Ethical Leadership and Decision Making in Education
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Ethical Leadership and Decision Making in Education

Applying Theoretical Perspectives to Complex Dilemmas

Joan Poliner Shapiro, Jacqueline A. Stefkovich

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eBook - ePub

Ethical Leadership and Decision Making in Education

Applying Theoretical Perspectives to Complex Dilemmas

Joan Poliner Shapiro, Jacqueline A. Stefkovich

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The fifth edition of the best-selling text, Ethical Leadership and Decision Making in Education, continues to address the increasing interest in ethics and assists educational leaders with complex dilemmas in today's challenging, divided, and diverse societies.

Through discussion and analysis, Shapiro and Stefkovich demonstrate the application of four ethical paradigms – the ethics of justice, critique, care, and the profession. After illustrating how the Multiple Ethical Paradigms may be applied to authentic dilemmas, the authors present cases written by graduate students, practitioners, and academics representing dilemmas faced by educational leaders in urban, suburban, and rural public and private schools and universities, in the U.S. and abroad. Following each case are questions that call for thoughtful, complex thinking and help readers apply the Multiple Ethical Paradigms to practical situations.

New in the Fifth Edition are more than ten new cases that cover issues of food insufficiency, the pandemic's effects on diverse school populations, a student's sexual orientation, transgender students in the university, lock-down drills for young children, refugees in a Swedish school, boundaries in high school sports, generational differences in an adult diploma school, acceptance of animals on campus, and hate speech in the academy.

This edition also includes teaching notes for the instructor stressing the importance of self-reflection, use of new technologies, and global appeal of ethical paradigms and dilemmas. This book is a critical resource for aspiring and practicing administrators, teacher leaders, and educational policy makers.

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DOI: 10.4324/9781003022862-1
Part I sets the stage for exploring and solving the ethical dilemmas that make up a central portion (Part II) of this book. It serves as an introduction and consists of Chapters 1 and 2.
Chapter 1 offers a brief overview of the Multiple Ethical Paradigms. It also deals with their applicability and importance in view of the complexities and diversity of this current era. It incorporates the voices of our students, who support our assertion that the study of ethics is needed for all school leaders, particularly considering changes in society. This chapter explores implications for practice and for programs aimed at the preparation of educational leaders.
Chapter 2 describes the conceptual framework underlying our teaching and scholarship in ethical decision making. Here, we stress the importance of preparation for educational leaders in the ethics of justice, critique and care. To these we add a fourth ethic: that of the profession. It is in this chapter that we explain our framework for understanding and using ethics. The discussion of the four paradigms is meant to encourage the reader to deal with the ethical dilemmas, which follow in Part II, in a multidimensional way.
We believe it is important to try out diverse approaches for the solving of ethical cases even for those of us who usually respond to dilemmas as moral absolutists or as moral relativists or react to cases using only one or two ethical paradigms. Practice in working through a multiple ethical paradigm process should provide current and future educational leaders with options for dealing with complex and difficult ethical dilemmas that they will face daily.

Chapter 1

Multiple Ethical Paradigms and the Preparation of Educational Leaders in a Diverse, Divided, and Complex Era

DOI: 10.4324/9781003022862-2
Foster (1986) expressed the seriousness and importance of ethics in educational leadership when he wrote: “Each administrative decision carries with it a restructuring of human life: that is why administration at its heart is the resolution of moral dilemmas” (p. 33). In a complex, unstable, and ethically polarized era, we think that there is a need to offer differing perspectives to help educational leaders solve authentic moral dilemmas that they frequently face in their schools and in their communities. To assist these educational leaders in making hard choices, in our ethics courses, we offer multiple ethical perspectives to solve and/or resolve moral dilemmas.
A graduate student, in one of our courses, added to Foster’s above quotation that focused on administrative decisions. She stated that the material in an ethics course is important not only for educational administrators, but also for professionals and for citizens. Her comment follows:
Of all the courses I have taken, at all levels, this course has no boundaries. What I mean is all the materials we have read, the discussions we have had and the lessons I have learned, directly impact all I will study and all I will do.… Ethics courses should not be only for students who are interested in going on to law school or medical school. [They] should be for students who are interested in becoming citizens.… If anyone ever challenges the relevance of a course such as this in an educational leadership curriculum, [he or she is] not an educated individual.


