ASCL Ethical Leadership Commission: Openness and kindness

In the Framework for Ethical Leadership we propose an educational reworking of the seven principles of public life, and six virtues. Openness is one of the principles, kindness is one of our virtues and we express them this way: 

Openness: School and college leaders should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner.  Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

Kindness: Leaders should show generosity of spirit and good temper.  They should treat everyone with respect and understanding. Governors should demonstrate kindness and humanity, expecting to see those in school leaders while they strive together.

Openness is easy for me because I like to talk but thinking about kindness makes me feel guilty. If my mother were here she’d fix me with a look, chew her lip and issue a “hrmph”, followed by “Too fond of a smart remark”, or “Watch your mouth.” You know the kind of thing mothers say. 

Knowing that, I’m careful at work.  I like structures that protect values and I err on the side of humanity when I can.  If there’s an unpalatable message, I try to deliver it kindly. If there’s a decision to take, I try to take it openly.  If there’s a way for a colleague or a child to come back from the brink, I try to offer it. However, difficult decisions come with the territory, so I’m ready to make them. 

In all these cases, procedures give kindness and openness physical form. We have clear expectations of one another in an adult workplace, and set processes when things go awry.  When we are dealing with taxpayers’ money we need especially to be transparent.  Agreed ways of going about things - fairly done without fear or favour - enable us to shed light on our actions and to reassure.  We are all equal before the law, and we should all be equal before the steady processes of our institutions. 

I was speaking at an event once about the principles that should inform our working lives when a question from the floor asked the inevitable question about ’getting rid of ineffective teachers’. This question infuriates me for about a million reasons; we should resist the lie that our schools are littered with useless teachers, or that we don’t have a way of maintaining quality, or that anyone who doesn’t buy into a ‘macho head’ is hell-bent on forcing little children to endure year after year of bad teaching because ‘You can’t sack them’. 

A good society

Schools are generally well stocked with good teachers. We all have ways of monitoring and checking that they stay good. We move heaven and earth to protect the classroom experience and spend hours and money trying to keep skilful people in front of every class. But sometimes it fails.  It is only right that if I make a judgement that a person isn’t suitable for my school, or suitable for teaching at all, that I should prove it, or try to help that person become better, or both. If I fell on hard times, I’d expect the same help. It can’t be done overnight.

That’s how a good society works.  Everyone deserves a fair hearing, and no-one should be at the mercy of the boss’s emotions and stresses.  The person I’m dealing with may be beyond annoying, but I might just be having a bad day. She is worthy of being treated with respect, and helped in her hour of need. He is worthy of more than the minimum standard of employment relations. 

Why? Because we all deserve to be treated fairly and we all deserve the reassurance about how we’ll be treated. My mother (and my children, bless ‘em) may know me as short-tempered and easily bored, but that has no place in my working life.  Respect, humanity, even temper, fair and transparent processes underpin kindness and openness in our workplaces and they set the best example of civilised behaviour to our children. It’s the categorical imperative, the golden rule, the sine qua non of adult professional behaviour.  Do as you would be done by. 

Do you think our proposed principles focus on the right things?  

Do you think school leadership in the UK lives up to this vision?  

What are the key issues that school leaders face?  

Are there barriers to school leaders behaving ethically? 

How might we support school leaders to be ethical leaders? 

Please email with your thoughts.

You can also read Carolyn’s series of blogs on ethical leadership in education, and the origins of the ASCL Ethical Leadership Commission.

ASCL Past President Peter Kent has also written Doing the right thing which looks at ethical leadership in education from an international perspective.

Posted: 05/03/2018 15:29:00