What is ethical leadership?

I’m playing catch-up. The week 3 #EdublogsClub challenge was to write a post about leadership. I’ve done much reflection and writing about leadership over the past several years of blogging. (Check out my Leadership category to browse my posts.) It seems like now, more than ever, we should examine how we can assert ourselves as leaders in not only our educational roles, but in our lives as citizens and members of the human race.

I’m currently teaching Management & Decision-Making in the educational leadership graduate program at Cabrini University. We spend early units in the course reading J. Stefkovich’s Best Interests of the Student: Applying Ethical Constructs to Legal Cases in Education. This book is a must-read for any future or current school leaders and educators. If you haven’t taken the time to familiarize yourself with the ethical framework that influences and governs the decision-making processes, I can’t think of a better time to start than now.

We discuss the ethic of care, the ethic of justice, of critique, and profession. My students were asked to decide which of the four ethics, if any, outweighed the others in terms of importance. Many pointed to the ethic of care. We need to keep the needs of individuals at the center of the decision-making process. But often the needs of individuals clash. What then? Another student held the ethic of justice in high regard. The laws. The policies. The plans and procedures. Surely those things exist to keep order, to guide the leader’s way and ensure justice in an organization? Perhaps. Enter the ethic of critique. Who makes the laws? Who decides the policies? Are the needs of all constituents considered equally when these plans are developed and instituted? Whose voices have power? Which voices are silenced? An educator’s chosen profession holds him in a high regard. We expect professionalism out of his actions, beliefs, & communications. There is an ethical code that exists, sometimes formally and always informally, among those in our profession. We serve children, we serve communities. We must stand as the pillars of those communities.

I was introduced to the Autoethnography project by Curt Rees. He uses this project with his graduate students as well. When I asked last year’s cohort to complete this project, they shared how very meaningful it was to examine their own educational philosophies to determine how their past experiences and biases have shaped them into the educators they are today. Many were brought to tears through the creation process and as they shared with classmates.

There is something very moving about about embracing the opportunity to look within. To examine strengths. To acknowledge weaknesses. To commit to improving. To be determined to make a difference in places where you never before thought your voice, hands, and heart were needed.

Our strength lies within. Our strength lies in community. I know that ethical leadership begins with knowing yourself. Being truthful about who you are and what you stand for. It begins with knowing those you lead. Who they are as human beings, at the core. Only then can you advocate for them. Only then can you act justly.

Only then can you lead.

A strong #ascd12 finish with Todd Whitaker

My first introduction to the work of Todd Whitaker was through reading his book, What Great Principals Do Differently: 15 Things that Matter Most. Todd’s writing style immediately captured my attention. He aptly defined the characteristics of strong principals and described those things I most wished to accomplish as the principal of my school. Easier said than done, of course, but I certainly appreciate how Whitaker takes his many years of experience in education and offers inspirational guidelines for success for administrators (and teachers, another great read).

My next encounter with Todd – I feel like we’re on a first-name basis now – was through our interactions on Twitter. If you don’t follow him, you should, for both the educational resources he shares, and his humor. He’s truly a joy to know virtually, and has offered guidance and support to me over the past year.

And then, last weekend, I had the chance to meet Todd Whitaker for the first time, when he addressed a large group of educators who battled the temptations of the snooze alarm to attend an early morning session on the last day of ASCD. His session, entitled What Great Teachers Do Differently, was filled with amusing allegories, sage advice, and “why didn’t I think of that?” lessons. Warning: Long list of session highlights ahead. I took a lot of notes.

