What do you do with your time once you have finished being President of ASCL? As that well known educational guru Neil Young pointed out, it’s better to burn out than it is to rust. Hence, whilst running a school provides more than enough fun and adventure to keep me fully occupied, I haven’t been able to resist becoming involved in another leadership association.
You may not realise it, but through our ASCL membership all of us have also joined the International Confederation of Principals, a group designed to bring together school leaders from across the world. I enjoyed attending their events whilst ASCL President and found the opportunity to learn from colleagues in areas as diverse as Australia and South Africa hugely beneficial. Having stood for election in the summer of 2016, I now have the honour to represent Europe on ICP’s Executive.
When I spoke to international colleagues I found that there was one aspect of our work in the UK that interested them more than any other. Elements of the English system such as our accountability regime were discussed with a mixture of incredulity and bemusement. However, when I described ASCL’s Ethical Leadership Commission, I was taken aback by their enthusiasm towards the work that we are undertaking.
International contributors have filled in the MoralDNA survey sent out to ASCL members, also sending in suggestions for some key words that should underpin ethical values. For example, a headteacher in Tasmania wrote to us saying that in her view, ethical leadership consisted of:
Honesty: if a leader is not honest then they have no credibility. Without credibility you can’t be an ethical leader or display ethical leadership.
Courage: ethical leadership requires courage to have the hard conversations and make the hard decisions.
Duty: as a leader you have a duty to create a culture where you have ethical people making ethical decisions carrying out ethical actions.
Fairness: you can’t be ethical if you aren’t fair. Ethical leadership is about impartiality.
Truthfulness: dovetails with honesty.
Integrity: this is the big one. If you don’t have integrity as a leader, it is impossible to be an ethical leader.
Trust: trust works both ways. Staff need to have trust in you but must trust staff. This is important.
I think all of us on the Commission have been hugely encouraged by the level of national and international interest that the project has produced. The ICP response serves as a reminder that the ethical challenges of leadership are not confined to those of us working in the English system. School leadership across the world is centred upon values and principles and these inevitably produce a resulting set of ethical challenges and dilemmas.
One of my Australian colleagues wisely pointed out that at one level, ethical leadership is easy: “Just do the right thing”. The more challenging part comes in working out what that ‘right thing’ actually is and how it can be lived out in the day to day experience of leaders across the world.
More information about ASCL’s Ethical Leadership Commission is available here. The Commission’s chair, and ASCL’s Honorary Secretary Carolyn Roberts, has also written a series of blogs about ethical leadership in education.
If you are attending ASCL Annual Conference 9 – 10 March 2018, we will be hosting a panel discussion and breakout session on ethical leadership.