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Educational Leadership Through Aristotelian Principles Education Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 2812 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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One of the major challenges of applying values and ethics in educational leadership from a fundamental perspective lies in convincing academic institutions and administrators to think differently about leadership through Aristotelian principles. Educational leaders themselves are challenged to rethink traditional pedagogical curriculum regarding leadership principles and techniques and utilize Aristotle’s philosophy, specifically, the nature of practicing right actions, integrity, and espousing these principles through living a virtuous life (Lapsley & Narvaez, 2006). Which in turn, argues that the virtues of an academic administrator can be encapsulated in the concepts of values and ethics in academic administration. These Aristotelian virtues will be expanded upon as the major composition of this paper and will become the fundamental examination of affective educational leadership.

The Principled Educational Administrator

Academic administrators are entrusted with the duty to act in accordance to ethical behaviors, with so many ethical misappropriations in the media spotlight, many have question if current leadership training curriculum found in most administrative educational leadership programs, fail to teach sufficient ethical accountability (Propheter & Jez, 2012)? Curriculum that addresses characteristics traits associated with moral virtues in the context of school administration must question if moral virtue such as those espoused by Aristotelian principles will developed a more authentic leader? Bowen et al. (2006), note that doctoral programs should place more emphasizes on ethics than on management. Educational leaders must be able to command leadership skills that are committed to moral character and ethical behavior, have the interest of and mutual respect for all stakeholders at heart, support and promote teacher and student alike, are engaged in justice, care, compassion and empathy and are highly motivated by the individual success of each of the members of the larger community of the school of which he or she is to govern (Pijanowski, 2007).

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Academic leaders make decisions that impact the lives of teachers, students and parents, making the act of leadership a moral issue. An educational leader’s core set of values, or set of beliefs, is the ethical framework from which a leader develops a vision for the school in which he/she administers. Associated with administrative leadership, is the constant call for change, thus the academic leader becomes the change agent and will direct, define and shape the change sequence that leads the school in progression and improvement for all stakeholders. Understanding this concept of leadership helps further define what educational leadership is not; it is not a solitary activity by definition Starratt (1991) elaborates:

In the field of education, talk of ethics and morality tends to divide between public rhetoric and academic theory. In the public arena, some call for a return to a hypothetical time when people agreed on moral values, when teachers were not ashamed to preach morality in the classroom. Others worry that these proposals are simplistic attempts to impose “fundamentalist” definitions of right and wrong. The public rhetoric tends to frame the debate over morality in education in extreme and sometimes inflammatory imagery, but a more restrained shift has slowly been taking place among researchers and theorists. (p. 185)

Foster (1986) explained that, “Each administrative decision carries with it a restructuring of human life: that is why administration at its heart is a resolution of moral dilemmas” (p.33). Leadership implies intentional decision-making to enact change, rather than merely to continue and support current systemic processes, and such decisions are rooted in a leader’s definition of what are positive changes, as well as the ultimate effects of such changes. Views of what needs to be changed, the outcomes and methods of change, as well as who will

benefit from such changes, and how, are based on one’s values.

Applying Aristotle’s Virtue Constructs In Educational Leadership

Applying an Aristotelian framework (Nicomachean Ethics, Bk.6, Ch.1), the specific

virtues of school leadership can be categorized as either moral or intellectual. Each category is examined, drawing on insights from the literature on both authentic leadership and virtue ethics by way of synthesis. We adopt Aristotle’s (1987) definition that virtues are states of character having to do with feeling, choosing, and acting well, the formation of which is predicated upon doing these things habitually. A good academic administrator has a variety of desirable traits or virtues, some distinctively ethical and some