  • In a school, if we don’t have difficult teachers, we don’t have difficult parents.
  • When someone asks you how your day is, say you’re having a great day! How does it help anyone to tell them about the bad day you’re having?
  • The ability to know how we come across and how we are being received by others is the difference between effective and ineffective people – ineffective people have no idea how they come across- to students, to colleagues, to parents, etc.
  • Why do some teachers stay behind their desks all day? They’re afraid of the kids. They don’t know how to interact with them.
  • Some teachers and principals have a “Kids First” attitude. Others? “Kids first… right after me.”
  • It’s hard to envision what great teaching can look like until you see it.
  • Principals can name the teacher who will submit the most office referrals for the 2018-2019 school year. And class lists have not yet been made!
  • Parents bring you the very best they have.
  • Students do the best they know how.
  • Why do whiners whine? Because it works.
  • Stop treating people – teachers, kids, parents- like they are bad. Treat everyone as though they are good. When you see a child in the hall, assume they are doing GOOD. Ask, “How can I help you?” Don’t ask one child, “What are you doing? Where is your pass? Why are you out there?” and treat another child differently by saying, “Hi, and enjoy your day.” Why do we choose to do that?
  • Treat bad people like they are good. This makes the good people feel better and the bad people feel uncomfortable.
  • Great principals confront negative teachers and bad principals don’t. Neither WANT to confront those negative teachers. The difference is in the action.
  • Shift the monkey!
  • When bad people act inappropriately, it gives good people and good supervisors “the monkey.” The bad people have none. Shift the monkey.
  • Don’t take down all of the stall doors if one person keeps writing on it. Don’t punish the whole group for the actions of a single or a minority. (Let’s stop making the entire class put their heads down/missing recess/other consequences.)
  • In a great teachers’ school, nothing happens randomly. Great teachers have an intention behind every action: how the room is arranged, how partners are chosen…
  • Principals, one goal you should have when hiring a new teacher:  for the school to become more like the new teacher – not for the teacher to become like your school.
  • Admin, your teachers and staff want guidance, not corrections. Teach them how.
  • Don’t allow your new teachers emulate the veterans who aren’t good role models – get them to follow the leads of the strong teachers.
  • “Losers” pretend they are representing a whole lot of other people. The best people represent themselves.
  • Approach “crummy” people from the side, because they can’t stand it. The best teachers approach kids from the side, while the worst teachers approach them by drawing a line in the sand.
  • You can’t just win playing defense, you have to cultivate community.
  • Great teachers have an incredible ability to ignore. Ignore means, “I choose to respond or not to respond to something that’s taking place.” A great teacher has an unlimited ability to ignore. A poor teacher has no ability to do that.
  • “It is people, not programs.” Great teachers making a great school. 
  • To improve your school, hire better teachers or improve the ones you have.
  • The trend is to attempt to mandate effectiveness. You can’t do that!
  • “It is 10 days out of 10?” How many days out of 10 do you want students to treat you with dignity? They should expect the same from you.
  • “Arguing with a student is like wrestling a pig. You both get muddy, but the pig sure seems like he’s enjoying it!”
  • In a great teacher’s classroom, the kids don’t know the teachers have “buttons” because they’ve never been pushed. They’ve never seen them.
  • When is sarcasm appropriate in the classroom? Never. Humiliating someone in front of their peers under the guise of humor is unacceptable.
  • Leaders, make expectations clear from the beginning of the year.
  • Great teachers don’t have rules, they have expectations.
  • Teacher and admin evaluation systems systems are now mandating in attempts to teach the ineffective people how to be effective, when the effective people have been doing it right for a long time!
  • Every adults should say hi to every kid every time they pass them in the hall.  It doesn’t matter if that greeting is important to the adult, and it might not mean anything to the student, except for the one day that it does.
  • Classroom management has a lot to do with management of self
  • “The best thing about being a teacher is it matters. The hardest thing is that it matters every day. All the time.”
To close, Todd gave a shout out to Twitter and recommended that educators use the platform to connect with other great teachers and principals from around the world. I personally didn’t find ASCD to have an overly “connected” audience, but I did have the opportunity to meet with two administrators and get them started with developing their PLN, which was rewarding.
Thank you, Todd Whitaker, for your inspiring words in a time in the school year when it’s imperative to remember to “shift the monkey.” And thanks, ASCD, for the opportunity to share my conference experiences.