Educational leaders are working in an increasingly diverse society with a number of competing values. It is difficult to be effective in this environment and it requires leaders to rely on a number of different styles and to take context into account. Moral leadership is a style that recognizes the importance of values and attitudes in decision-making. This style of leadership requires administrators to become reflective practitioners using their values and attitudes to govern their decision-making. According to Sergiovanni (1992) when administrators are acting as moral leaders they are compelled to do the right thing not just what is right.
This style of leadership is particularly challenging for principals in the current educational context. Governments, Ministries of Education and School Districts have become dictatorial about how educational policies and practices will be implemented. In spite of these changes, administrators coming from a moral leadership perspective will keep the big picture in mind while relying on their values and ethics to modify decisions to do what is best for children and schools.
Begley states (1999) “it is not enough for school leaders to merely emulate the values of other principals currently viewed as experts. Leaders of future schools must become reflective practitioners.” School Leaders must be aware of the personal values that they bring to a decision and the competing values of those around them. Principals who are moral leaders must take into account the relational norms operating within their building. For example, a teacher who disagrees with standardized testing at all grade levels and appears to be undermining the decision confronts a Principal. The Principal respects the position of the teacher and recognizes that the teacher is feeling undervalued and unappreciated. Instead of becoming confrontational with the teacher, the Principal looks for ways to make him a part of the decision making process. The Principal and teacher are then in a position to openly discuss their points of view and arrive at a compromise. “In essence, the compromise was more important to maintaining good adult relationships than to deciding the educational soundness of the principal’s proposal.” (Bogotch & Miron, 1998) This example demonstrates the importance of relational norms and is one of the strengths of moral leadership.
Sergiovanni (1992) talks about moral leadership as being the process of having the head, heart and mind working together to make good decisions. The head is the systems piece made up of the rules, the regulations and the theories of practice. The heart is what the leader believes, values and is committed to. “If the head and the heart are separated from the hand, then the leader’s actions, decisions, and behaviours cannot be understood.” (Sergiovanni 1992)
In contrast, “greater knowledge of the values of others and their central role in decisions may be used in manipulative ways. There is a literature which addresses the darker side of charismatic leadership, for example, a form of leadership directed to the values of followers.” (Begley, 1999) An example of this is the Ontario “Common Sense Revolution”. The current government presented the “Common Sense Revolution” as morally the right thing to do. They pointed to government overspending and the increasing debt as morally indefensible. They talked about borrowing against the future of the province’s youth and maintained that the only morally responsible decision was to make cuts to government programs like education and health care. Many members of the public bought their arguments without giving consideration to the consequences. Moral leadership, if used improperly can be manipulative and destructive within a school setting. However, there are many components of moral leadership that are important to effective school management. School leaders need to be reflective practitioners in touch with the values and attitudes that they bring to the role. Through moral leadership they can create a “climate for risk taking, student centered learning, open communications, new relational norms, and aesthetics.” (Bogotch & Miron, 1998)