not, some generically human and some specific to the academic administrator’s


The Moral Virtues. Aristotle classifies good judgment as an intellectual virtue, while insisting that it presupposes all of the moral virtues and is essential to anymoral virtue being a true virtue. It presupposes all of the moral virtues inasmuchas each of those virtues contributes to the accuracy of moral perception and fund of emotion critical to seeing and being moved by what is ethically important. To the extent that no attribute is a true virtue unless it is mediated by good judgment, it is clear that no set of virtues basic to any domain of practice could be complete unless it in some way included good judgment. One might imagine simply treating the other virtues on one’s list as entailing good judgment, but the centrality of good judgment to leadership makes it far more perspicuous to count good administrative judgment as a distinct ethical (or ethically laden) virtue of academic administration.2The moral virtues are the character traits necessary to acting rightly. They are consistent with eudaimonia (human flourishing) and ensure that the chosen course of action is not only appropriate in the given circumstances, but also motivated by the most genuine and well meaning intentions (the arêteenkrateia distinction). In the context of school leadership, a ‘genuine regard for student best interests does emerge as a major influence on principal leadership practices’ (Stefkovich & Begley, 2007, p.205). However, school leaders must also have the best interests of other stakeholders at heart, especially those of their teaching staff. Such interests can be best conceptualized in terms of: safeguarding rights, promoting responsibility in the exercise of those rights, and creating a climate of mutual respect. It can be argued that four key moral virtues associated with leadership have a particular importance to safeguarding and promoting the best interests of others: justice (dikaiosyne), care (agape), harmony or concord (homonoia) and courage (andreia), although each of these subsumes a number of other closely related virtues.

Moral Obligation To Care in Educational Leadership

The ethic of care is rooted in the work of feminist scholars, such as Gilligan and Noddings. The ethic of care urges educators to nurture the emotional and moral development of children rather than stress academic achievement as the main or sole purpose of schooling. This ethic places students at the center of ethical decision-making and focuses on relational values such as trust, loyalty, belonging, self-worth, and self-efficacy and the needs and desires of young people in schools.

Shapiro and Stefkovich (2005) add a fourth ethic of profession which integrates the other three ethics, based on an educational leader’s examination of his or her own values and the ethical codes set forth by various professional organizations. Shapiro and Stefkovich recognize that there may be conflicts among the three previously discussed ethical frameworks, so the best interest of the students should be foremost in determining the actions taken by educational leaders. Thus developing the ontological relationship.

Creating An Ontological Relationship In Educational Leadership

It appears in theology, philosophy, psychology, political theory, educational theory, and even information science. The basic contention of a relational ontology is simply that the relations between entities are ontologically more fundamental than the entities themselves. This contrasts with substantivist ontology in which entities are ontologically primary and relations ontologically derivative.

Differentiating Between Values and Ethics

There needs to be increased recognition among educators that what is essential about teaching ethics is providing a framework for making ethical decisions-not the presentation of values alone. Teaching prospective leaders this framework is a significant first step in lifting that restraint.

Within the past decade, the literature on educational leadership has, in fact, placed a greater focus on the moral aspects of schooling than ever before (Furman, 2003). From a focus on how moral leadership might be practiced (Sergiovanni, 1996; Starratt, 1995, 2004), to the why-or moral purposes of leadership (Murphy, 1999), the ethical imperative is clear: school leaders have a special responsibility to all members of their organization to be informed, ethical, and capable moral agents who lead democratic schools (Shapiro, & Stefkovich, 2005).

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Clearly, the demands of the job of educational leaders have changed so that traditional methods of preparation are no longer adequate to meet today’s challenges. The literature points to an expanded interest in ethical leadership practices (Jackson & Kelley, 2002), and a concern with social contexts has provoked greater attention to issues of diversity, race, gender and equity (Rebore, 2001). Several key research studies and scholars cogently back the need for including ethics in the study of educational leadership. In School Leadership Study: Developing Successful Principals (2005), Davis, Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, & Meyerson point to the need for educational leadership preparation programs to connect candidates with real-world dilemmas through the process of ethical decision-making. Young, Crow, Orr, Ogawa, & Creighton (2005) resonate with this call, citing that leadership curricula should be integrated, comprising topics that reflect extended periods of deliberation around social justice, interpersonal relations, and moral and ethical leadership (p. 31). As Shapiro and Stefkovich (2005) posit, ethics is a necessary inclusion in the training of prospective educational leaders (p. 20), citing Greenfield to drive home their point:

A failure to provide the opportunity for school [leaders] to develop such competence constitutes a failure to serve the children we are obligated to serve as public educators. As a profession, educational administration thus has a moral obligation to train prospective administrators to be able to apply the principles, rules, ideals, and virtues associated with the development of ethical schools. (p. 285, as cited in Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2005)

Having a strong inclination toward the need for schools and universities to be rooted in a commitment to build a democratic society (Darling-Hammond, 2005; Purpel, 1991), we assert that a framework for making ethical decisions, overviews of codes of conduct, and examinations of case studies of ethical and unethical behaviors should be an intentional component of every leadership preparation program and leadership course/class.

