Right' versus 'wrong' and 'right' versus 'right': Understanding ethical dilemmas faced by educational leaders

Year: 2004

Author: Cranston, Neil, Ehrich, Lisa, Kimber, Megan

Type of paper: Refereed paper

In recent years the conduct of leaders, in an ethical sense, in many professions and types of organisations has captured public attention. In particular, educational leaders are often faced with ethical dilemmas in the daily course of their work as they are required to make complex decisions in the best interests of their students and their schools. This is understandable given the complex challenges and competing forces that beset leadership which is clearly a values-based activity (Walker & Shakotko, 1999). There is little doubt that, given the rapidly changing social, economic and political context in which schools now operate, the moral and ethical dimensions of leadership continue as important topics for exploration.

This paper reports the findings of recent research into the ethical dilemmas faced by a number of heads of non-government schools in Australia. These dilemmas centred broadly around making critical decisions, usually about staff and students, where a number of competing forces impacted on the decision itself, with the potential to lead to significant implications for individuals as well as for the school more generally. The paper uses a model developed by the authors, as an analytical framework to assist in better understanding the dynamics of the ethical dilemmas, and the forces at play as the school heads endeavoured to resolve the dilemmas. The model, when applied to the ethical dilemmas identified by the school leaders, provides a useful way for explicating the processes involved in identifying and resolving such dilemmas. The paper suggests that school leaders in all types of settings should be able to use the model as a reflective tool to understand more fully the forces impacting upon, and the dimensions characterising, the ethical decision-making process.