February 15, 2006

Model Behavior

By Holloway, John

THERE ARE DOZENS OF BOOKS AND HUNDREDS OF RESOURCES that address the issue of character development in students: how to raise them to be good people, how to teach them to be good citizens, how to help them to make good decisions. Little is written, however, about the character development of principals and school leaders, whose behavior is a model for the students they seek to guide and affect. What role have schools assumed in enhancing student character development and what specific roles do principals and school leaders play in leading these programs and modeling character for the school community?

Relationships That Build Character

Berkowitz and Bier (2005) have researched successful character education programs and describe character education as psychological development that affects a student's capacity and tendency to be an effective moral agent-that is, to be socially and personally responsible, ethical, and self-managed. According to Berkowitz and Bier, character education is most effective when it focuses on the social, educational, and contextual factors that significantly affect the psychological development of character.

To help educators construct meaningful programs that address the issue of student character development, the Character Education Partnership in Washington, DC, has identified 11 principles of effective character education. These principles include the fact that character education:

* Promotes core ethical values as the basis of good character

* Creates a caring school community

* Engages the school staff as a learning and moral community that shares responsibility for character education and adheres to the same core values that guide the education of students.

Bryk and Schneider (2003) feel that character education even transcends the individual student and the classroom and is an essential part of meaningful, overall school improvement. They feel that for a school community to work well, its members must understand their personal obligations and accept expectations others have of them. But for this to work, Bryk and Schneider contend, the principal must play a key role in developing and sustaining trust among the people in these relationships. They have found that principals establish both respect and personal regard when they acknowledge the vulnerabilities of others, actively listen to their concerns, and eschew arbitrary actions. Further, effective principals couple these behaviors with a compelling school vision and behavior that advances that vision.

During my own 25-year career as a high school administrator, I witnessed both positive and negative examples of how principals can influence relationships among members of the school community. One of the easiest traps that some of my former colleagues seemed to slip into was the unequal application of the student code of conduct among different student groups. Obviously, this disparity had a negative effect on students as well as on staff members. On the other hand, I was fortunate to know a colleague in a neighboring school who continually sought ways to highlight the accomplishments of all student groups as equitably as possible, without seeming contrived. This administrators actions not only established a common bond for success among all groups but also greatly contributed to a positive learning environment throughout the school.

Personal Integrity

One way of looking at school behavior and performance is to compare evidence of that performance with a baseline thal describes what principals must know and be able to do. Some guidance in establishing this baseline can come from a set of national standards for school leaders. The Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards for School Leaders (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1996) gives principals and other leaders insight into understanding their role as instructional leaders charged with promoting the success of all students and with sustaining character growth in the school community.

The ISLLC committee adopted six standards that are designed to promote the growth of all students by focusing on such basic elements of school leadership as a clear vision for learning, a focus on teaching and learning, collaboration, and moral and ethical behavior. The fifth standard states that "a school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by acting with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner" (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1996 p. 20). This standard is further defined by several indicators that represent what a principal should know, believe, and do, such as, "The administrator has knowledge and understanding of the purpose of education and the role of leadership in modern society" (p. 20), "The administrator believes in, values, and is committed to using the influence of one's office constructively and productively in the service of all students and their families" (p. 20), and "The administrator treats people fairly, equitably, and with dignity and respect" (p. 20).

Hessel and Holloway (2002) have deconstructed the ISLLC standards to help school leaders translate them into practice. Their framework divides each of the six standards into a set of four components of professional practice for school leaders. For example, the components of practice for the fifth standard are:

* Demonstrating a personal and professional code of ethics

* Understanding one's impact on the school and community

* Respecting the rights and dignity of all

* Inspiring integrity and ethical behavior in others.

By examining the ISLLC standards and then the components of practice for the fifth standard, it becomes evident that school leaders are responsible for and play a significant role in establishing either a formal or an informal program of character development among students and staff members. This role is played out through the qualities of ethics and professionalism displayed by the leader.

As Hessel and Holloway (2002) advocate:

To be true leaders, school administrators must embody and demonstrate the deepest sense of personal and professional integrity, fairness, and ethics. Both in the community and in the school, these leaders must be honest and fair in their dealings with others and possess a set of personal standards grounded on a firm foundation of moral beliefs. This leadership must then translate these high principles into the operations of the school that support learning and promote the success of all students. This leadership is best demonstrated through the leader's creating of a vision for the school that is equitable for all the members of the school community, excludes no one from the opportunity to succeed, and actively assesses each person's progress toward the vision, (p. 92)

Putting Theory Into Practice

What must school leaders actually do to demonstrate these components of practice? Here are some brief examples of how school leaders might actually apply these components in their school communities:

Demonstrating a personal and professional code of ethics. When an individual accepts the principalship of a school, that individual must agree to be held to a high standard of moral and ethical behavior. The principal becomes a role model for the entire school community. As Elmore (2000) stated, "Leaders must lead by modeling the values and behaviors that represent the collective good.... Leaders should expect to have their own practice subjected to the same scrutiny as they exercise toward others" (p. 21). How can leaders demonstrate the values that are so important to effective schools? In this case, it's the little things that count, such as:

* Ensuring that an effective principal performance appraisal system is in place and operational. The performance of students and teachers is assessed, and it's important that the same process is applied to the principal and other leaders.

* Adhering to the school time schedule and maintaining good attendance. Being early and staying later and coming to work each day sends the right message to all.

* Being especially scrupulous in handling all school and student funds. This is a fundamental best practice in leadership. All funds must be maintained within existing board of education policies and according to standard accounting principles.

