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How do principals respond to ethical dilemmas that arise in their schools?

Leppard, LJ ORCID: 0000-0001-6016-5577 2019 , 'How do principals respond to ethical dilemmas that arise in their schools?', EdD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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How do school principals respond to the ethical dilemmas that arise in their schools?
This is the guiding question for the research. Two specific questions guide the research design and inquiry.
1. What are the organisational characteristics of schools as systems?
2. How are principals’ approaches to ethical decision making informed by their perceptions of the organisational characteristics of their schools?
The research methodology for Question 1 is a criteriological inquiry of literature into the nature of schools as systems. It establishes that schools are complex adaptive social systems. The review of school leadership literature concludes that much of that literature does not explicitly consider schools as systems, and unconsciously assumes that school are open complicated systems. This research proposes that these misrepresentations and misunderstandings of the nature of schools as systems have significant consequences for the relevance of the literature and the effective practice of school leadership. The inaccurate assumptions about how schools work as systems are particularly important in a revived exploration of ethical leadership.
The interviews of six principals collected data for Question 2 through semi-structured interviews. The findings were developed through a narrative inquiry approach in which maintaining the voices of each principal was the priority. Findings are presented in two ways. First as individual narratives that present each of the individual voices and secondly through analysis of all the interview data.
The first key finding is that principals act in ways consistent with the nature of complex systems, without explicit awareness of the mental models they are applying. Their practice as principals does not align with much of the school leadership models in the literature. The second key finding is that the principals understand leadership as fundamentally and continually ethical, rather than the common view in the literature that ethics is one dimension of school leadership. Ethical dilemmas are a normal part of school life for them. Their practice of leadership is consistent with the characteristics of complex social systems, rather than the characteristics of complicated social systems generally represented in school leadership literature. The third finding is that principals understand learning as an ethic of leadership in itself. Learning is a fundamental good in both the processes of leadership and the purposes of leadership.
Implications of the research and recommendations for action are further considered under three headings; ethical leadership, system thinking, and reimaging schools. While the profound ethical purposes of schools are widely acknowledged, the everyday practice of ethical leadership is not adequately supported by research or professional support. Ethical rather than technical choices drive action in schools and that is a fundamental characteristic of complex adaptive systems.
Understanding schools through a lens of complexity may change the way research is done and the nature of policies and standards in ways that more authentically represent what schools really are. The conceptual starting point of schools as ethical complex human systems is an underdeveloped opportunity to re-imagine and more accurately understand both the nature of leadership and what schools have become.

Item Type: Thesis - EdD
Authors/Creators:Leppard, LJ
Keywords: ethical leadership, complex systems, adaptive leadership, ethical schools
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Copyright 2019 the author

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