Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register
Community Search
Featured Members
Diane Halpin, DirectorChange the way we serve learns with Autism!

School Superintendent Leadership
Blog Home All Blogs
Search all posts for:   


Top tags: Leadership  Culture  Bureaucracy  Data  Educational System  Ethics  Teacher Evaluation 

Fixing America's Educational System

Posted By Gary B. Cohen, Wednesday, April 4, 2012

America's educational system has had a long and successful history. It is only overtime those things that worked in the past are no longer working and actually holding us back from our great legacy. This article in the Atlantic by Philip K. Howard gives language to this tragedy.

 America's schools are being crushed under decades of legislative and union mandates. They can never succeed until we cast off the bureaucracy and unleash individual inspiration and willpower.

Schools are human institutions. Their effectiveness depends upon engaging the interest and focus of each student. A good teacher, studies show, can dramatically improve the learning of students. What do great teachers have in common? Nothing, according to studies -- nothing, that is, except a commitment to teaching and a knack for keeping the students engaged (see especially The Moral Life of Schools). Good teachers don't emerge spontaneously, and training and mentoring are indispensable. But ultimately, effective teaching seems to hinge on, more than any other factor, the personality of the teacher. Skilled teachers have a power to engage their students -- with spontaneity, authority, and wit. Continued...

To Fix America's Education Bureaucracy, We Need to Destroy It

Tags:  Bureaucracy  Educational System 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Teachers are Being Tested

Posted By Gary B. Cohen, Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Most students stress when being given a grade. Today's teachers seem to being brought back to school with their own grading system at least in 18 states and DC. It may not be long until the other states follow. Read this terrific article by Stephen Sawchuk that appeared in Education Week recently:

Access to Teacher Evaluations Divides Advocates

By Stephen Sawchuk

As the movement to overhaul teacher evaluation marches onward, an emerging question is splitting the swath of advocates who support the new tools used to gauge teacher performance: Who should get access to the resulting information?

As evidenced in recently published opinion pieces, the contours of the debate are rapidly being drawn. Some proponents of using student-achievement data as a component of teacher evaluations, including the philanthropist Bill Gates and Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp, nevertheless believe that such information should not be made widely public. Other figures, like New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, champion the broad dissemination of such data.

Regarding teacher evaluations, the policy landscape for disclosures is also in flux. An Education Week review shows that access to teachers' evaluation results is permissible under open-records laws in at least 18 states plus the District of Columbia, though they are often unclear as to specifics. And only Florida and Michigan have established policies requiring that parents be notified if their child's teacher repeatedly performs poorly on...

Access to Teacher Evaluations Divides Advocates

Tags:  Teacher Evaluation 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Data, Data, and More Data—What’s an Educator to Do?

Posted By Gary B. Cohen, Tuesday, April 3, 2012

As a Superintendent you need to know how to effectively use data to better understand how to shape your district and attune it to your learners. Data is one of the tools that can be a bright spot on your path to averting your student's learning efforts. This article by Paul Goren is a great place to begin or continue your understanding of the use of data.

BOSS has been forming partnership around the country with leading training and development firms. Yesterday in a discussion with one such firm we learned that when one school drilled deeper into their data they found some amazing surprises that linked certain english course to particular math programs. They found that students who had taken one english course performed better in a particular math program than students who had not taken this particular english course.  It was only via the data that this observation could have revealed itself. It also changed how teaching was done in that district. 

Data, Data, and More Data—What’s an Educator to Do?

Paul Goren  

University of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools

Paul Goren is senior advisor to the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and the Chicago Public Schools.

Electronically published December 15, 2012

If you visit a district central office or a state department of education or a principal’s office these days, you will hear the current rhetoric about data use for school improvement. Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, data on school performance, disaggregated by racial/ethnic groups, special education and language status, and gender, are widely available, open to public consumption, and intended to lead to improvement. The disaggregation of these performance data is significant: pushing schools, school practitioners, and education policy makers to understand the performance of all students and not the average performance of students at any given school. Yet the ubiquitous nature of data now available in the public domain runs the risk of every other education fad that has preceded it: significant rhetoric that yields false promises about improving schools and the life chances of young people.

Data-driven decision making. Performance management metrics. School indicator and warning systems. School climate measures. Formative assessments. Summative assessments. Administrative data. Graduation rates. Attendance patterns. Dropout metrics. Test scores. Value-added assessments. High-stakes evidence-driven reform. The implicit and explicit assumption is that if these data exist, improvement will soon be evident. It reminds me of the old quip about the American who goes to France and speaks English louder. Here are the data. … Improve.