In the 21st century, as society becomes even more demographically different, educators will, more than ever, need to be able to develop, foster, and lead tolerant and democratic schools. We believe that, through the study of ethics, educational leaders of tomorrow will be better prepared to recognize, reflect on, and appreciate diversity. This need for ethical preparation is perhaps best expressed by our own graduate students, many of who are practitioners in schools and in colleges and in universities.
Many of our students made direct connections between what was taught in our ethics class and the importance of difference. Here, we use a broad definition of diversity that encompasses the cultural categories of race/ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, disability, and sexual orientation as well as individual differences in learning styles, exceptionalities, and age (Banks, 2019; 2020; Banks & Banks, 2006; Cushner, McClelland, & Safford, 2011; Gay, 2010; Gollnick & Chinn, 2017; Grant & Portera, 2013; Nieto, 2018; Nieto & Bode, 2018; Shapiro, Sewell & DuCette, 2001; Sleeter & Grant, 2003; Sleeter & Zavala, 2020).
As one of our students, a White, male biology professor in a rural setting, pointed out:
I believe that there is strength in diversity. Diverse biological ecosystems are more stable, might this also be true of social systems? How can we prevent institutions from co-opting women and other minorities and instead cherish the diversity they provide? As educators, we must strive to foster diversity as a source of variability enabling our society to adapt and contribute constructively in a rapidly changing world.
During our teaching of ethics, we also began to recognize that diversity occurred not only across a student population, but also within each group of students as well. For example, our classes contained a number of students of color; yet, in some instances, race seemed to be their only commonality. Although of the same race, some of these students were male and others were female. Some were in their twenties, whereas others were closer to 50. Some were African-American; others were from non-American countries. Some were from urban areas; others lived and worked in suburbia. Some came from poverty; others from affluence. Therefore, many of the perspectives that these particular students of color held were not race-bound, but were influenced just as much or more so by demographics, culture, age, gender or by a combination of these factors.
Illustrative of this concept is a comment from an African-American female who observed issues relative to age, race, and gender:
It has been my experience that younger women in my classes think this feminist thing is blown out of proportion because they have not faced any of the glass ceilings society can impose. The historical perspective is essential in order that males and females have some basis for challenging themselves and their assumptions with respect to race and gender. Perhaps the humanistic, caring leader is the answer, or at least the best possibility on the horizon. Politics and social reforms have not solved the problem, so educators—with the eventual help of parents—must.
Similarly, division across gender lines was not always the case. In all of our classes, there were often differences of opinion between women, with some taking a more traditional justice perspective and others favoring feminist approaches (e.g., Clement, 2018; Gilligan, 1982; Gilligan and Richards, 2009; Noddings, 2003, 2012, 2013; Vinney, 2020). In addition, there were always men who made sure the class understood that women did not corner the market on caring. A number of men and women alike asserted that caring was not gender-specific, especially in professions such as education. As one such student said: “We are all in the caring business, so how can we not consider what is best for all people concerned in these situations?”
Religion, too, in combination with other factors such as gender and age, influenced students’ perceptions. Consider the comments of this White, male teacher in his thirties who expressed his reactions on reading Gilligan’s (1982) abortion dilemmas. He wrote:
I found myself considering the different feelings that women must go through in considering an issue such as abortion. Even though my own personal belief is one that centers around my religious upbringing, I felt myself struggling with the decisions that had to be made.
Thus, in considering themes of diversity, we found that no one characteristic of students (e.g., race, gender, age, religion, professional experience) resulted in a monolithic view of ethics. Rather, students’ views of ethics emanated from a combination of different influences and cut across factors, such as race and gender. A Black, female international student in her late fifties summed up the importance of ethics in a diverse society when she presented this global, cross-cultural view:
I think the effort of finding our voice(s) is going to continue for a long time, and it will also continue along lines of class, race, ethnicity, and other divisiveness; we will in no way speak with almost one voice until the pendulum swings again in the opposite direction. But with each shift, we pick up more and more contentious issues.
However, perhaps this urban-based, African-American male, best captured an issue related to our complex and diverse society when he made this profound observation:
I work with a colleague who prides himself on being able to treat all of his students the same way. Regardless of race, economic status, or ability, he claims to have the means to maintain a completely unbiased view on all. After working with him for six years, I have noticed that he does not have this ability. On a regular basis, I see him playing favorites, making exceptions, and generally doing the exact thing he claims he does not do. As an administrator, he cannot afford to be so rigid. There must be some room for partiality. And he shows it (though he would not admit to it) daily. It seems to me that this inability to be impartial grows out of his position and, in fact, would evolve from any position of administration when the interests of minorities and the oppressed have to be served. A 21st Century administrator must be ready to bend, adjust, and, when necessary, show partiality to those he/she serves if equity and justice are to be served.
The quotation above provides an illustration of one type of paradox that educators must grapple with in making ethical decisions in this era. In this case, justice versus equity is a paradox. This administrator wants to believe he acts with fairness and with no bias, even if he is dealing with a student in need. However, his colleague sees that the administrator does the opposite. Should this administrator continue to believe that he relies solely on the ethic of justice, focusing on impartiality and utilizing the same laws and rules for all students despite their circumstances? Or should this educator be encouraged to understand that there is nothing wrong with dealing with an ethic other than that of justice? Will he ever understand that despite his assumed reliance on the ethic of justice, he is often turning to the ethic of care in the cases of students who need this kind of special help and attention?
This is only one illustration of a paradox that educators grapple with in making ethical decisions. To assist in the analysis and resolution of such dilemmas, we advocate combining various approaches to ethics by using Multiple Ethical Paradigms. The approach offers educators choices and enables them to be flexible and deal wisely with a myriad of educational ethical problems.


Throughout this book, the reader is asked to consider current and challenging real-life ethical dilemmas using four paradigms. The four paradigms include the ethics of justice, critique, care, and the profession. Justice, critique, and care are familiar to many in the field of educational leadership. All too often, however, professional ethics is seen as an extension of another paradigm and not thought to stand alone. That is why, in this book, we spend considerable time on the ethic of the profession rather than on the other three forms of ethics. We are convinced that this paradigm deserves to be treated as an independent entity. We think that it is extremely important and complements the other paradigms.
We believe that it makes sense, when dealing with the ethic of the profession, for graduate students and practitioners to take the time to locate the formal codes of the profession and the standards of the field (Bass, Frick & Young, 2018; Murphy, 2017). Along with these activities, we strongly recommend that everyone writes out personal and professional ethical codes and compares and contrasts their two codes. In this way, educators can determine where consistencies exist between the codes and where clashes of codes might appear. These exercises lead to a much better understanding of “self” both as a professional and as a person. The four perspectives or paradigms should help educational leaders solve the real-life, complex dilemmas that they frequently face in their institutions and in their communities.
By using the different paradigms, educators should become aware of the perspective or perspectives that they tend to use most often when solving ethical issues. For example, if an individual has a strong religious upbringing, then, depending on the religious persuasion, the ethic of justice with an emphasis on rights and laws may be the favored approach, or perhaps the ethic of care with its emphasis on compassion and empathy may be the paradigm of choice. In addition, as just mentioned, factors such as age, gender, race, o...

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