Leadership · Teaching & Learning

How can educational leaders influence ethical practices and behaviors in order to meet students’ needs while building a positive school culture and climate?

As I reflect about ethical practices and behaviors being influenced by school leaders and their impact throughout the entire school community, I think back to my days as a student.  It brings memories back about my interactions with my teachers, my school principal and the climate of my school and how their “character” which was reflected by an ethical framework inspired me to pursuit a career in education and shaped me as an educator and in many ways as an individual.   Brierton, Graham, Tomal & Wilhite (2010) explain that “it should be the duty for all school leaders to place a high premium on ethical behaviors.” (Brierton, Graham, Tomal, & Wilhite, 2016, p. 43).  This phrase speaks volumes because it is true, when leaders value ethical behavior, they have the ability to set the tone about which behaviors represent those ethical values and beliefs.  This will then translate to an ethical climate that is expanded throughout the entire organization thus creating a culture of respect, trust, collaboration and professional growth.  Brierton, Graham, Tomal & Wilhite elaborate further when they write “Codes of ethics should define professional standards of conduct and acceptable behaviors.  The code of ethics should also define unethical behaviors for which disciplinary actions are justified” (Brierton, Graham, Tomal, & Wilhite, 2016, p. 43).

As a new principal, I’ve been reflecting a lot on culture and climate and my role within it as the school leader.  Brierto, Graham, Tomal & Wilhite note that a school districts code of ethics should “ensure that students are educated in environments that are conducive to teaching and learning, and free of disruptive conduct” (Brierton, Graham, Tomal, & Wilhite, 2016, p. 39).  As a principal, I realize how important my role is in cultivating and supporting this type of environment.  Through my leadership and daily practices, the schools culture and climate will either support this idea or hinder it.  The Character Education Partnership argues that “Successful schools- ones that foster both academic excellence and ethics- have positive, effective school culture” (Character Education Partnership, 2010, p. 1).  As I start my new role, I am keeping this in mind as I strategically lead school improvement efforts and visualize my daily activities.  I realize how critical this is because as explained by the CEP “school culture is central to student success and holistic transformation” (Character Education Partnership, 2010, p. 1). Because of this critical component of schools, I must carefully lead and inspire shared leadership among my staff for all of us to acquire the tools needed to develop and assess supportive environment with a healthy culture and climate.  Additionally, as Cowan, Vaillancourt, Rossen, & Pollitt claimed “as instructional leaders, principals must maintain a constant present in the school and in classrooms, listening to and observing what is taking place, assessing needs, and getting to know teachers and students” (Cowan, Vaillancourt, Rossen, & Pollitt, 2013, p. 8).  As a principal, it is my responsibility to set high expectations and standards for the academic, social, emotional and physical development of all students.

In summary, school leaders are change agents that can influence the success of students and schools.  Ron Berger (as quoted by the CEP) wrote that “Students’ achievement and character are shaped by the culture around them” (Character Education Partnership, 2010, p. 3).  He claimed that student’s background is irrelevant.  In a way, I agree with that statement because I understand due to my own experiences as a student with teachers, leaders and my schools’ and classrooms environment.  All of which inspired me and in my experience is evidence that “when students enter a culture that demands and supports quality work and moral character, they tend to work to fit into that culture” (Character Education Partnership, 2010, p. 3).


Brierton, J. T., Graham, B. F., Tomal, D. R., & Wilhite, R. K. (2016). Ethics and Politics in School Leadership. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Character Education Partnership. (2010). Developing and Assessing School Culture. 1-7.

Cowan, K. C., Vaillancourt, K., Rossen, E., & Pollitt, K. (2013). A framework for safe and successful schools . Bethesa, MD: National Association of School Psychologist.


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