The articles in this issue call for a deeper and better understanding of data, their use, the conditions that are most conducive for using data well, how individuals and groups of practitioners make sense of the data before them, and the intended and unintended consequences of data use for school improvement. The authors together craft important messages about what type of research must be done to address these concerns. But perhaps even more important, the authors offer a clarion call to education policy makers and school practitioners that school improvement leading to better outcomes for all children will require more than delivering data to the schoolhouse door.

A major theme across all four articles is that our understanding of how data lead to improvement in education is tremendously underdeveloped. There are numerous aspects of data, how they are interpreted in context, how they are used, what happens when they are used, and how to improve both the data and their use that we do not know. This by no means should suggest that when information is disaggregated by race, gender, or poverty status, we have to wait years for the research studies before we act. Yet it does mean that our assumption that data inevitably lead to improvement is less certain than we think. The remaining article can be found at:

American Journal of Education, February 2012 (Vol. 118, #2, p. 233)

Tags:  Culture  Data 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

What Kant had to say about Modern Education

Posted By Gary B. Cohen, Thursday, February 23, 2012
This entry is from Wikipedia: "

Kant answers the question quite succinctly in the first sentence of the essay: "Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” He argues that the immaturity is self-inflicted not from a lack of understanding, but from the lack of courage to use one’s reason, intellect, and wisdom without the guidance of another. Our fear of thinking for ourselves. He exclaims that the motto of enlightenment is "Sapere aude”! – Dare to be wise! The German word Unmündigkeit means not having attained age of majority or legal adulthood. "Unmündig" also means "dependent" or "unfree", and another translation is "tutelage" or "nonage" (the condition of "not [being] of age"). Kant, whose moral philosophy is centred around the concept ofautonomy, here distinguishes between a person who is intellectually autonomous and one who keeps him/herself in an intellectually heteronymous, i.e. dependent and immature status. Kant understands the majority of people to be content to follow the guiding institutions of society, such as the Church and the Monarchy, and unable to throw off the yoke of their immaturity due to a lack of resolution to be autonomous. It is difficult for individuals to work their way out of this immature, cowardly life because we are so uncomfortable with the idea of thinking for ourselves. Kant says that even if we did throw off the spoon-fed dogma and formulas we have absorbed, we would still be stuck, because we have never "cultivated our minds.” The key to throwing off these chains of mental immaturity is reason. There is hope that the entire public could become a force of free thinking individuals if they are free to do so. Why? There will always be a few people, even among the institutional "guardians", who think for themselves. They will help the rest of us to "cultivate our minds.” Kant shows himself a man of his times when he observes that "a revolution may well put an end to autocratic despotism . . . or power-seeking oppression, but it will never produce a true reform in ways of thinking.” The recently completed American Revolution had made a great impression in Europe; Kant cautions that new prejudice will replace the old and become a new leash to control the "great unthinking masses.”"

Tags:  Leadership 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Reforming Education: Ten Constructs

Posted By Jerry Robicheau, Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reforming Education: Ten Constructs leaders need to reform their organization and create a new world for learners.

The following is an adaptation of an article written by me entitled "Ten Constructs for School board Governance and Reform” and published in the Minnesota School Boards Journal, March-April 2011.

"In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

Education reform is as stated by Eric Hoffer creating a world that no longer exists. The call to reform our educational system is nothing new. There have been calls to reform education during the last several decades. It would be quite possible to align much of the educational reform dialogue we have experienced to what was evident at the time in American society. For example, Sputnik and the need to push for more science in the 50’s, social justice and individual freedoms in the 60’s, world awareness in the 70’s, economic issues and global competiveness of the 80’s, standards and accountability in the 90’s, and ten years into the 21st Century a strong resurrection of a call for the need to have more teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, (STEM). Further, as the demographics of our schools have changed there is yet another reform initiative: the need to close the achievement gap for students of color. This initiative, although associated mostly with urban school districts, is a reform relevant to all districts. None of the above reform initiatives have been completely replaced by a new one. Instead it seems as if the voices of the new ones are louder than the reform that was popular at the time. Moreover, much of a new educational reform movement can be associated with changes in the state and national political climate. It is not the intent of this blog to argue with the most recent reform movement. Instead it is to offer assistance to leaders in their efforts to create a new world.


