Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tension Between Administrative Practice and Ethical Imperatives in Special Education Leadership


Purpose: Given the increasing role of the principal in the administrative and supervision of special education programs and services, this research examines how elementary principals interpret their experience of leadership decision making as a moral activity in relation to the Ethic of the Profession and Model for Students’ Best Interests.

Method: A phenomenological-like research method was used to capture administrators’ perspectives involving moral practice and ethical decision making as it relates to students with disabilities. The primary data collection strategy was participant interviews by means of purposeful sampling.

Findings: Findings challenge the Ethic of the Profession’s injunction, “the best interests of the student,” as a central guiding moral principle in decision making. Evidence exists that the expression does hold some insight as a maxim to guide behavior, especially when principals decide for one student against all or most students within special education contexts.

Theoretical Implications: Participants indicated a distinction and clear difference between the best interests of one student and the best interests of students as a group. Participants viewed the work of deciding and acting in the best interests of the student body as being qualitatively different than working and acting in the best interests of individual students.

Practical Value: Dynamic ethical thinking expressed by most school leaders in this study involved a thick and rich combination of rule referencing; maximizing benefit and promoting nonmoral good; assessing one’s character, motivation, and disposition and responding with empathy and personal investment; being reflective; and maintaining an open posture.

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