A New DEEL for Our Future: Democratic Ethical Educational Leadership in a Turbulent Era Steven Jay Gross, Temple University
Why we started the New DEEL In the face of repressive accountability regimes and the high stakes testing focus in education in the US and beyond, colleagues around the world joined committed practitioners to take action. We call this movement the New DEEL (Democratic Ethical Educational Leadership). Our group was born in the academic year 2004-2005, when faculty members from six universities, practitioners from various educational organizations, and the Executive Director of the University Council of Educational Administration (UCEA) joined forces.
The New DEEL Mission Statement: The New DEEL’s mission is to create an action-oriented partnership, dedicated to inquiry into the nature and practice of democratic, ethical educational leadership through sustained processes of open dialogue, right to voice, community inclusion, and responsible participation toward the common good. We define leadership broadly to include faculty, students, staff, parents, and community members, as well as educational administrators because we believe that each of these groups is needed to create democratic ethical communities.
New DEEL 2004-2012 what we’ve accomplished, where we are heading Since 2004, we have grown to include colleagues from over thirty universities as well as numerous school districts in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Hong Kong, Sweden, Australia, Taiwan and Jamaica. We have held five successful international conferences We have produced significant scholarship and are in the midst of expanding our work to include support for new scholarship, better internet and social networking opportunities, larger conferences, and a mentoring program for scholars and practitioners. Hundreds of educators around the world are members of the New DEEL listserv and keep up with our work through monthly listserv blasts.
New DEEL Democratic Course: fall 2012 Profiles in Ethical Leadership. A comment on the power of exemplars in our work….
Inner Responsibility: A Principal’s Story This is the story of a highly respected elementary school principal who was challenged when a small group of students narrowly missed standardized test targets, thereby placing her school in academic warning. How would she maintain faith with the school’s mission of creating, “A caring community of learners connecting our learning spaces to the world outside,” and still respond to the state’s demands? Seeing herself as the school’s lead learner, chief worrier, and biggest advocate, she found ways to keep herself and her school community focused. In her own words, “After many restless nights (working) through the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s appeal process, I remain steadfast in my resolve that my values and beliefs are central to my modus operandi and are essential for personal and professional balance. If I am not balanced, then my teachers will feel it and consequently may not be balanced in their classrooms, ultimately rattling our students.”
Expansive Community Building: One Case from 9/11/01 The second exemplar highlights a Head Start Director who worked near the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. This leader understood that community building occurs both inside of the school and beyond its walls. So she went to work establishing a strong sense of connection with her staff and with the children in her programs as well as their families. But she did not stop there. Reaching out to the community, she became known and trusted, as did her program. She made connections simply because it was her approach to education. She did not realize it at the time, but she would save lives. No one started their morning on 9/11 thinking that this would be a day that re-defined extreme turbulence but, of course, that is just what happened. What would this leader do when facing this existential critical incident? She immediately brought her staff together giving each on an assigned role to protect the children and maintain as much calm as possible. Then a parent from the community, who was active in the school, brought a yellow bus to the door. Amazingly, a citizen from the community offered a tugboat that took the children to safety. This was not simply a case of being cool under extreme pressure. Hers is an example of holistic leadership building community internally and externally. In normal times, the fruit of this approach create rich connections but in the crisis of extreme turbulence, this network of relationships meant the difference between safety and harm for the children and staff of her program.
3. Integrating democracy, social justice, and school reform: One Superintendent’s Courage and Vision
Integrating democracy, social justice, and school reform: One Superintendent’s Courage and Vision In this case a superintendent in a rural state is challenged by unequal funding for its schools. Students in several of his district’s schools simply did not have the proper resources they needed just because their towns did not have a reasonable tax base to draw upon. Everyone seemed to recognize the injustice but few were ready to act. Besides, who could go up against long standing state policy? One day a trusted board member from one of the district’s poorest schools sat down with the superintendent and shared his frustration. The children in this school were being systematically robbed of their chances for a better education and a better life. What would this superintendent do? Rather than despair, he thoroughly researched the state’s funding formulas, met with the most hard hit families in his district, contacted attorneys willing to challenge the state’s funding laws, worked on the case until it reached the state’s supreme court which overturned the funding system and finally worked with the legislature to craft and then pass a more equitable system of financial support for all of that state’s school children, regardless of the wealth of their communities. This superintendent led the reform fight for a just and democratic funding formula through the use of scholarship, dialogue and decisive action.
