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Moral Leadership in Schools

Moral Leadership in Schools

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Moral leadership in schools
William D. Greenfield Jr
Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA

Keywords Values, Ethics, Leadership, Principals, Authority
Abstract The genesis of the moral leadership concept in educational administration and
examples of studies exploring this idea during the 1979-2003 period are discussed. The author
recommends more contextually sensitive descriptive studies with a focus on the social
among school leaders and others, giving particular attention, in a phenomenological sense, to
meanings, perspectives, and espoused purposes of school leaders\u2019 actions, social
relationships, and
interpersonal orientations.

What is the meaning of the construct, \u201cmoral leadership\u201d, and why is it an
important and relevant idea in the context of a journal and conference theme
rooted in historian Callahan\u2019s (1962) classic study, Education and the Cult of
Efficiency? There is a twofold answer to this question. First, the education of
public\u2019s children is by its very nature a moral activity: to what ends and by
what means shall public education proceed? (Dewey, 1932; Green, 1984).
Second, relationships among people are at the very center of the work of
administrators and teachers, and for this reason school leadership is, by its
nature and focus, a moral activity (Foster, 1986; Hodgkinson, 1978, 1983,
Starratt, 1991, 1996).
Thus, at the very center of the leadership relationship is an essential moral
consideration: leading and teaching to what ends, and by what means? The
answers to both of these questions confront school leaders with important
issues regarding a school\u2019s resources, and most critically, its human
teachers and students. (Greenfield, 1986, 1987, 1995) Like their counter-
parts in
the early twentieth century, contemporary educational leaders face similar
pressures for accountability and efficiency in the growing national and
international preoccupation with standards, standardization, and the
measurement of schooling outcomes. (Carnoy and Loeb, 2002; Verstegen,
Considered within this context, the idea of moral leadership holds much
promise for enabling school administrators to lead in a manner that can best
help teachers develop and empower themselves to teach and lead in the
of external pressures to reform schools. Toward this end there has been a
growing interest in studying values, ethics, and the moral dimensions of
educational leadership. A major contributor to the recent broadening of
scholarship in this area has been the UCEA Center for the Study of Leadership
and Ethics[1]. The Center\u2019s work has resulted in the publication of a powerful

The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at The current issue and full text archive of this journal
is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/researchregister www.emeraldinsight.com/0957-8234.htm

An earlier and lengthier draft of this article, presented at the annual meeting of the American
Educational Research Association, April 19-23, 1999, Montreal, Canada, is available from the
Educational Resources Information Clearinghouse, ED 443171.


Journal of Educational
Vol. 42 No. 2, 2004
pp. 174-196

q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/09578230410525595

collection of scholarly studies focused on ethics, values, and educational
leadership (Begley, 1999; Begley and Leonard, 1999; Begley and Johansson,
This article briefly reviews the genesis of attention to the concept of moral
leadership in educational administration, and describes how scholars have
utilized the idea in empirical studies of school leadership published during the
1979-2003 period. The article concludes with suggestions for focusing the
of school leadership, including more contextually-sensitive descriptive work
and an emphasis on studying the social relations among school leaders and
others, with particular attention to the meanings, perspectives, and espoused
purposes of school leaders\u2019 actions, social relationships, and interpersonal
Moral leadership in retrospect
Almost four decades ago Gross and Herriott (1965) published a large-scale
study of leadership in public schools. Directed at understanding the efficacy
the idea of staff leadership, Gross and Herriott\u2019s (1965, p. 150) finding that
executive professional leadership (EPL) of school principals was positively
related to \u201cstaff morale, the professional performance of teachers, and the
pupils\u2019 learning\u201d, marked the beginning of the field\u2019s long-term fascination
with understanding school leadership. This benchmark study was rooted in a
controversy regarding the proper role of the school administrator: to provide
routine administrative support versus to try to influence teachers\u2019
The latter orientation, referred to by the researchers as staff leadership,
provides the conceptual foundation for most of the studies of school
since that time. Indeed, it is doubtful that there is any prescriptive, empirical,
theoretical writing since their 1965 that is not grounded in a staff leadership
conception of the school administrator\u2019s role.
A second important contribution shaping the study of educational
leadership was Burns\u2019 (1978) differentiation of transactional from
transformational leadership. Distinguishing between these two types of
leadership did much to call attention to and legitimize the concept of moral
leadership. Burns (1978, p. 4) makes several observations that capture a shift
focus that would come to characterize the next 20 years of leadership studies
educational administration:

I will deal with leadership as distinct from mere power-holding and as the opposite of brute
power. I will identify two basic types of leadership: the transactional and the transforming.
The relations of most leaders and followers are transactional \u2013 leaders approach followers
with an eye to exchanging one thing for another: jobs for votes, or subsidies for campaign
contributions. Such transactions comprise the bulk of the relationships among leaders and
followers, especially in groups, legislatures, and parties. Transforming leadership, while
more complex, is more potent. The transforming leader recognizes and exploits an existing
need or demand of a potential follower. But, beyond that, the transforming leader looks for
personal motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the

Moral leadership
in schools

follower. The result of transforming leadership is a relationship of mutual stimulation and
elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.
This last concept, moral leadership, concerns me the most. By this term I mean, first, that
leaders and led have a relationship not only of power but of mutual needs, aspirations, and
values: second, that in responding to leaders, followers have adequate knowledge of
alternative leaders and programs and the capacity to choose among those alternatives; and,
third, that leaders take responsibility for their commitments \u2013 if they promise certain kinds
of economic, social, and political change, they assume leadership in the bringing about of that
change. Moral leadership is not mere preaching, or the uttering of pieties, or the insistence on
social conformity. Moral leadership emerges from, and always returns to, the fundamental
wants and needs, aspirations, and values of the followers. I mean the kind of leadership that
will produce social change that will satisfy followers\u2019 authentic needs.

While Burns was writing largely although not entirely with political
leadership in mind, scholars in the fields of management and education were
quick to seize on his ideas as guides to study and as the basis for prescribing
more effective leadership strategies.
Prior to this time research in educational administration and in management
had run into a theoretical brick wall. Yukl\u2019s (1981) book on leadership theory
and research more or less represented the state of the art as it had
during the previous two decades: theory and research during the 1960s and
1970s focused on leadership traits, skills, and styles, the two-factor theory
encompassing initiating structure and consideration, and the concepts of
situational leadership and contingency theory. These ideas, rooted in
functionalism and concerned with ideas like efficiency and effectiveness,
generally conceived of leadership as a special form of power exercised by
individuals and grounded in one or another of French and Raven\u2019s (1959)
of social power.
There obviously were other developments in the field during this period
(circa 1979), and some initiatives were to evolve more fully during the next
decade, influencing the study of school leadership in interesting ways. A few
these contributions are noted briefly. Immegart and Boyd (1979) published
Problem Finding in Educational Administration, setting the stage for a more
open-ended exploration of what might count as legitimate study in the field
educational administration. Among the important contributors to that volume
were Jacob Getzels, Thomas B. Greenfield, Daniel Griffiths, and Donald
Willower. Another publication that year was Erickson and Reller\u2019s (1979)
edited volume, The Principal in Metropolitan Schools, created as a conceptual

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