School Climate & Safety Opinion

School Leaders Serve Everyone in the Community

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 26, 2016 5 min read
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Common sense and research, opinions and facts, is there an absolute truth? How can we educators manage the opinions and beliefs of a community and direct the cacophony of divergent thoughts into a symphony with cohesiveness and multiple movements?

Learn From the Candidates for POTUS as Metaphor
Protestors have been removed from the candidate rallies of both parties. But, at the end of the day, when the election is done, those removed and those called names for being disruptors, remain citizens of this country and it will be the successful candidate’s job to work for their good as well as for the good of those with whom they agree. How do those who have been sidelined come to support the leader who dismissed them?

School leaders know this place. Our world contains defeated candidates for a board seat, another leader who applied for the job we hold and wasn’t selected, a parent whose child was expelled and whose siblings are still in school, an employee who was dismissed gets elected to the board or a teacher loses a lawsuit but keeps his job. Yes, we know about keeping the doors open to reconnect with those who might legitimately feel hurt by our decisions or actions. No school leader has the freedom to be satisfied with alienating part of the community because they do not agree on a particular issue. But school leaders may be familiar with the temptation to avoid the work it takes to extend a hand and an ear to everyone, respectfully, over and over again. In his book Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership, Craig E. Johnson writes about ethical challenges for leaders and uses the term ‘evil’ when describing moral exclusion.

Mild forms of exclusion are part of daily life and include, for example, making sexist comments, applying double standards when judging the behavior of different groups, and making unflattering comparisons to appear superior to others. (Mild exclusion can also include ignoring or allowing such behaviors.) However, moral exclusion can also take extreme forms, resulting in such evils as human rights violations...(Johnson. p. 120)

Johnson further posits that moral exclusion includes double standards, concealing effects of harmful outcomes, reducing moral standards, utilizing euphemisms, biased evaluation of groups, condescension and derogation, dehumanization, fear of contamination, normalization and glorification of violence, victim blaming, deindividualism, diffusing responsibility, and displacing responsibility (Johnson. p. 121). In honest reflection on these moral exclusions, one might find themselves in their weakest or lowest moments. We might also recognize them within the other members of our leadership team. Hopefully, these actions take place without intention and can be acknowledged if raised so that they are not repeated. Johnson goes on to say

We must always be on the lookout for evil whatever form it takes; continually evaluate our motivations and choices; make a conscious effort to forgive by reshaping our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors; and have the courage to apologize (Johnson. p. 136).

Successful leaders appreciate being recognized for good work and work purposefully because we remain passionate and committed, and are trustworthy. Johnson’s research reveals that “ethical leaders are frequently more, not less effective than their unethical colleagues” in being able to remain committed and passionate, developing trust, and leading successful organizations (xxi).

Ethics and Evil
So we arrive at a place where we consider the words ‘ethical’ and ‘evil’. It is far easier to look at ourselves and define our actions as ethical than to see them as evil. That’s a word usually reserved for mythic proportions in a Star Trek movie. It is nearly impossible to think of our own actions as evil and it is not often we think of the actions of others that way. Yet, here is this researcher using that word to describe leadership actions. It is the capacity to stand in the shoes of others and reach toward empathy that opens our minds and hearts. Then, maybe, we find the courage to admit that we are being experienced by others as having acted in ways that harmed them more deeply than we intended. We understand then why they might think of us as evil people.

Dare we return to the political campaign? According to Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Chicago in his Huffington Post piece, candidate Donald Trump is a private citizen.

The First Amendment, like all provisions of the Constitution, restricts only the actions of government. Thus, just as a private person can constitutionally host a party that includes only his friends, Donald Trump can constitutionally hold a rally that includes only his supporters.

So, yes, he and others have the right to remove disruptive protestors form a rally. We can remove disruptive students from school. But, we do so because of their behavior and we try to stay in a moment, in the incident itself rather than letting the incident seep into categorizing the action or the person or a characteristic of the person. So, there is no name-calling, there is no inciting of others, there is every attempt to deescalate rather than escalate. Why? Because we remember that any one person is connected to our whole community. And that this one person will return and is our responsibility, one whom we have chosen to serve regardless of how hard that might appear to be. Yes, we know that actions of leaders have consequences.

In The End
The numbers of people represented in school districts are far smaller than those in a national election so the possibilities for personally reaching a greater percentage of the community exists. The question is do we? Or do we become complacent, making those personal connections when they are easy. The parents who come to school functions, the congregation of our place of worship, the employees where we buy groceries and paint...these may know us, respect our ethical leadership and know our sincerity. But there are so many others who never see us, who don’t know us and upon whom our actions have impact and consequences beyond our view. They are the ones who we need to carry every day in our mind’s eye. Our nation is divided into political parties and has a system of government that allows for discourse and differing opinions. Schools are communities. They are the best of us locally or the worst of us. They can only move ahead as a community of the whole, with shared values, and a leader for all.

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or by Email.

Illustration courtesy of Pixabay

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