I have always held a strong faith in humanity, and in a Spirit of the universe. My parents, teachers, and mentors throughout my life instilled in me a set of core values, or morals, by which I live by. It wasn’t until the Masters in Teacher Leadership program that I understood how these morals impact my professional work. EDU 6085, Moral Issues, challenged me to define and examine my core values in a Moral Education Framework.
Though I do not consider myself to be a “religious” person, I have come to realize how my personal belief system drives my practice as an educator. I am grateful for the exposure I have had to various religions and for growing up in a house that welcomed discussion about religion. According to Jennifer James (2015), avoiding conversations about religion diminishes students’ opportunities to develop a strong internal foundation, and “a strong sense of self, then, facilitates understanding of others, and makes possible mature, mutual, reciprocal and authentic civic relationships” (p. 8).
My upbringing led me to a set of core values and beliefs. In my life, these values and beliefs serve as my foundation, compass, and rubric simultaneously. Daily life experiences seem to continuously deepen my understanding and conviction of these values and beliefs. I strive to practice each value as a friend, daughter, sister, partner, and educator.
In the school setting, I have seen how leaders must model moral and ethical behavior. Leaders facilitate effective communication and collaboration by employing ethical decision-making practices. Effective leaders are aware of legal and ethical issues within the organization and employ shared decision-making to solve problems, when appropriate. Educational leaders should have a strong ethical code and set of values that they communicate to their staff and students through daily actions and interactions. Good leaders treat others fairly and with respect.
Educational leaders should believe in the educability of all students. Holding the belief that all students are educable is a prerequisite to understanding how to provide equitable education for all. In my opinion, the only way to combat long-embedded institutional and cultural inequities in our education system is to have a “willingness to continuously examine one’s own assumptions, beliefs, and practices” (Disposition 21). My principal attempts to bring up issues of social justice in a limited sense. She talks about the achievement gap noticeable in our Hispanic students. We continue to see marginalized groups outperformed by students of the dominant culture. I think, on some level, many teachers don’t fully believe all students can achieve our vision. We are not engaging in uncomfortable conversations. Hirsh and Hord (2010) argue, “if school-wide changes about attitudes and expectations are a desired outcome, than settings that convene the entire staff for hard conversations and facilitated dialogue may be necessary first steps.” From my personal experience, I don’t think that all principals are prepared to engage their staff on topics of social justice and equality. I do not personally blame my principal for being culturally incompetent in areas. The problem is that other people, teachers, parents, community members, who maybe do have the expertise to facilitate these conversations do not have a place or time to speak and lead.
Houston, Blankstein, and Cole (2007) state, “sending your intention out into the Universe creates energy” (p.14) that can spiral into action in ways we aren’t always aware of. A school mission and vision are ways to make intentions known, and hold others accountable to acting in alignment with those intentions. A school vision can also serve as a code of ethics. Developing a clear vision is critical to leading a unified, effective staff. Educational leaders should clearly define a school’s objectives for student learning and adjust existing systems and processes to meet those objectives. It is the role of educational leaders to gain and maintain trust among all stakeholders in order to inspire movement toward the shared vision. The school system is made up of many moving parts, but a vision that is supported by structures and resources acts as a “glue” keeping everyone connected and progressing.
In sharing a vision, leaders should “utilize feedback and criticism to develop shared understanding of objectives, to learn from experience, and to find ways to strengthen team performance” (Blake & McCanse, 1991). With this type of leadership, teachers are likely to be highly committed to results, strengthening a culture centered on teamwork. Collectively owning a shared vision “helps others recognize not only that they are part of something larger than themselves, but also that every part is vital and important to he success of the whole” (Houston, Blankstein, & Cole, 2008, p. 29).
It is my duty to keep myself “in check” with my moral code. In the classroom, it is important to me that my students trust my intentions. They need to feel they are in a safe space to learn and grow as readers and need to constantly re-trust me as their guide. They can do this if they see my “walk is aligned with [my] talk” (Houston, Blankstein, & Cole, 2007, p. 34). Children are checking to see if I do what I say. Am I really there for them? Is it really ok to make mistakes? Will I continue to believe in their potential? Being clear on my intentions, my values, and my philosophy as an educator helps me stay grounded, and guides my decisions, big and small.
The Teacher Leadership program has helped me clarify and define what my core values are, how to use them as a guide to make decisions and to lead with integrity.
Hirsh, S. & Hord, S.M. (2010). Building hope, giving affirmation. Journal of Staff Development, 31(4), 10-17.
Houston, P.D. Blankstein, A.M. & Cole, R.W. (2008). Spirituality in Educational Leadership.Thousand Oakes, CA: Corwin.
James, J. H., Schweber, S., Kunzman, R., Barton, K. C., & Logan, K. (2015). Religion in the Classroom, Dilemmas for Democractic Education. New York, NY: Routledge.
Pace, J. L. (2015). The Charged Classroom, Predicaments and Possibilities for Democractic Teaching. New York, NY: Routledge.
Wirzba, N. (2016). Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity. New York, NY: Harpercollins Publishers.