Moral Responsibility: The Missing Element in Educational Leadership

By Vasillopulos, Christopher; Denney, Morgan | Higher Education Studies, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Moral Responsibility: The Missing Element in Educational Leadership


Vasillopulos, Christopher, Denney, Morgan, Higher Education Studies


Abstract

We intend to deepen the understanding of leadership in general and educational leadership in particular by an analysis of Chester Barnard's (1938) concept of executive responsibility. By so doing we believe that we will reveal how an educational leader can foster the environment in which competent teachers can optimize their students' learning experience. We will contend that Barnard's (1938) theory of executive leadership and organizational effectiveness would have dealt much better with the dilemmas of Billy Budd than either Rand (1957) or Gomba (2012) and by extension would deal much better with the kind of organization either would suited to their models.

Keywords: educational leadership, servant leadership, Ayn Rand, Chester Bernard, Billy Budd

Persons as participants in specific cooperative systems are regarded in there purely functional aspects, as phases of cooperation... as outside any specific organization, a person is regarded as a unique individuation of physical, biological, and social factors, possessing in limited degree a power of choice... Both are always present in cooperative systems (Barnard, 1938).

1. Introduction

Although leadership is not a new concern in educational circles, the literature on the concept has burgeoned over the past few years. In a rapidly changing world, saddled with precarious economies, political upheaval and a variety of problems more directly related to education, schools have been driven to reconsider academic leadership. The hope is that something called 'leadership' or some new kind of 'leader' will be able to deal with the problems besetting education in the 21st century. Just as there seems to be a consensus that education consisting of 'skill and drill' is no longer adequate, there seems to be an appreciation that old fashioned principals and superintendents will not be able to handle the demands of the new century. We agree with the need for fundamental change in educational practice, we also believe, however, that these changes will be misconceived or when well-conceived will founder on an inadequate understanding of schools as organizations.

There is a consensus that the prime directive of schools is to create an atmosphere in which competent teachers can optimize learning for their students. Increasingly, the corollary of this consensus is that educational leadership is essential to the fulfillment of this objective. In other words, placing a competent teacher in a classroom is not sufficient for learning to take place. Something more is needed: leadership. A review of the literature seems, however, to indicate a widespread misunderstanding or inadequate understanding of the concept of leadership. Without a deeper understanding of leadership, to speak of educational leadership seems futile. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that much of the literature, including that which calls for radical or structural changes, conceives of educational leadership in traditional terms, largely unchanged, despite protestations to the contrary, from the late 19th and 20th centuries (English, 2011). We intend to deepen the understanding of leadership in general and educational leadership in particular by an analysis of Chester Barnard's (1938) concept of executive responsibility. By so doing we believe that we will reveal how an educational leader can foster the environment in which competent teachers can optimize their students' learning experience. Good theory leads to good practice.

There seems to be a consensus that creating an optimum learning environment is the prime moral responsibility of leadership. Our difficulty is not with this important objective as stated, but with leaving it at that. For as such very little is said beyond: (1) schools are institutions of learning; (2) it is important that learning takes place there; (3) school leaders are obliged to fulfill this mandate; and (4) leaders should lead. All of these points are valid, but they do little more than define what a school is when it has a person responsible for fulfilling its mandate.

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