School Climate & Safety Opinion

Your Moral Leadership Matters Now More Than Ever

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — January 18, 2018 4 min read
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School leaders aspire to be politically skillful but, for the most part, non-political. Exceptions surely exist where superintendents are political appointees. Yet, even among them, local school leaders attempt to work with policy makers, regardless of political affiliation, on behalf of their schools and children. It demands they not get distracted by the storms around them. On state levels, unions and leadership organizations attempt to do the same but they do enter the fray with positions and lobbying efforts.

A leader’s reputation is built upon trust and that trust is built over time. It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation. It can take one misstep to end it. An error in judgment can negate the good work done over years. It may seem unfair. We are in a time when the dark underbelly of peoples’ actions is coming to light. And so, we wrestle with justice and forgiveness, with accountability and popularity, with the social erosion of right and wrong. It feels new but if we think back centuries we will find thought leaders contemplating whether the end justifies the means. The struggles about virtue is equally as long. We recall St Augustine pondering the relationship between pride and humility.

The difference, for us, now, is that these issues are inescapable. The words and actions of our political leaders and others cause us to daily engage the questions or to try to ignore what is happening around us. Neither feels good. Inappropriate and/or illegal behavior of public figures is entering the spotlight. Although the words and behaviors of Donald Trump did not prevent him from becoming President of the United States, those same behaviors would not be tolerated in other environments. But, is all that changing? Are we living in a massive social tidal wave that will redefine who we are?

Moral Thinking and Behavior

All public figures are models for our youth. We offer no excuses for those who are poor models. School leaders are local, more relatable and better-known leaders. School leaders directly touch the lives of the children in their charge. Their behavior must be held to the highest standard. We have written about the courage it takes to lead change but, sometimes, especially in the domain of moral leadership, it takes courage to stand, in confidence, on the ground of right whether you are alone or among millions. The development and support of moral thinking and behavior, now more than in a long time, is being shaped for the next generation or for many of them.

Leadership, Principled and Humble

Building an empowered system of educators, one in which moral behavior is modeled and expected serves as a healthy foundation in which children will grow and succeed. Leadership is neither self-serving nor opportunistic. It is principled and humble at its finest. It can be resolved and determined also. Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves in their report “Bringing the Profession Back In”, write about teachers who live and work in an environment with moral and mature professional behavior is modeled and expected.

They become accepting and inclusive of other identities as well as their own, among the adults as well as in their classes. They become less anxious, shy, intemperate, self-absorbed, or strident -- and all this is because there are specific processes to help teachers develop as well as ensure that they learn. These processes may not always have short-term impact on students, but they build trust, develop relationships, and create a more mature and responsive professional community of colleagues with the moral and even spiritual commitment to their cause that is pursued with courage, commitment, and empathy.

When the adults in the organization are offered specific processes that “build trust, develop relationships, and create a more mature and responsive professional community of colleagues with the moral and even spiritual commitment to their cause that is pursued with courage, commitment, and empathy” students will benefit. The striking fact remains that while we focus so much on curriculum development and delivery, responsibilities and obligations, problems and solutions, attention to the very things that will support the success of students for a lifetime is seldom on the front burner.

In the end

There is a difference between an honest mistake and a judgment made absent a true moral compass. A community based upon trusting relationships may forgive the former. The fact that a large part of the electorate forgave the latter should serve as a warning signal for educators. We can contribute to the next generation of adults by circling the wagons and making sure each school environment is safely founded in a culture built upon courage, commitment, and empathy. It takes consistent focus and refocus on the part of the leader as these attributes build the system. It takes time. It is urgent. The children and our country will most certainly benefit.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo by maialisa courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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