Much of the literature addressing school reform is focused on the role of building leadership and effective classroom teaching. Absent, however, in much of the literature relating to educational reform efforts is the role of what I will call TEN CONSTRUCTS FOR EDUCATIONAL REFORM. This absence could possible to attribute to the fact there is uncertainly of what is essentially needed in any reform initiative. For example, sustained educational reform requires a team governance approach. This team governance approach requires that each team members examine their role and how they contribute to the tasks or outcomes. Teams will need to consider the paradigm they govern under and what needs to be changed to effectively institute changes in how education is deliver to today’s and tomorrow’s students. Teams that contribute to the governance of the schools need to be empowered to institute change. A self-assessment of how a team functions and is empowered to govern and addresses change is critical in an environment of educational reform. It appears logical to conclude schools cannot be governing in the same old way. They need to change their governance paradigm. I am proposing we consider how we look at systemic change and how we approach our governance. The ten constructs listed below are posited as a way to change that paradigm.


In an effort to assist leaders in the governance of schools during reform initiatives I offer Ten Constructs for consideration. These constructs are applications for innovative governance and could be a guide to leaders during these challenging times today and in the future. The constructs are not listed in priority. They need to be considered as a whole. Construct one is no more important than construct five. Conversely construct ten is no less important than construct three

These constructs are my reflection and collected knowledge of over 40 years in public education as a teacher, school administrator, superintendent, college professor, and school board chair. I do not profess to have any special insights. My purpose of offering these Ten Constructs is to share a prospective gained from years of observation, research and readings, and most recently participation on a school board. Further, it is to hopefully initiate a dialogue about what is needed to reform our educational practices.

Construct 1: Educational reform initiatives must be ethically based. Reform efforts need to be the moral compass of the organization. Moreover, they must have a moral imperative. All reform efforts need to embed in ethical standards in all actions, tasks, and outcomes. Further, leaders need to examine the ethical and moral purposes of any reform propose. If it does not meet an ethical standard they need to challenge that reform initiative. Leaders need to be examined all proposes to determine if they will benefit all students and to realize what social justice will be accomplished. Leaders need to ensure that the good of the whole and not the privilege of the few are addressed in every recommendation.

Construct 2: Educational reform initiatives need to be developed collaboratively. The leadership and operation of the district can no longer be "we versus them.” The operation and decision outcomes need to be a reflection of "us.” There is too much at stake not to be collaborative. Stakeholders need to be at the table to hold a proactive discourse on what is in the best interest of the students. This collaborative process must include parents, students, teachers, staff, and community. No one government agency can function in isolation of the other governmental agencies. Reform initiatives that are developed collaborative will and should result in more proactive outcomes. Along with collaboration is empowerment. Leaders need to empower stakeholders to be partners in the process of school reform

Construct 3: Educational reform initiatives must keep the focus of all decisions on addressing student achievement. In education there is nothing else. All reform initiatives must have as a foundation the answer to the following question: how will this improve student learning? To frame any reform initiative in any other framework or anything less would be a disservice to students. This focus on student achievement includes how the achievement gap can be addressed. That is the essence of any reform initiative.

Construct 4: Educational reform need to be strategic. Schools need to have a "road map” addressing how and what is needed to improve and reform our educational system. Educational reform efforts must establish goals and action step to achieve those goals. Once the goals and action steps are set leaders need to follow that road map in striving to address student achievement. Schools are a series of parts of a whole system. Finance, enrollment, personnel, curriculum/instruction, facilities are the components of the whole system. They cannot function separately as they are interconnected. An action taken in one part of a system causes a reaction to the whole system. Educational reform developed strategically forces the each stakeholder to think systematically. Consequently, this road map must include all parts of the system and what role they have in improving student achievement.

Construct 5: Educational reform initiatives must allow for individual and collective voices that call for educational reform. Educational reform voices need to be heard locally, at the state level, and nationally. They need to gather support to ensure that education reform is not just a new "political movement. Collective voices do influence the educational agenda. These voices need to be the voices of students, parents and the community we represent. Leaders need to be the conductor of this voices calling for educational reform

Construct 6: Educational reform means to be responsible and not just accountable. It is the leader’s obligation to take responsibility for their outcomes and the initiatives they develop. With responsibility comes accountability. When leaders are held responsible to work toward educational reform we will also be accountable.

Construct 7: Educational reform means to think entrepreneurial. Educational reform initiatives must be grounded in creative and innovative thinking. It is time for leaders to consider how we can work differently, more effectively, and more efficiently. It is time to accept that the status quo, however effective it was in the past, is not good enough in today’s environment. A new way can often and should lead to a better way.

