Sunday, February 6, 2011

School Administrators: caught between rocks and hard places.

School administrators are expected to act in accordance with Federal regulations, State and Local Law, and School Board Policy. In addition they are supposed to work efficiently and with regard to public relations. On top of that they must be seen as caring and ethical, showing appropriate concern for faculty, student and parental concerns.

But what are the priorities when push comes to shove, as it frequently does in times of tight budgets or social change? Where do they learn and practice rationally prioritizing competing interests? Nowhere but on the job. Too, little; too late.

How do they learn to distinguish real problems from panicked misunderstandings, or political manipulations? They often don’t, except through painful on-the-job humiliations.

What training do new and even experienced administrators normally get for rationally justifying their decisions so they can rationally defend them, if necessary, in a variety of venues? Usually, none.

Can you really understand and practically apply the differences between what is or is not legal, ethical, reasonable, expedient or tactful? Many working administrators cannot.

I taught a course for more than ten years at Widener University called “Ethics and Values in Education.” My students were mostly practicing public school administrators working on their superintendency certification or a doctorate. Over the years the frequency with which my students were being dragged into court increased substantially.

They came to class with sad stories of embarrassment and humiliation at the hands of opposing council for things which they had done in good faith and in accordance with many of the constraints they were aware of. But they discovered they were clay pigeons even when school district counsel argued to protect them.

However, it isn’t too difficult and it doesn’t take years and years of study to prepare yourself to be assertively rational about why you decided to do what you did. The resources given below give examples of ethical, legal and other conflicts that could be handled with careful thinking.

See Ethical Argument, Practical Proposal

--- EGR