Our Mandate column offers members information about particular aspects of the College's responsibilities and explains how we carry them out. As the regulatory body of a self-governing profession, the College is expected to clearly communicate professional and ethical standards. One of the ways the College fulfills this responsibility is through the work of the Standards of Practice and Education Committee, which was involved in the development of ethical case institutes.
Ethical dilemmas – Striptease on Day Three
Margaret Blanchfield, better known as Maggie to her friends and colleagues, sits on the stage in the school gym and resolutely eyes the audience. Today is her third day as principal in a school dubbed "the flagship." The school is not quite four years old and is equipped with the latest and the best of everything.
Maggie's predecessor retired unexpectedly on the last day of December. The quick turnaround did not give Maggie the opportunity to visit the school before her first day on site in January.
However, as an experienced secondary school administrator, she feels quite comfortable with her transition to the school. On this day, John, the vice-principal, calls an assembly of the student body to formally introduce the new principal. The student athletic council has taken this opportunity to showcase the school's athletic teams. One team after the next comes forward. The student audience claps and cheers for each one.
The last team to come on stage is the boy's basketball team. As the team is introduced, music begins to blare. The boys strut across the front of the stage. Each one is gyrating to the music in a provocative way. Maggie soon realizes that the spectacle is a mock striptease. The student body is yelling and screaming.
Maggie can see John, the vice-principal, from the corner of her eye. He deliberately avoids looking in her direction. The cheering reaches a crescendo in anticipation of the finale. Maggie stands up.
Suddenly, someone turns off the music. The boys stop. Their momentum is lost and they scatter off stage. John runs to the nearest microphone and directs the teachers to return with their students to their classrooms. The group departs in silence.
"What is going on here?" Maggie demands of John behind the closed doors of her office. She has been an administrator for 15 years and never has she experienced such lewd and inappropriate behaviour in a school setting. She asks John, "Is it because there is no established protocol for school assemblies? Is it poor leadership on the part of a group of teachers in the athletic department? Is this an isolated incident of unacceptable behaviour?"
This incident is just one more thing to add to Maggie's to-do list. The list that began on her first morning in the school has grown over the past two days.
Chair Sharon Young Kipp, OCT (centre), with Standards of Practice and Education Committee members (from left): Clint Lovell, OCT; Carlo Cappello, OCT; Gale Dores, OCT; Garry Humphreys; Clyde Glasgow
The experience described here is excerpted from a collection of case studies titled Exploring Leadership and Ethical Practice through Professional Inquiry developed during a case institute that was a joint project of the Ontario College of Teachers and the Catholic Principals' Council of Ontario.
Case institutes bring together members of the College – principals, vice-principals, supervisory officers, directors of education, classroom teachers and teacher educators – to write about dilemmas they've encountered as education leaders in this province. The resulting cases are gathered for publication in casebooks, which are available in hard copy and/or online formats. (For more cases in print and online, see page 60.) Sharon Young Kipp, OCT, Chair of the College's Standards of Practice and Education Committee and a department head of physical and health education in the Thames Valley DSB, says the leadership casebooks apply to the full range of College members. "As a teacher you're required to be a leader, whether you're leading your classroom, leading a grade level or leading a department. There are so many opportunities in education to be a leader."
Cases written during these institutes allow members to consider and reflect on real ethical dilemmas experienced by other members and can provide useful points for consideration and reflection.
Back to day one
On Maggie's first morning, she greeted the office support staff warmly. The response was, at best, lukewarm. In some ways she anticipated this. The talk around the system is that she's been sent to "clean up" the school.
That same morning Maggie continues through the reception area and enters her office for the first time. Trying to orient herself to her new surroundings, she begins to search for the usual documents. She looks for staff lists, schedules, student timetables, budget statements and the district-board-issued principal's handbook. She opens and closes drawers. She finds nothing. Perhaps her predecessor used a computer to store this essential information. Maggie calls in Janet, the school's office manager and asks, "Could you please log me in to the principal's laptop?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Janet replies. "Were you not advised that the principal's computer isn't working? I sent in a repair requisition a couple of weeks before Christmas but no one showed up. I could contact them again."
"Thank you, Janet. In the interim, are there hard copies of both a staff list and the school timetables?"
Maggie also decides on her first day to take a tour of the school. She plans to do a walkabout and at the same time give herself an opportunity to calm down. She invites John, the vice-principal, to join her.
As she walks the halls and peers into classrooms, Maggie relaxes a bit. Teachers are actively engaging students.
As Maggie and John move from one floor to the next, Maggie wonders why John seems nervous and why the students snicker as he approaches. She knows that he's been a teacher and vice-principal at the school for some time. She'll make a point of discussing this with him later. She doesn't want to put him on the spot right now. She knows how to wait for the right time.
As Maggie and John return to the main office, the lunch bell sounds. Students flood out of the classrooms and into the cafeteria. Maggie notes that teachers move out of the way of students instead of students moving out of the way of teachers. The consistency of this behaviour bothers her.
In her office Maggie contemplates where to start. Tom, one of the English teachers, interrupts Maggie's thoughts. He is knocking on her open door. She invites him in. He hesitates. She invites him again, thinking that perhaps he hasn't heard her. Tom enters and remains standing.