Construct 8: Educational reform initiatives must embed and ensure all are culturally competent. Demographics in our schools have changed and will continue to become more diverse. Any educational reform initiative requires the need to appreciate the dynamics this presents in the classroom. All leaders need to recognize the tools teachers need to teach in a multicultural, culturally diverse learning environment.

Construct 9: Educational reform initiatives need to be transparent. Decisions and positive discourse need to be held in the public and the public must understand why a decision is made. Transparent initiatives will engage more stakeholders in the ownership of reforming our educational system. It requires ongoing communications. It means educating the public on the intricacy of the operation of the district. It means putting material in understandable language.

Construct 10: Educational reform initiatives are developed as a team of the whole with each member endorsing the outcomes and tasks. Individual voices can be and are contributors to the public discourse. However, it must be in a constructive manner. Maverick voices without support can sometimes lead to disenfranchisement of the community and divisiveness among the stakeholders. With this divisiveness comes dysfunction. With dysfunction come incomplete decision and attempts to advance individual agendas none of which will advance the improvement of our educational system.


These Ten Constructs for educational reform are offered as a way to assist leaders in their role in instituting educational reform. When implemented and administered correctly and comprehensively theses Ten Constructs will result in strong voices in the discourse on school reform. These Ten Constructs will give leaders the platform for their voices to e hear. Of course, with any proposition there are no guarantees of success. However, it is too critical a time for leaders to not take a positive step and challenge and change the way we deliver our educational system. If we change the way we "do business” student become the benefactors. Do we in education want anything else?

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Rewards of Isolation

Posted By Mark A. Wolak, Monday, December 19, 2011
Do Superintendents prefer the isolation of the position to the choice of managing complex relationships?  For some time now, I have been thinking about the isolation of the position and the benefits of maintaining the status quo in the culture.  

Isolation has its advantages.  For example, isolation maintains the mystery about the Superintendent as a person and allows for the Superintendent to be a hero in the culture. Isolation keeps the Superintendent in a safe bubble, it allows him or her to be less vulnerable to people and relationships.  I suspect this just feels safer.  However, we know that to be a great leader and effective with all kinds of people, that relationships do matter.  So does it matter to be vulnerable.

Adaptive leadership requires vulnerability, a healthy presence with people, and the ability to build strong relationships that last through the difficulties of complex change.  Transformational leadership requires strong relationships with a foundation of trust.  

To be the best, one can no longer submit to isolation as just part of the job.  Rather, Superintendents who seek to be great leaders must also seek a foundation of strong relationships with people in the community, in the schools and in the peer group of Superintendents.  A foundation of strong relationships is essential for effective change in education.   What are your thoughts about isolation and leadership effectiveness?

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Is it Resources or Resourcefulness That Superintendents Require?

Posted By Gary B. Cohen, Sunday, December 18, 2011
The Superintendency is a role that requires a great deal of formal education. Most School Superintendents earn PhDs in Education. Perhaps the appropriate title should be Chief Education Officer as it applies to some school systems like Chicago. The role is best understood by raising the learning for students within the school system. Over time, the title of Superintendent has changed to that of District Administrator. The title in and of itself clearly speaks to the educational system becoming a bureaucracy and the School Superintendent as the top administrator of resources. It is no wonder that from around the nation we hear both School Boards and School Superintendents spend more of their time discussing resources than the teaching of children. As resources shrink, the greater the likelihood that the conversation moves further in this direction. Secretary Arne Duncan says, 'It is going to get worse before it gets better as it relates to financial resources for school districts.' 

The most difficult time for a leader in any system to do something new and forward thinking is when resources are at risk. And often, when resources are not limited, dramatic change rarely happens because things are in statis. When things are down to there last ebb, leaders finally move from resource oriented mindset to more resourcefulness. Sadly, when it gets to that point it often limits the number of choices available. 

If you find yourself saying, "I can't afford it" or "I can't spend the time" or "We don't have the experience" you have most certainly arrived at the point of resource depletion.  There is little time left for you to shift gears to become resourceful as the leader of your district. 

  • Time
  • Money
  • Experience
  • Contacts
  • Technology
  • New Information

  • Determination
  • Resilient
  • Tenacity
  • Passion
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Resolve

When Rosa Parks took her stand did she have resources or resolve? When Martin Luther King Jr. began his crusade did he have money and experience or did he have determination, resilience, and passion? When Steve Jobs started Apple he may have had technology but he did not have time, money, experience or contacts. He did have curiosity, creativity, passion and determination. Most of the great leaders of our time make the needed changes not by resources but by resourcefulness. 

