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3 Reasons Ethical Leadership Matters in Schools


3 Reasons Ethical Leadership Matters in Schools

Ethics is the driving force behind the formal and informal rules that all students and faculty members are expected to follow in a school. Essentially, it dictates what is considered good and what is considered bad. However, in today’s world, everyone has a different opinion of what that means.  

More than ever, educational leaders must act with strength and integrity. To do so requires an ethical approach to decision making. 

To understand the benefits of ethical leadership in education, here are three reasons it matters in schools. 

1. Ethical Leadership in Schools Sets the Tone 

A principal or administrator helps to establish a school’s culture. Just as leaders impact diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in schools, they also affect whether or not there is an ethical climate.  

Since what is considered ethical can be subjective, it is up to educational leaders to clearly communicate a sense of norms and behaviors built on respect. This is done through their everyday decision making, from how they decide to distribute the budget to how they speak with staff members. 

If a school administrator is curt, sarcastic, or dismissive when speaking to students and staff, they can expect that to have a ripple effect. However, speaking to people in the school with respect and kindness can have a lasting impact as well. By practicing ethical leadership and setting the tone, administrators can create a more positive school environment. 

2. The Importance of Ethical Leadership for Students

At its core, ethical leadership should guide an administrator to act in the best interests of the students. In their proposal for a code of ethical conduct for school leaders, The National Association of Secondary School Principals makes several recommendations. The first on the list recommends that a school leader “makes the well-being and success of students the fundamental value in all decision-making and actions.”

For example, it might be more efficient to have two lunch lines – one for students on free/reduced-price lunch and one for students who are not. It might make it easier for the cafeteria staff and get everyone through the line quicker. 

However, an ethical leader would never allow this in their school because it singles out a population of your student body as different. It causes harm to students’ humanity and self-esteem; ethical leaders strive to always do the opposite.

3. Ethical Leadership Serves as a Guiding Light During Uncertain Times

From a global pandemic to social injustices, the last several years have been emotionally charged for students, staff, and faculty. School leaders must take into account contrasting points of view and approaches while considering the needs of all students. The last few years have only made this more challenging.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  

When leaders anchor their actions and decisions in ethics, they are more easily able to navigate challenging times successfully and act in ways that are best for everyone in the school community.  

In the spring of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up, the majority of schools shut down face-to-face learning to prioritize the safety and well-being of students, staff, and their families. Some schools made the immediate switch to virtual learning and finished the rest of the year with teachers conducting online classes. However, some schools did not. 

An ethical leader would assess the resources and accessibility of their students and teachers to decide the next course of action – not just assume learning could continue business as usual.  

As current and future educators look at their leadership approach, it should be firmly rooted in ethics in order to best serve the needs of everyone. Develop the skills of an ethical leader and learn more about our online Master of Educational Leadership program today.