Australian schools are bound by both Australian and international law to provide inclusive education for all students. However, as shown by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability this is not the case for all students with disability. There are still barriers in the education system which are preventing students with a disability to access and obtain a quality education.
One solution is that school staff develop an understanding of and embrace inclusive education. This solution would need school leaders who can lead ethically to develop and sustain true inclusion in their schools.
What is leading ethically?
- An ethic of care is demonstrated by valuing and caring for all members of the school community.
- An ethic of justice is about how a school leader ensures decisions and supports are fair and equitable for all.
- An ethic of critique is about challenging the status quo and considering various perspectives when confronted with ethical dilemmas.
Ethical leadership also involves an ethic of community. This requires school leaders to listen to students’ and parents’ voices. It is about ensuring there is time and space for school communities to work together for long-term commitment and change.
An ethical approach to leadership can assist school leaders to develop inclusive cultures in their schools. An ethical approach to leadership will support the development of a school culture that is underpinned by a clear vision and a set of shared values for the school community.
These values are evident in the organisation’s policies and practices but often lay unexplored in the daily routine of work in schools. Inclusive values shape how leaders and teachers work with each other, and with students and their families. To be inclusive is to enable each student to feel they are connected to their school community and feel like they belong.
How to lead ethically – slowly
Of course, everyone wants a quick fix and school leaders are under intense pressure to make school improvements that align with government policies and priorities. If school leaders want to transform their school to be more equitable and truly include all students, the pace of change needs to be slow. School leaders need to work in ethical ways and commit to long-term improvement so that the school community can achieve a school vision based on shared values. These values give a sense of direction and underpin actions towards others. Trust is essential for an ethical inclusive school culture.
For long-term school improvement, we suggest school leaders consider a “slow schooling” approach. That is, take the time to listen to each other’s points of view in respectful ways, while considering how a school can be more inclusive of members in its community in the long term. This is to assist with unravelling ethical, complex and deeply held thoughts and beliefs and actively consider ethical dilemmas from different perspectives.
Tips for being an ethical leader
- document a clear vision for the school that will support inclusive education for all students.
- create time and a safe space for staff and the school community to develop a shared commitment to inclusive values
- support staff, parents and students to be active and respectful members of their school community
- share and discuss ethical dilemmas to reinforce inclusive values
- enact and model ethics of care, justice and critique in the school community
Leaders at all levels within education systems need to work together in ethical ways to build commitment to inclusive education. It will not be easy to make a true transformation to the core business of how we educate all children. But ethical leaders are needed to support the development and action of inclusive values, policies, and practices in schools. You can read more in our recent publication, Ethical leadership for inclusive schools.
Professor Suzanne Carrington is a Professor and Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Education, QUT Australia. Suzanne’s areas of expertise are in inclusive education, ethical leadership for inclusive schools, disability and teacher preparation for inclusive schools. She has engaged in research to inform policy and practice in Australian and international education contexts and has received over 3.5 million dollars in research funding. She has published over 90 journal publications, books, book chapters and research reports.
Dr Megan Kimber is a senior research assistant in the Faculty of Education at QUT. Her research interests include education policy, ethics and ethical dilemmas and inclusive education. Megan has published broadly with a number of works related to ethical leadership.