Tags:  Leadership 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Ethical Leadership: What is it really?

Posted By Jerry W. Robicheau, PH.D, Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jerry W. Robicheau, Ph.D

Professor Emeritus Educational Leadership

Department of Educational Leadership

Minnesota State University, Mankato

Mankato, Minnesota 56001


Jerry Robicheau is a professor emeritus of educational leadership at Minnesota State University, He has held positions as a superintendent of schools, and principal. He has published articles on the challenges school leaders face.


There has been much discussion regarding the apparent lack of ethics in leaders of public and private organizations, and elected officials. This commentary proposes a foundation that can be used to establish a standard for ethical leadership. The commentary is grounded in classical ethical theories that can be applied to today’s leaders. The author draws the conclusion that: "Ethical leaders will not compromise the good of the whole for the privilege of a select few. If leaders keep this in the forefront of their leadership and decision, it is likely we will see a raise in ethical leadership. It will not be necessary to define ethical leadership in words. Instead it will be demonstrated by our leaders.”

Ethical Leadership: What Is It Really?


The study of ethics and leadership has consumed scholars for centuries. Denise, Peterfreund and White (1999) include writings from such ethical scholars as Immual Kant (Categorical Imperative), Thomas Hobbes (Social Contract Ethics), John Dewey (Scientific Methods in Ethics), and John Rawls (Ethics and Social Justice). These scholars debated and discussed moral character and ethical behavior; specifically, what constitutes behavior that is ethical and results in decisions that are made for the good of all. A brief review of their ideas is relevant here.

Thomas Hobbs stated that if people were left to their own devices there would be anarchy. Hobbs contended that people by nature are entirely selfish and devoid of any genuine feelings of sympathy, benevolence, and sociability. Each person is preoccupied with personal gratification. Consequently, people needed a "social contract” in order to avoid conflict. Hobbs’ social contract was the agreement between people to maintain some ethical behavior in society. People would accept this social contract and consequently would agree to not aggress against each other. For Hobbs, the basic concepts of morality, right and wrong, justice and injustice arise with the establishment of a civil society, the "social contract.”

Immual Kant’s categorical imperative required people to act toward all mankind as if they are an end and not just a means. Kant contended that people need to see humanity never as a means only. This is the foundation of his "categorical imperative.” Kant’s premise of his categorical imperative is that humans must seek an end that is void of any desires. He did not see any rational being as existing to be arbitrarily used by this will or that will. According to Kant, this is social justice and constitutes ethical behavior. People and good will, according to Kant, represent the efforts of people to do what they ought to do, rather than to act from inclination of self-interest. According to Kant, it is not a moral law if it is not applied to all without contradictions.

John Dewey built his theory of ethics on the principles of pragmatism. He contended that human beings are problem solvers, constantly making adjustments to the changing conditions that confront them. He identified a person’s response to these uncertainties as impulsive, habitual, or reflective. Dewey’s theory is summarized as follows:

Evaluated in terms of effectiveness in solving problems, impulsive behavior fails because it leads to random reactions and a habitual action fails because it is not adaptable to new conditions. However, reflective thinking, which Dewey equates with scientific inquiry, is a satisfactory method of problem solving, because it is guided to a solution by both past experience and creative idea (as cited in Denise p. 249).

Dewey believed that the concept of what is good must change as society, the natural environment changes, and the knowledge of our physical environment changes. This is the foundation of the scientific method. This methodology, according to Dewey, needs to be applied to the theory of ethics.

John Rawls proposed that members of society should operate under a "veil of ignorance.”Rawls contends that people will want what is best for even those with the least because they too could be at lowest level of society. He further postulates that "no individual would agree to a social compact that reduces them to a mere means” (as cited in Denise page 332). Rawls' theory of justice is summarized by stating that "the rights secured by justice are not subject to a political bargaining or to social interest” (as cited Denise page 333).

The above brief review is an attempt to provide a synopsis of the complexity of arriving at an ethical decision and how these decisions impact leadership. Nonetheless, it is assumed that leaders should model ethical behavior, possibly by using one of the theories presented in the historical literature. If leaders were to accept one of the theories posited by one of these scholars, and they are ethically committed to lead in an ethical way, we would see more ethical leadership. Unfortunately, we see little of this foundation in the behavior of some of our leaders.


