Ethical Leadership: A Case Study Framework

By Bon, Susan C.; Gerrick, W. Gregory et al. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview
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Ethical Leadership: A Case Study Framework

Bon, Susan C., Gerrick, W. Gregory, Sullivan, Dan, Shea, Sheryl, Academic Exchange Quarterly


The case study method is proposed as a pedagogical approach to encourage and support dialogue and reflection on the role of values and ethics in educational leadership. In this paper, a case study is introduced and analyzed using four domains of ethical leadership. The connection between ethics and leadership is examined using leadership models as a guiding framework for analysis of the case study.


In light of the major ethical challenges facing society, educational leadership programs must be designed to emphasize and promote ethical behavior. The ongoing discussion of ethics (see e.g. Beck, Murphy & Assoc., 1997; Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2000; Starratt, 1991) reveals an urgent need for ethical and moral leadership in schools and society at large. According to Shapiro and Stefkovich, "the teaching of ethics is critical in the preparation of educational leaders" (p. 5). While almost all leadership programs profess to encourage ethical behavior, there is disagreement about the instructional methods that will enhance the ethical practice of educational leaders. A successful leadership program needs to prepare educational leaders who are sensitive to the demands of an increasingly diverse and complex environment. Beckner (2003) observed:

   In an earlier and more homogeneous society, desirable ethical
   decisions were easier to discern if not always easy to follow.
   People tended to be directed by widely accepted rules and
   expectations. With the development of a more pluralistic society
   (and better recognition of that pluralism), more support for
   individual freedom, more value given to the powers of reason,
   this relatively simple life has changed. (p.5)

Accordingly, the focus on ethics for preparation of educational leaders must be meaningful and designed to provide both a theoretical and practical knowledge base that will advance ethical leadership.

Case Study Analysis

In recognition of the increasing importance of ethics as a function of educational leadership, the use of case studies as a pedagogical approach to teach practical application of theories in educational administration has gained wide recognition and acceptance. According to Milheim (1996), "[w]ell-designed cased studies can provide a significant link between concepts learned in a traditional classroom and their eventual application in a professional work environment" (Discussion section, para.3). Case studies provide instructors with an effective tool adaptable to a variety of learning mediums. Text-based formats, role play, group discussion, videotape, and computer simulations are effective tools used to present case studies to students. These teaching tools avail the student of multi-sensory materials that more closely resemble real world experience (Curtis & Gluck, 1993). Starratt (1991) explains that too often practitioners fail to receive sufficient practical guidelines to inform their daily actions. This learning gap is significantly narrowed when the practitioner is able to supplement case study learning with life experiences. Milheim (1996) suggests that knowledge acquired through situated learning is amplified by engagement of the learner, instructional materials, and the environment. The net effect provides the practitioner with the knowledge and experience necessary to improve daily decision making (Milheim, 1996). Thus, this paper uses the case study approach as a vehicle to enhance the relationship between theory and practice.

Shapiro and Stefkovich (2000) have made significant strides toward bridging the gap between theories of ethical leadership and the practice of educational leaders. As advocates of reflective practice, they recognize the value of the case study approach to teaching ethics. Building upon the work of other scholars (see e.g., Beck, 1994; Starratt, 1994; Strike, Haller, & Solstice, 1988) they have advocated a multiparadigm approach to case study analysis.

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