In this article we ponder some of the reasons why ethics has not become a prominent focus of educational leadership preparation, followed by an elaboration on why it should be. Next, the

citing Greenfield to drive home their point: A failure to provide the opportunity for school (leaders) to develop such competence constitutes a failure to serve the children we are obligated to serve as public educators. As a profession, educational administration thus has a moral obligation to train prospective administrators to be able to apply the principles, rules, ideals, and virtues associated with the development of ethical schools. (p. 285, as cited in Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2005)

In the Western tradition, the discussion of ethics dates back to Plato (427-347 B. C.) and Aristotle(384-322 B.C.). The root of the word ethics is the Greek word ethos, “which translates to customs, conduct, or character” (Northouse 2010, p. 378).

Values are more individualistic and personl,expressing individual choices or preferences (Strikeet al., 2005). Moral principles, however, express a sense of duty and obligation to others and are shared by a group of people. Beliefs and values of what is right and what is wrong therefore provide the basis of discussion and agreement within a group as to what is

considered moral by that group. These agreements on moral principles then provide a foundation for an ethical framework, which “provides a system of rules or principles that guide us in making decisions in a particular situation,” (Northouse, p. 378). For individuals and societies, ethical frameworks are group norms that define what is considered good or bad, moral or immoral, and thus guide our individual and collective actions.

Integrating Values And Ethics In Educational Leadership Curriculum Programs

The first step in including ethics instruction in leadership preparation classes is simple, yet vital. Instructors of these courses must make the conscious decision to include ethics as part of the course content. Without the disposition to do this, our vision for ethics as an intentional component in any course is significantly compromised. Once the decision to include ethics in course content has been made, however, the question then becomes, “how can it be implemented?”

To begin, all educators are required to operate under a code of ethics (actually most subscribe to two or three different codes depending on various educational roles), which is intended to guide their professional conduct in the field. Every state has its own code of ethics for its teachers and administrators. The American Federation of Teachers has a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for Learning: Standards of Conduct, Standards for Achievement, while the National Education Association has its Code of Ethics of the Education Profession. In every leadership course the state code of ethics and one or more additional codes should be referenced and preferably discussed. This could be accomplished by inviting current school leaders to be interviewed by leadership candidates about their understanding and application of various codes. Aspiring principals need to develop a familiarity with these codes, which should be reiterated frequently. Their applicability needs to be further explored and refined through example, simulation, and critical discourse.

A highly effective and popular avenue for presenting ethical material is through the use of case study methods (Merseth, 1996; Shulman, 1992). Sadly, today’s social climate often makes for lively class discussion, as examples of unethical actions in educational settings happen almost daily and, even more disturbingly, are allowed to gain wide notoriety in newspapers and newscasts. Aspiring leaders should be encouraged to choose examples for class discussion. They should be encouraged to reflect on the implications of unethical behavior and what this impropriety costs our children and our society. The purpose for examining case studies is not as much to determine right or wrong (though that might be an outcome), but rather to emphasize the process of developing critical thinking skills, examining issues from a myriad of perspectives, and engaging in reflective discourse about issues that can-and likely will-have an impact on their lives and the lives of their future students.


Further research is not only needed to deepen our understanding of the ethical dilemmas

faced by school leaders in a rapidly changing social and policy environment in Western societies, but also to shed light on the challenges and ethical leadership responses in schools in non Western cultural contexts including those in developing countries. Such insights should be of value both in informing policy strategies for professional learning and development and in directly assisting school leaders in their endeavors to achieve authentic leadership practices which are firmly rooted in a ‘values informed’ and ‘valuesled’ ethical framework.


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