There remains limited research on what constitutes ethical leadership. Much of what has been written and theorized about ethics and leadership has lead to more questions than answers. No clear understanding has surfaced as to what it means to be an "ethical leader.” However, there is no more critical time than the present to clearly define and expect school leaders to model ethical leadership. Perhaps it is the very lack of discussion about what it means to be an ethical leader and a clear definition of ethical leadership that has created the public’s lack of faith in organizational leadership. A current example is when the U.S. government intervened into the leadership of corporations. Consequently, these Wall Street leaders seem to have responded more to a threat of litigation and regulations than to a commitment to act in an ethical manner.

One of the most recent examples in the U.S. is the collapse of Enron. Enron Corporation was a gas pipeline company that turned into a huge enterprise. In 2001, the company collapsed due to unethical leadership. Basically, the reason why the company failed was due to conflicting set of values. Due to this disconnect of values and other important facts, the company went bankrupt. The ethical issues continued for the next several years.

During the recent economic meltdown started in 2008, publicly held companies such as Fannie Mae, Citicorp and others registered large profit loses. Much of this was blamed on a lack of ethical leadership. The economic crisis in the U.S., which is now a worldwide recession, might be founded on an assumption that CEOs and Boards of Directors were unethical in their dealings with stakeholders. This unethical behavior was that ‘leaders” were more interested in their own rewards than the interest of their stakeholders, employees, or the larger society. These examples have lead to the demise of corporations, CEOs falling from grace, and ultimately the mistrust of the general public of organizations and the government.

With all the unethical behavior and mistrust in the leadership of organizations it is appropriate to consider a study conducted by The Ethics Resource Center. The study probed how employees view ethics within their organizations. This study, National Business Ethics Survey an Inside View of Private Sector Ethics (2007), found the following; (a) The number of formal ethics and compliance programs are on the rise. In companies with well-implemented programs there is an increase in reporting and reduction of ethical risks; (b) Companies that incorporate more than singular commitment to compliance with ethics have an organizational culture that reduces risk; and (c) There is a blue print for individuals within companies responsible for governance and compliance. However, the study also found that, in spite of the positive findings, there were some discouraging findings; (a) Ethical misconduct remains very high; (b) Employees do not report what they observe and are fearful of retaliation; and (c) The number of companies that incorporated ethical culture declined since 2005. It is the responsibility of leaders acting in an ethical manner to assure that the ethical decline does not continue. Consequently, the need is critical for stronger ethical leadership in business, public organizations, and government.


One definition of ethical leadership is a leader who is aware of their core values and has the courage to live them in all parts of their life. Moreover, it is a leader who demonstrates ethical behavior in all actions, public and private, and embeds these ethical behaviors in their decisions and knows and recognizes how these actions affect the common good. Ethical leadership, as professed by Lashway (1997) is one that is built on characteristics of trust, respect, honesty, integrity, caring, and grace. Moreover, it is the act of leading with moral purpose. It holds that happiness is the ultimate goal, one where the best decisions are the ones that will result in the greatest good for the greatest number. This definition of ethical leadership is grounded on three constructs: (a) it includes moral leadership, (b) it is evident in the outcomes of the leader’s behavior, and (c) the leader acts ethically. A cursive review of the literature and how it aligns to these constructs is needed and appropriate and may assist in further framing this definition of ethical leadership.

However, it is not an easy task to specifically define ethical leadership, nor is it easy to identify ethical leadership. Some of the difficulties center on the concept of "situational ethics.” That is, leaders will act according to the situation or issue they confront. They might, for example, make a decision based on facts they have in one case but yet act quite differently in another because of different circumstances. It would be permissible, however, to state that ethical leadership at its foundation is leadership that is grounded in behavior that will result in the good of the whole. Ethical leaders should make decisions that are not driven by ego or egocentric means.

CONSTRUCT 1: It includes moral leadership. Ethics and ethical leadership refers to the development of one's ethical standards. A leader’s feelings, laws, and social norms can deviate from what is ethical. So, it is necessary to constantly examine one's moral standards to ensure that they are reasonable and well-founded. Ethics also means making a continuous effort of studying one’s own moral beliefs, moral conduct and striving to ensure that leaders, and the institutions they lead shape, live up to standards that are reasonable and moral.

Velasquez, Shanks, and Meyer (1997) stated that ethics refers to well-based standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues. Ethical standards also include virtues of honesty, compassion, and loyalty. Ethical standards include relating to rights, such as the right to life, the right to freedom from injury, and the right to privacy. Such standards are adequate standards of ethics because they are supported by consistent and well-founded reasons.

