesser significance, though. When it comes to outlining the particular goals of a school administrator, one should mention the following ones:

  • Arranging the teachers’ work so that they could provide the students with the ability to acquire new skills, learn new theories and develop the ability for self-education;
  • Promoting the idea of educating the students on the necessity for further lifelong learning as the key to the future success;
  • Stressing the need to introduce the students to the basic ethical dilemmas that may possibly occur in the course of interaction with the representatives of different nationality, ethnicity, culture, etc.;
  • Making it obvious that, while the result if the key criterion for defining the legitimacy of the teaching strategy chosen by a particular teacher, the atmosphere created in the process of teaching, i.e., the atmosphere in which students can be engulfed into the learning process, feel no hesitation when asking questions or displaying the need for further explanations – in other words, the mean to encourage the students’ longing for knowledge, should also be introduced.

Since a school administrator has the power to shape the learning process, yet does not have the full access to defining the course of lessons, it is important that the rules and principles of conducting lessons should be clearly established, with the corresponding demands listed for both teachers and students. It is essential though, to bear in mind that the teachers are going to be assigned with one more function apart from their traditional role of an educator; apart from teaching the students professional knowledge, they will also represent role models for the students to follow in terms of ethics and in the situations when an ethical dilemma has to be solved.

Means of ensuring leadership ethics

When it comes to the evaluation of the factors that shape the students’ attitude towards learning in general and the studying process that they are involved into in particular, one must admit that the introduction of a specific leadership ethic can be seen as major assistance in promoting lifelong learning principles to the students. However, it is important to remember that there are different ways of introducing the basic ethical principles to both teachers and students, which means that an appropriate leadership style must be chosen for teachers to follow; in addition, it will be crucial to introduce a role model that the students will be able to follow in order to acquire the basic information regarding ethics and be able to navigate in the numerous labyrinths of ethical dimension. In order to ensure that leadership ethics principles are being applied in the course of lessons and lectures, the following approaches must be undertaken:

  • The school administrator will have to motivate the teachers to be more conscious regarding their responsibilities not only as teachers, but also as educators, including the role of a moral compass for students;
  • The school administrator will have to work out a flexible system of moral and (if needed) financial rewards for the teachers who will excel in being both educational and moral mentors to their students;
  • The school administrator will have to work on the means to help the teachers gain their students’ respect as the people who not only provide the students with the information concerning the subject, but also mentors on morality and ethics.

Granted that the given task is highly complicated, and that some of the teachers may be unwilling to mend their ways, it still must be admitted that the idea of applying the key principles of transformational leadership in both managing the work of the teaching staff and making the students more responsible is definitely worth considering. The workplace ethics can be ensured with the help of the following strategies:

  • A flexible system of approval of the teachers’ proper behavior, starting from incentive bonuses up to appraisals and public recognitions of their progress (Affermann, Lee & Würth 2005, p. 14);
  • Re-establishment of the school’s organizational behavior principles, which are going to be based on clarity and transparency, as well as objective evaluation of the students (Parry & Proctor-Thompson 2002, p. 76);
  • Re-establishment of the school’s moral values and standards, which are going to enhance ethical behavior in teachers and students from now on;
  • Introduction of penalties for unethical behavior, together with the standards that allow defining whether a particular step was ethical or not, with the key penalties being the disapproval of the school administrator and the refusal to give the teacher bonus money (Waters, Marzano & McNulty 2003, p. 2);
  • Reconsideration of the existing system of grading, so that the teachers could evaluate the students’ performance in a more objective way, which will reduce the possibility of a bribe.

It is worth noting that the strategies listed above do not include the point that mentions the necessity to get rid of the factors that some of the less honest teachers will consider tempting, such as the close observation of the grading process. While the given detail may be considered a loop hole in the chosen approach, it can still be excused as the method to show the teachers that they are trusted by the leader and, therefore, enhance their willingness to change.


In the educational setting, the teachers of the school, which I administer, seem to have succumbed to rather corrupted behavior. Consequently, the measures that a school administrator must resort to concern the changes in the leadership style, which will allow for reintroducing strong morals into the school environment, must be taken. While the process of teachers’ and students’ perception of ethics is not going to change easily, at present, a switch to perceived transformational leadership style is imperative.

Reference List

Affermann, D, Lee, M J & Würth, S 2005, ‘Perceived leadership behavior and motivational climate as antecedents of adolescent athletes’ skill development,’ Athletic Insight (the Online Journal of Sports Psychology, vol. 7 no. 2, pp. 14–36.

Beinecke, R H 2009, ‘Introduction: leadership for wicked problems,’ The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 1–17.

Billsbery, J 2009, ‘The social construction of leadership education,’ Journal of Leadership Education, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 1–9.

Jiang, X 2010, ‘How to motivate people working in teams,’ International Journal of Business and Management, vol. 5, no. 10, pp. 223–229.

Mihelič, K K, Lipičnik, B & Tekavčič, M 2010, ‘Ethical leadership,’ International Journal of Management & Information Systems, vol. 14, no. 5, pp. 31–41.

Parry, K W & Proctor-Thompson, S B 2002, ‘Perceived integrity of transformational leaders in organizational settings,’ Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 75–96.

Spicker, P 2012, ‘“Leadership”: a perniciously vague concept,’ International Journal of Public Sector Management, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 34–47.

Waters, T Marzano, R J & McNulty, B 2003, Balanced leadership: what 30 years of research tells us about the effect of leadership on student achievement, McREL, Greeley, CO.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Ethics in Educational Leadership: Theory & Practice'. 23 July.

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