Field Notes: Defining morals for effective educational leadership

"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at 

by Bianca Thompson-Owen, MA, Assistant Dean for Enrollment Management and Student Success, School of Health Related Professions - Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Morally compromising situations continue to challenge educational leaders and test their ethical values and belief systems. Ciulla (2003) contends that having defined morals help leaders to make ethical decisions and guide them toward fair and just judgments. According to Shapiro and Stefkovich (2011), the multi-paradigm approach provides leaders with the ability to explore all scenarios of the problem so that they can evoke the best solution.  The multi-paradigms perspective is a holistic approach to morally compromising situations that encourages leaders to be reflective and thoughtful in their decision process (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2011).

Ethics of care, profession, critique and justice

The multi-paradigms are outlined as the ethic of care, ethic of profession, ethic of critique and the ethic of justice (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2011).  The ethic of justice focuses on decisions that are grounded in fairness and equality and place heavy emphasis on following the laws governing their practice (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2011). The ethic of critique examines challenges that may have been caused by the aforementioned paradigm and analyzes any imbalances (Wood & Hilton, 2012). The ethic of care places a heavy emphasis on the value of people and making decisions that is best for improving the quality of people (Wood & Hilton, 2012). The ethic of profession acknowledges the core values within the profession and seeks to uphold these ethical standards (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2011).  When used together and reflectively, these paradigms provide leaders with the best approach for handling morally compromising situations (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2011).  

The relationship between professional and personal codes of ethics

Kidder and Born (2012) state that ethical decisions emerge from personal values coupled with the ability to be in tune with the needs of the institution. These decisions can be clouded by educational leaders personal and professional ethical and moral values. For this reason, and many more, it is essential that educational leaders build consistencies between their professional and personal codes of ethics. Personal code of ethics includes values, leadership philosophies, and moral comprise that help educational leaders navigate through their career. The personal code of ethics can provide a foundation for an educational leader’s professional code of ethics when faced with difficult situations.  A professional code provides educational leaders with a blueprint to navigate through their professional career (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2011). Professional codes of ethics are often aligned with institutional compliances, policies, and ethic statements that provide a standard of excellence for the educational facility.

7 values of effective educational leaders

Exploring the core ethical and moral values for educational leaders, the following are characteristics that are highly congruent in educational leaders personal and professional codes of ethics: integrity, courage, humility, fairness, respect, accountability, and inspiring others. These qualities help shape educational leaders skills and can further develop decision making to encompass a holistic approach. When educational leaders do not have synergy between their personal and professional codes of ethics, this can build ethical paradoxes.

Educational leaders will experience unethical behaviors at some point during their professional career.  As such, it is essential for educational leaders to have firm codes of ethics to help guide their ethical decision-making (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2011). Codes of ethics are paramount in the ethical decision-making process and can help educational leaders facilitate social justice.



Ciulla, J.B. (2003). The ethics of leadership. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Shapiro, J. P., & Stefkovich, J. A. (2011). Ethical leadership and decision making in education: Applying theoretical perspectives to complex dilemmas. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Wood, J.L., & Hilton, A.A. (2012). Five ethical paradigms for community college leaders: Toward constructing and considering alternative courses of action in ethical decision making. Community College Review, 40(3), 196-214. Doi: 10.1177/0091552112448818