Lashway (1997) referencing Aristotle, in an effort to define a virtuous/ethical leader stated that it is more than acting with reason. It is to live well always and not just when there is a crisis. It is striving to live well and do the right thing even when tempted to do the opposite. Lashway listed seven virtues of a virtuous/ moral/ ethical leader; (a) honesty, an ethical leader is always honest in their approach to decisions and has an honest commitment to being moral, (b) loyalty, the leader is loyal to the commitment to being moral, (c) courage, a virtuous ethical leader has the courage to take a stand on issues that challenge their ethical behavior, (d) respect, the ethical leaders will be respectful of contrary positions and respect the dignity of the people they lead, (e) caring, the ethical leader will show compassion for the people they lead, (f) justice, the ethical leaders will be just in all of their actions by not showing favoritism or discriminating, (g) grace, one of the most difficult virtues is the ability of the ethical leader to show grace in all of their behavior. Kidder (1995) defined the core moral values of ethical leadership. He proposed that the core values consist of, (a) love or solidarity the love of all ages, (b) truthfulness, (c) fairness, (d) freedom, (e) responsibility., and (f) respect for life.

Fullan (2001) contends that it is critical for leaders to act with moral purpose. He defines moral purpose as "acting with the intention of making a positive difference in the lives of employees, customers and society as a whole…..leaders must be guided by moral purpose” (page 5). Fullan concludes that moral purpose is critical to the long-term success of all organizations. "Organizations without moral purpose die sooner than later” (page 27). It is important to state here that moral purpose is equated to ethical leadership.

CONSTRUCT 2: It is evident in the outcomes of the leader’s behavior. One test of ethical leadership is in a leader’s behavior. This behavior is manifested in how the leader’s behavior will respond to the dilemmas and how their behavior will reflect their ethical conscious and the psychology of the leader.

Freeman and Stewart (2006) reported that ethical leaders demonstrate eight characteristics; (a) articulate and embody the purpose and values of the organization, (b) focus on organizational success rather than one’s personal ego, (c) find the best people and develop them, (d) create a living conversation about ethics, values and the creation of value for stakeholders, (e) create mechanisms of dissent, (f) take a charitable understanding values and ethical principles they live, (g) frame actions in ethical terms, (h) connect the basic value proposition to stakeholder support and societal legitimacy. The authors further contend that ethical leaders need to ask themselves the following questions; (a) what are my most important values and principles? (b) Does my calendar—how I spend my time and attention—reflect these values? (c) What would my subordinates and peers say my values are? (d) What mechanisms and processes have I designed to be sure that the people who work for me can push back against my authority? (e) What could this organization do or ask me to do that would cause me to resign for ethical reasons? (f) What do I want to accomplish with my leadership? (g) What do I want people to say about my leadership when I am gone? (h) Can I go home at the end of the day and tell my children (or a loved one) about my leadership and use my day’s work to teach them to be ethical leaders?

Enomoto and Kramer (2007) identified four sources of ethical tensions that ethical leaders will face, (a) virtue ethics—what is a good person, and what are the qualities of a good person?; (b) desires of ends-based ethics—how can we maximize the good of most people?; (c) good society ethics—how a good society should treat people?; and (d) duties-based ethics—what are the duties, beliefs, and moral obligations of people? Enomoto and Kramer content that if leaders navigate the ethical tensions and recognize them they will be inclined to act ethically.

CONSTRUCT 3: The leader acts ethically. Ethical leaders will act ethically. They will model such attributes as trust, respect, and integrity. By acting ethically their acts will result in the good of the whole. Moreover, their organizations will create "society minded” outcomes. James Gehrke (2009) stated there are six steps to ethical leadership: (a) reflect on values, (b) establish trust, (c) establish a shared ethical vision, (d) communicate an ethical vision and code of conduct, (e) show you are serious about ethical behaviors and (g) monitor and sustain ethical behavior.

Starratt (2004), writing specifically for education leadership, suggests there are three virtues to ethical leaders, responsibility, authenticity, and presence. Starred suggests that ethical leaders are: (a) responsible for creating and sustaining authentic relationships with all stakeholders, creating healthy environments, and practicing civic leadership, (b) authentic in all relationships, support more or less the rights of all members of societies’ to an authentic life, creates a learning environment that is authentic to learning, (c) have a presence and is fully aware of self and others, has presence that allows others to be who they are, critical presence helps to identify a problem and works to remove any obstacles to the solution, enabling presence that invites others to exercise their own autonomy.