Simply by adhering to these and other practices, principals can send a powerful message about what they value in creating an effective learning community.

Understanding one's impact on the school and the community. To truly understand his or her impact on the school and community, a principal must establish clear, open lines of communication to get a sense of stakeholders' views. Most principals use a variety of effective techniques to communicate with the school community, such as newsletters and other media. But many leaders forget that for communication to be effective, there must be feedback and dialogue. Only when two-way communication is established does a leader get a true sense of what the school community needs and feels. By being open and accessible to students, teachers, and parents, the principal encourages feedback on the school's education programs and leadership.

How can principals easily implement a solid, two-way communication practice? Some examples could be as simple as:

* Being accessible to students, teachers, and support staff m\embers in the hallways during, before, and after school

* Regularly attending school and community functions

* Creating school leadership teams of students, teachers, and community members that meet regularly to discuss school issues

* Conducting periodic community surveys to gather information about attitudes, needs, and other data to gauge stakeholder opinions.

Respecting the rights and dignity of all. To behave in an ethical manner, the principal must treat each segment of the school community with the same level of respect and tolerance. When school rules and regulations are applied evenly and all students are held to the same high expectations, a principal shows the depdi of character needed to effectively lead a diverse population. There is one danger, however, in being overly evenhanded. Principals must remember that certain students might need additional support or differentiated instructional strategies to meet high expectations. What can principals specifically do to ensure the rights of others are considered?

* Monitor the academic progress of all student groups on an ongoing basis to ensure that all are on track for success

* Use the master scheduling process to ensure that all student groups are equitably placed in courses that are demanding and meet their needs

* Work with teachers and the guidance staff to ensure that all student groups receive the same attention and consideration when establishing long-term educational goals

* Help parents from all segments of the community understand how the school can help their children establish and meet lifelong goals.

Inspiring integrity and ethical behavior in others. How can a principal inspire character values in others? One way is to firmly establish the first three components of practice for this standard in the school community. Beyond this, the school leader can inspire integrity and ethical behavior by:

* Publicly and privately recognizing these positive behaviors in teachers and students. To be effective, this recognition should be immediate and specific. For example, if the principal learns that a student acted kindly toward another, the principal should acknowledge it, sometimes in such a simple way as visiting the student's classroom to thank the student for his or her kindness.

* Publicly recognizing community members or parents who have made positive contributions to welfare of the school or community.

Actions Speak Loudest

The job of ensuring positive character development throughout the school community rests with the principal. How well the principal models the behavior that is expected of the members of the school community determines how the other adults behave. One cannot expect students and staff members to engage in ethical, positive, and moral relationships if that tone is not established by the leader. But if the principal's behavior reveals that he or she is a person of character, it can inspire the entire school community. PL


For a school community to work well, character education must transcend the classroom and be part of how the adults in the community treat one another.

The ISLLC standards identify integrity, fairness, and ethics as characteristics of effective school leadership.

How principals display their character can either inspire or inhibit the development of character in their staff members and students.

When an individual accepts the principalship of a school, that individual must agree to be held to a high standard of moral and ethical behavior.


An educational administrator's professional behavior must conform to an ethical code. The code must be idealistic and at the same time practical, so that it can apply reasonably to all educational administrators. The administrator acknowledges that the schools belong to the public they serve for the purpose of providing educational opportunities to all. However, the administrator assumes responsibility for providing professional leadership in the school and community. This responsibility requires the administrator to maintain standards of exemplary professional conduct. It must be recognized that the administrator's actions will be viewed and appraised by the community, professional associates, and students. To these ends, the administrator subscribes to the following statements of standards.

The educational administrator:

1. Makes the well-being of students the fundamental value in all decision making and actions.

2. Fulfills professional responsibilities with honesty and integrity.

3. Supports the principle of due process and protects the civil and human rights of all individuals. !

4. Obeys local, state, and national laws.

5. Implements the governing board of education's policies and administrative rules and regulations.

6. Pursues appropriate measures to correct those laws, policies, and I regulations that are not consistent with sound educational goals. !

7. Avoids using positions for personal gain through political, social, religious, economic, or other influence.

8. Accepts academic degrees or professional certification only from duly accredited institutions.

9. Maintains the standards and seeks to improve the effectiveness of the profession through research and continuing professional development.

10. Honors all contracts until fulfillment, release, or dissolution mutually agreed upon by all parties to contract.


How well the principal models the behavior that is expected of the members of the school community determines how the other adults behave.


* Berkowitz, M., & Bier, M. (February 2005). What works in character education: A research-driven guide for educators. Washington, DC: Character Education Partnership.

* Bryk, A. S., & Schneider, B. (2003). Trust in schools: A core resource for school reform. Educational Leadership, 60(6), 40-44.

* Council of Chief State School Officers. (1996). Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards for school leaders. Washington, DC: Author.

* Elmore, R. (2000). Building a new structure for school leadership. Washington, DC: The Shanker Institute.

* Hessel, K., & Holloway, J. (2002). A framework for school leaders: Linking the ISLLC standards to practice. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

* Lickona, T, Schaps, E., & Lewis, C. (2003). CEPi eleven principles of effective character education. Retrieved from the Character Education Partnership Web site: www.character.org/atf/cf/ {77B36AC3 -5057-4795-8A8F-9B2FCB86F3EB}/ElevenPrinciples.pdf

* National Center for Educational Statistics. (2004). Indicators of school crime and safety: 2004. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/ pubs2005/crime_safe04/

John Holloway is a school leadership manager in the Professional Development Group, which is pan of the Elementary and Secondary Education Division at Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, NJ.

Copyright National Association of Secondary School Principals Jan 2006