Ethical Leadership and Integrity

  • On 2017-06-05
  • Ethical Leadership, Integrity, values

Why is integrity to the school values and vision so important to the notion of transforming the narrative?

In the previous article of the Transforming the School Narrative series we explored the importance and power of beliefs and how they could support or hinder learning. The beliefs we focused on mostly related to those belonging to teachers and students but the discussion could equally relate to school leaders as well as parents. In this newsletter we dig a little deeper into how integrity and ethical leadership is part of the solution to shifting or even creating new narratives in a school.

An ethical dilemma
As part of an upcoming workshop I have been interviewing school principals and assistant principals to gather examples of ethical dilemmas that they have faced during their careers. I have realised from this process how often school leaders face ethical dilemmas just in the course of their day to day job.  Here is one scenario:

Teacher X teaches a range of classes at the school and produces great results with the students. Teacher X loves teaching, the students and works well in getting the best out of them. This is a boon to the school as it is currently in the process of turning around from being a “failing” school.
Teacher X previously was a leading teacher at the school and lost the role due to dropping student numbers and a re-structure at the school. This all occurred prior to the current principal being appointed. The current principal finds that, at times, Teacher X can be outspoken and manipulative towards others. He also has had some concerns about Teacher X’s mental well-being.
Recently Teacher X(‘s) behaviour was considered inappropriate in certain interactions with staff members and those staff members approached the Principal with both a complaint and concern for Teacher X’s well-being.

What would you do?

It is an extraordinarily curly dilemma and there is no easy answer. Depending on how the principal and school leadership team handles the situation it could have a disastrous or positive impact on the school culture. However if we view the situation from another perspective – the values and integrity established within the school culture will decide the actions taken and the impact of the result.

Integrity and Values
If the individuals are clear about what they value, what is important to them, and what their vision for their lives (and work) is then they tend to have a lot of clarity in what actions they will or won’t take and also what to base their decisions on. Similarly if the people within a school are clear about the school values, what is important to the community, and what their vision for school is then you will find that there is a lot more clarity about making decisions and more alignment around what is appropriate or inappropriate behaviour.

However, like all organisations, schools are microcosms of society. If we are honest about it unless a school has specifically gone to work on ensuring that the people and school systems are aligned with the school’s values and vision then a lot of murkiness and greyness will exist. And it is in this murkiness that integrity issues arise. I imagine that if we surveyed students, teachers, parents, and school leaders we could come up with an extensive list of areas of murkiness. However some examples of murkiness that could occur in schools include;

  • The teacher who, in public, is “working towards” enacting the required instructional approach but continues to do what they have always done when they close their classroom door
  • A staff member who uses attendance at an after-school event as justification for coming late the following day (without asking first)
  • Favouritism in the treatment given to one group of staff over another
  • The pushing of certain students to do unscored Year 12 so that the school results look better
  • Talking the talk but not walking the talk with regards to the school values

The definition of integrity I like to use is “the state of being whole and undivided”.  I prefer this representation of integrity rather than “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles” as morality tends to be associated with good/bad, right/wrong and that dichotomy is based on a deficit mindset. Using the definition of integrity as wholeness we can consider what is missing or what are the gaps. This leads to much more positive outcomes for everyone.

The importance of integrity
Why is integrity to the school values and vision so important to the notion of transforming the narrative? Simply put, lack of integrity makes causing change (or even transformation) that much harder. It is like having a boat filled with holes. It is hard to keep afloat if there are many ways for water to enter. It is interesting to watch how elite sporting teams have gone to work on this dimension in the past few years. What we are starting to see is that rather than the sporting club hierarchy dealing with inappropriate behaviour the individual’s team mates are dealing with it. A community that can deal with behaviour that is inconsistent with the agreed upon values and vision will always outperform one that can’t.
Two short articles worth reading around this topic are Who You Are Is How You Lead by Jesse Sostrin and Why integrity is the foundation of a peak performance leader by Chris McGoff.

Returning to the ethical dilemma posed at the start, I asked the Principal how he ended up responding. He shared that he values being open and honest, as well as being clear and reasonable. He has a strong vision for himself and the school which is shared by the people he works with using this as a basis for his decision-making. What I found most revealing about the conversation the Principal and I had was how the community responded throughout. The teachers who had made the complaints were pre-dominantly concerned for the well-being of Teacher X. The Principal based his decision on his own and the school values and got expert advice. Teacher X acted professionally in exploring what was at the source of their behaviour. I am clear that this is why this school is actually finding success in shifting the perception of staff, students and parents.

Some Questions to think about

  • What behaviours do you see are currently inconsistent with the school’s values and vision?
  • What structures and processes are currently inconsistent with the school’s values and vision?
  • What could be put in place to align the school and staff to be more consistent with the school values and vision?






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