Tom says that he is the English teacher for the two graduating classes. He explains to Maggie that these students are viewed as the school pioneers. They were the first students in the first year that the school began. Right from the beginning they were treated differently. Tom explains that because the school was partially under construction in its opening year, promises were made to these students and their parents, many of whom are prominent individuals in the community and active on the school council. They were promised many things, from special timetables to busing from any location in town.
Tom complained to the previous principal a number of times about minor problems with this elite group of students. Now he is experiencing major difficulties keeping them on task and making them work. Their grades are dropping. He explains that at mid-semester some students were given passing grades by teachers in spite of the fact that they had not met the curriculum expectations. He feels that maintaining a positive image of the school is very important. However, he is also wondering what would happen if not all the students of the first graduating class received diplomas. Will teachers be expected to adjust marks to accommodate the first graduates?
Maggie tries to comprehend exactly what has been going on for the past four years. It is just her first week and she has already encountered a broad range of problems. Now this. Reflecting on ethical practice
Maggie's day three began with the assembly fiasco. Throughout the day her list of concerns continued to lengthen. At five o'clock Maggie sits alone in her office. While the description of Maggie's experience leaves her alone in her office at the end of the day, she is not alone in her concerns or in considering the issues she is facing. The case offers other teachers an opportunity to consider the experience and reflect on how it applies to their own ethical and professional dilemmas. Consider these suggestions for reflection:
1. Describe the vision of teaching and learning that the principal is trying to foster in this school community.
2. Pinpoint the values that are modelled in the actions and decisions of the school principal.
3. Identify the ethical issues inherent in the assessment processes used in this school.
4. Discuss the ethical implications of providing special privileges to an identified "elite group of students."
"A case is a great learning tool because it puts the circumstances right in front of you, and you have to deal with it," says Young Kipp. "Essentially, in education, that's what happens. Something occurs, and you've got information, and you have to move forward and handle it. Usually there will be recommendations or a direction that needs to be taken. It's real life.
"That's the key – it's real life, and you can learn from that."
Highly respected educators from Ontario, other provinces and the international community are invited to provide commentaries about the ethical-dilemma cases. These are published alongside the cases and provide additional perspectives for discussion. Striptease on Day Three invited these comments:
This case raises central issues of care, respect and responsibility. Though lurid and licentious in representation, it is an all too common instance of an innovative school that has revelled in and exploited its marginal status within the system, flagrantly flouted professional and ethical standards while actively cultivating envy among peers, and not only failed to plan for the succession of a charismatic founder, but actively baulked those who would try to tarnish the special innovative identity that set it apart in its Golden Age. The mysteriously sudden departure of the incumbent principal, his/her refusal to co-operate with advanced entry planning, signs of passive and even petulant resistance from some inherited staff, as well as indicators of drift in academic standards and basic behaviour among students all point to a leadership and improvement challenge of significant proportions.
Andy Hargreaves, Thomas More Brennan Chair in Education, Boston College and Pauline Hargreaves, Assistant Head, The Learning Project Elementary School, Boston
Despite the apparent ease with which she observes her comfortable surroundings as the newly appointed principal of a celebrated secondary school, the principal in the opening scene in this case portrays an alert leader poised for action. Early on, it becomes clear that her seemingly enviable position is one that has placed her in a challenging environment where she is beginning to uncover a multi-layered, complex school culture in need of change. As the case unfolds, we catch promising glimpses of principal Margaret Stanfield's reflective timing (Coombs, 2003*) and authenticity (Begley, 2004; Starratt, 2004*) as a leader in her endeavour to understand the challenges and needs of this flagship school.
Maggie's openness in meeting with Tom is a sign that she prefers to work with rather than hold her authority over others. Maggie is likely quite aware that it is important to lead with teacher emotions in mind (Leithwood and Beatty, 2008*). Her teachers' sense of safety, opportunity for growth and belief that they are respected, cared about and professionally supported (Beatty, 2007*) will need to be protected and fostered so that the usefulness of individual and school-wide changes can emerge and be embraced in a culture of connectedness.
Brenda Beatty, Director of the Monash Master in School Leadership Program, Australia
*For complete references see Exploring Leadership and Ethical Practice through Professional Inquiry, available through Presses de l'Université Laval at www.pulaval.com.
More cases in print and by clicking the links below
The case presented in this issue, Striptease on Day Three, is excerpted from Exploring Leadership and Ethical Practice through Professional Inquiry, a collection of case studies that was a joint project of the Ontario College of Teachers and the Catholic Principals' Council of Ontario.
Two additional cases are available by clicking the links below:
- Initiated: How would you handle the situation if you were a new vice-principal assigned to a three-day orientation camp for Grade 9 students?
- Negotiating Different Styles When Two Teachers Share a Class: How would you react if you were one of two teachers sharing a classroom but had a different approach to instruction and classroom management?
Striptease on Day Three and Initiated are available in Exploring Leadership and Ethical Practice through Professional Inquiry, Presses de l'Université Laval (www.pulaval.com). Negotiating Different Styles is from Cases for Teacher Development: Preparing for the Classroom, Sage Publications (www.sagepub.com).