Friday, June 21, 2013

Creating a Cultue of Ethics and Integrity in Our Schools and School Districts

Because of the seriousness of our mission to educate all children, you would think having a “Culture of Ethics and Integrity” would be standard in all education organizations. Educators do a great deal of talking about being role models for kids, but the question I would ask, “Is your school or school district a model "culture of ethics and integrity?” I submit that, not only should we as people be model leaders in the areas of ethics and integrity, our organizations---our schools and our central offices---should be models of these too.

Authors David Cottrell and Eric Harvey, in their book Leadership Courage: Leadership Strategies for Individual and Organizational Success, provide us with this advice:
“As the leader, you have strong influence on the thoughts and behaviors of your employees---perhaps stronger than you think. And one of your most critical leadership responsibilities is to model the behavior you expect from others.”
In other words, our responsibility as a school leader is to model exactly the kinds of behaviors we want from our students, our staff, and even our parents. We create a "culture of ethics and integrity" when we ourselves are ethical leaders who act with integrity. 

Cottrell and Harvey provide us with a long “List of Behaviors of Leaders That Actually Discourage Trust, Integrity, and Ethics.” It’s gut check time. See if you have exhibited any of these behaviors or actions lately.
  • Have you promoted someone who was not respected or trusted by other employees? You communicate that respect and trust are not important when you promote those who do not have these traits.
  • Have you professed an ‘Open Door’ policy, but actually discouraged people from using it? If you invite others to speak to you about anything, you need to really demonstrate that you mean it.Telling people your door is always open means exactly that. People can stop by and unload, uninvited. Integrity here is living up to your words.
  • Have you hired employees who do not have what Cottrell and Harvey call ‘Walk-In Ethical Beliefs?” If you want a “Culture of Ethics and Integrity” then you need to hire for it. Bring in people who have a demonstrated history of ethics and integrity.
  • Have you avoided confronting integrity breaches? It takes courage to confront those who have engaged in behaviors that violate ethics and integrity. We like to think adults will be adults, but confronting the unethical is a leadership must.
  • Have you talked about people behind their backs---and/or encouraged others to do the same? This is gossip---plain and simple. It has no place in a “culture of ethics and integrity.” Leaders definitely should never engage in it, and they should let others know such talk is not welcome.
  • Have you withheld information to keep power and control? Schools and school districts, in my experience, are notorious for having fiefdoms and kingdoms where individuals hold on to information just so they have power. There’s no place in a “Culture of Ethics and Integrity” for this behavior. A leader of ethics and who has integrity is not interested in power for power’s sake anyway. Leaders should not behave in this way, and should not tolerate others who do.
  • Have you not considered the organization's shared values when making decisions? If your school or district values ethics and integrity, all decisions are made with this in mind. Leaders always behave with organizational values being front and center. 
  • Have you “bad mouthed” the organization and blamed others? School leaders should never confuse honest critique and criticism as “bad mouthing." Bad mouthing is unfair criticism. Honest criticism should be welcomed and embraced. Blaming others is anathema to leadership period and should never be engaged in.
  • Have you used ethnic, gender, or “those other people” slurs and negative references? There’s no place in 21st century society for this kind of behavior, and it should not be tolerated or engaged in at all  if your desire is to have a “Culture of Ethics and Integrity.”
  • Have you failed to preach, teach, and support the organization’s mission, vision, values, and ethical standards? Leadership is about doing all of these. Mission statements posted on walls and value statements that only appear on web sites, but aren't lived by leadership will not make your school or district a culture of ethics and integrity.
  • Have you failed to listen to the ideas and suggestions of others? Worse yet---have you asked for input but ignored the information? Leaders at every level in a school organization need to listen to the suggestions of others. Education organizations are made up of educated people, and to expect those employees to blindly accept and follow is naïve. Educational leaders should expect and welcome the ideas and suggestions of others. And, if you want to destroy ethics and integrity quickly, invite input and then ignore it. Educators immediately get the message---you don’t really care what I think.
  • Have you failed to understand and practice the universal ethical principle---ethics matters in everything you do? There’s no wonder schools and school districts end up in the national news. Most often, this happens because they lose sight of who they are and what really matters. They take shortcuts and avoid doing what is right. Ethics and integrity matter in everything we do.
  • Have you failed to walk the talk? You can’t foster a “Culture of Ethics and Integrity” without living it yourself. Leaders must be ethical---they must act with integrity always.
Honestly, with the moral nature of our mission as educational organizations, having a “Culture of Ethics and Integrity” should be standard. It begins when leaders engage in behaviors that foster these values, and avoid behaviors that undermine them. As a 21st century school leader it's up to you to lead the way.

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