4. Ethical decision making: A Guidance Counselor Uses Rachel’s Challenge in the face of Tragedy
Ethical decision making: A Guidance Counselor Uses Rachel’s Challenge in the face of Tragedy A high school guidance counselor facing a series of devastating student crises is an exemplar of this part of the New DEEL Vision for Educators. Her school, famous for academic achievement and ample resources, was also known for catastrophes including suicides. The response after each crisis was professional but this guidance counselor was left wondering, why are we so capable after each tragedy yet not as active in trying to prevent them in the first place? Simply following established procedures was not doing enough to stop more students from suffering. She was facing an ethical dilemma. On the one hand, she could follow the procedures and be safe. On the other hand, she could take responsibility for inventing a different approach, even though it meant doing so alone. The rules said one thing but her concern for students and her belief that more was needed to respond to the best interest of those students led her to a different conclusion. It meant finding a new approach in character education that could increase student resilience and then making that program part of everyone’s experience. She explored and found Rachel’s Challenge, named after Rachel Scott, the first person killed at Columbine in 1999. Rachel was well known for reaching out to students who had few friends. She was an exemplar of kindness and the program named for her is designed to increase kindness and inclusion for all students at her school. This guidance counselor, working with colleagues and student leaders, helped to redefine her school’s community and made it more democratic by making it more caring. She faced and responded to her ethical dilemma with courage.
Career as a calling: The Case of Muhammad Yunus The fifth part of our vision raises the issue of educators as public intellectuals, people who leave the confines of the school or university to pursue their vision in the wider world. One of the clearest examples of a public intellectual in our time is Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Prize winner and founder of the Grameen Bank. Yunus was a university professor of economics in Bangladesh who could easily have settled into a comfortable life of privilege. But then he came face to face with human suffering and had to make a choice. His sense of education as a calling compelled to action in support of poor women, trapped in debt. Through small loans, he was able to help local women escape a life of near slavery to the money lenders but that was only a start. His vision of micro- lending as a way of promoting new enterprises among the poorest people in the world opened up a new dimension of possibility for millions. His approach, building economic opportunity from the bottom up, challenged conventional thinking while it brought about nearly universal success everywhere it was tried. Yunus is an educator in the largest sense of that word. His sense of mission and calling have led to democratic social improvement.
Conclusion We live in an era where the definition of educational leadership is polarized. For some, it means strictly following the prescribed accountability system laid out by higher authorities. Other educators are responding to a different call. This call focuseson the need to support democratic citizenry as a first priority and to emphasize empathy, creativity, and the connection between schools and social conditions around the world. These educators face the combined challenge of leading in an era of heightened accountability while responding to their inner spirit. Their challenge is often compounded by a nagging sense of isolation. We believe that our positive, compelling vision for educational leadership will serve as a critical guide for the rising generation of democratic ethical educational leaders.
Selected References: Brasof, M. (2009) Living democracy: How constitution high school molds better citizens. Social Education. V73 n 5. pp207-211. Gross, S.J. (2009). (Re-) Constructing a Movement for Social Justice in our Profession.In A. H. Normore (Ed.) Leadership for Social Justice: Promoting Equity and Excellence Through Inquiry and Reflective Practice. Charlotte, N.C. Information Age Publishing 257-266 Gross, S.J. & Shapiro, J.P. (2009). Fear versus possibility: Why we need a new DEEL for our children’s future. In Shapiro, H.S. (Ed.). Education and Hope in Troubled Times: Visions of Change for our Children’s World (pp.90-103). New York: Routledge. Israel, M.S., Marks, W.M. (2012) Federal Accountability and compliance: The need to build ethical resiliency within current and future educational leaders. The Journal of the Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum. V12 n 1. pp. 113-140 Mitra, D. L. (2008). Student voice in school reform: Building youth-adult partnerships that strengthen schools and empower youth. Albany, NY, State University of New York Press. Normore, A. H. (Ed.). (2008). Leadership for social justice: Promoting equity and excellence through inquiry and reflective practice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. Polizzi, J.A. & San Clementi, E (2012) Using documentary film to teach social justice and global awareness in educational leadership. In Aiken, J. & Gerstl-Pepin, C. Defining Social Justice Leadership in a Global Context, Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing Shapiro, J.P. & Gross, S.J.(2008). Introducing the new DEEL. In Shapiro, J.P. & Gross, S.J., Ethical Educational Leadership in Turbulent Times: (Re)Solving Moral Dilemmas. (pp.165-176). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Taylor & Francis Group. Shapiro, J. P., & Stefkovich, J. A. (2011). Ethical leadership and decision making in education: Applying theoretical perspectives to complex dilemmas (3rd ed.).New York, NY: Routledge.
Please be in touch! Our Website (under construction) is: http://sites.temple.edu/newdeel To join our listserv to get our New DEEL blasts and keep up with our work please email Marla Israel (firstname.lastname@example.org) If you’re coming to the UCEA (University Council for Educational Administrations) annual convention, please join our hands-on session (“New DEELville faces the Common Core: An Ethical Dilemma” Saturday November 17 2-3:20 PM) SAVE THE DATE for the 6th New DEEL Conference. April 4-6, 2013 at Temple University in Philadelphia. The conference title is: Creating and Sustaining Democratic Ethical Citizenry: The Impact of the Current Political and Economic Crisis on Education. Look for our call for proposals in the September New DEEL Blast.