Dennis Thompson, writing in The Ethics Edge (1998), contends that government ethics provides the precondition for the making of good public policy, "it is more important than any single policy because all other policies are dependent on it” (page 48). Good public policy framed around sound ethical tenets will build confidence in government. It will allow citizens to view decisions (laws) that the government makes to be in the best interest of all citizens. Consequently, ethics does not become an issue.

Senge, (2008) provides an example of how ethical leadership can be applied. He uses the example of the Uganda Rural Development Training Program (URDT). Senge sited the URDT as one example of the type of leadership needed in the future, ethical leadership, "the story of URDT shows that, in its essence, ethical leadership [italics added] often comes down to how people move from fatalism to an awakened faith that they can shape a different future” (page 369). "Ultimately leadership is about how to shape the future” (page 372).

The authors referenced in construct 3 represent how complex ethical leadership can be. Consequently, is essential for ethical leaders to hold a solid foundation as that if they act ethically they can as Senge states "shape the future.”


More leadership theorists are asserting that leaders have the responsibility for ensuring standards of moral and ethical conduct. Ethical leadership refers not only to competence in a leader, but they must model ethical behavior. It is believed that the nurturing aspect of leaders can raise organizational cultures and employee values to high levels of ethical concern. Ethical leadership requires ethical leaders. If leaders are ethical, they can ensure that ethical practices are carried out throughout an organization.

Ethical leaders’ decisions will be founded on data and facts that are relevant to the situation. Shapiro and Gross (2008) would argue that situational ethics may arise out of (a) a clash between individual personal ethics and professional code of ethics, (b) conflicts within the professional code of ethics, (c) a clash among professional peers, or (d) a clash between a professional code of ethics and what the organization expects. It will then be the leader’s responsibility to sort out the best possible solution to the situation. Ethical leadership requires the leader to act according to the best possible outcome that will have the greatest positive impact and be for the good of the whole. It is the ethical leader’s responsibility to prevent a situation from causing turbulence within the organization. Ethical leadership is not organizational specific. Ethical leadership is needed in public and private organizations and government. Ethical leadership is needed in education as much as it is needed in the private sector. Educational leaders are faced with a plethora of issues that challenge their ethical foundations. The issue of accountability and public scrutiny require educational leaders to be well -grounded in their ethics beliefs. They must ask themselves, are their decisions founded in what is best for the good of the whole? Ethical leaders must have as their backdrop for decisions, as Lashway contends honesty, respect, and trust, integrity, caring, hold justice high, and have grace in their decision. Ethical leaders must establish a moral/ethical contract that will state very specifically how an organization does business. Ethical leaders will not compromise the good of the whole for the privilege of a select few.

If leaders focus on the three constructs of ethical leadership proposed in this commentary and they demonstrate them in their behavior, it is likely we will see more ethical leadership Further, if leaders keep these constructs in the forefront of their leadership and decisions, it is likely we will see a rise in ethical leadership. It will not be necessary to define ethical leadership in words. Instead it will be demonstrated by our leaders. That behavior will lead us to a more definitive answer to the question—ethical leadership, what is it really?


Need to be in APA format – last name, and initials, etc.

Denise, T., Peterfreund, S,,& White, N. (1999). Great Traditions in Ethics (9th Edition). Albany, NY: Wadswoths Publishing.

Enomoto, E., & Kramer, B. (2007) Leading Through the Quagmire. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.

Ethical Resource Center. (2007). National Business Ethics Survey. Survey, Arlington, VA. Retrieved from http://

Freeman, R. E., & Lisa S. (2006) Developing Ethical Leadership. Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics. Retrieved from

Fullan, M. (2001) Leading in Culture of Change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gehrke, J. (2009) 6 Steps for Ethical Leadership in Today’s Organization. Retrieved from

Kidder, R. (1995) in The Leadership Companion Edited by J. Thomas Wren. New York: Free Press.

Lashway, L. (1997). Ethical Leadership. In School Leadership Handbook for Excellence Edited by Steward and Piete. Eugene, Oregon. University of Oregon.

Senge, P. (2008). The Necessary Revolution, How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World. New York: Doubleday

Shapiro, J., & Gross, S. (2008) Ethical Educational Leadership in Turbulent Times. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Starratt, R. (2004). Ethical Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Thompson, D. (1998) In The Ethics Edge. Edited by Breman, West & Bonczek. Washington D.C., International City/County Management Association.

Velasquez, C., Thomas S., & Michael J. (1997). What is Ethics? Issues in Ethics IIE V1 N1 (Fall 1987).

Download File (DOC)

Tags:  Culture  Ethics  Leadership 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
Sign In

School superintendent Training