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The Ethical Line

The Ethical Line
10 Leadership Strategies for Effective Decision Making

Foreword by Douglas Fisher

June 2019 | 168 pages | Corwin

Be the leader your school community needs

The responsibilities of school leaders are increasingly complex. In this book, you will find a problem-solving model to help you think through morally complex situations. These steps will enable you to arrive at innovative solutions that are ethical, logical, culturally sensitive, and in the best interests of students. 

Packed with real-life vignettes, mental exercises, reflections, checklists, and other templates, these strategies will help you

  • Understand how ethical standards and core values drive your leadership choices
  • Approach problems through a lens of equity and care for the students entrusted to you
  • Recognize when urgent action is called for and when it’s better to slow down in order to thoroughly consider your actions and the potential consequences of those actions

As a leader, you face difficult challenges every day. This book will help ensure that the decisions you make are right for your students—and for the whole community.


Foreword by Douglas Fisher
About the Author
The Ethical Line  
Temptations Lurk Everywhere  
Tough Choices  
How This Book Can Help  
Features You Will Find  
Chapter 1: Know Thyself
Strategy #1: Identify and Model Your Core Values  
The New Normal  
Your Ethical Line  
Right vs. Right Situations  
When Moral Compasses Falter  
Strategy #2: Be Curiously Introspective  
Find Kindred Spirits  
Practice Self-Care  
Express Gratitude  
Build Resilience  
Take a Cognitive Time-Out  
Pause to Regroup  
Calm Mental Chatter  
Dare to Imagine  
Chapter 2: Examine Your Community’s Values
Strategy #3: Listen Generously  
Characteristics of Outstanding Listeners  
Practice Empathy  
Strategy #4: Create an Inclusive School Climate  
Promote Emotional Well-Being  
Engender Teamwork  
Facilitate Collaborative Leadership  
Recognize the Signs of an Unhealthy School Climate  
Stimulate a Healthy School Climate  
Foster Collective Efficacy  
Strategy #5: Discover Your Community’s Hopes and Dreams  
Explore Community Assets and Examine Your Leadership Privilege  
Take the Pulse of Your Community Regularly  
Empathic Interviewing  
Strategy #6: Unify Around a Collective Vision  
Which Values Guide Your Organization?  
Making Sense of Norms and Codes of Conduct  
Study Colleagues’ Behavior  
Chapter 3: Adhere to Ethical and Legal Parameters
Professional Standards for Educational Leaders  
Strategy #7: Consider Moral and Legal Consequences of Decisions  
PSEL Standard 2: Ethics and Professional Norms  
Lead With Moral Courage  
A Framework for Making Ethical Decisions  
The Seven Steps of Ethical Decision Making  
Strategy #8: Ensure Equitable Processes and Outcomes  
PSEL Standard 3: Advocate for All  
Chapter 4: Promote an Ethical School Culture
Strategy #9: Walk the Talk  
Be an Architect of Equity  
Model Innovation and Empathy  
Provide Clear Rationale for Decisions  
Characteristics of Constructive Dialogue  
Strategy #10: Become a Strategic Influencer  
Defining Moments  
Mental Preparation  
Facilitate Win–Win Situations  
Never Stop Learning and Growing  
Implementation Steps  

This is a must read for any school leader. We face ethical decisions every day. This book provides practical and realistic tools to help every leader who is faced with challenging situations and decisions throughout their school year. The author does a superb job of aligning the leaders heart, head, and ethics in the decision-making process of school leaders. The students and staff reap the benefits from a leader inspired by this book.

Holly Leach, Superintendent, Everett, WA
Holly Leach, Superintendent, Everett, WA

This book provides useful strategies and structures, drawn from the field, to assist leaders at all levels better understand the complexities if ethical leadership.

Ray Boyd, Principal; Beechboro, Western Australia
Ray Boyd, Principal; Beechboro, Western Australia
Key features

Three professional frameworks of educational standards are referenced in Chapter 1 and are included in the appendices:

Appendix A:  Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSELs):  United States
Appendix B:  Australian Professional Standard for Principals and the Leadership Profiles

Appendix C:  National Professional Qualification for Headship:  United Kingdom


All schools exist within their own distinct community. Their local beliefs, culture, history, values, and vision influence the ways access and opportunities are provided to all students.  The role of the school principal has evolved into an instructional leader who both manages the daily operations of a school as well as leads the community towards academic excellence.  The congruence of professional standards from 3 different continents demonstrates the recognition of shifting school communities at local and international levels. 


The challenges faced by school leaders may differ from site to site, but the specific, ethical, and mindful ways problems are approached and effectively solved are universal.  Understanding and utilizing standards enable any leader to consider and contribute to a 21st Century, multicultural global society.  Utilizing a problem-solving model that outlines the steps of thinking through uncertain situations will enable leaders to arrive at innovative solutions that are ethical, logical, culturally sensitive, and in the best interests of the students they are charged to serve. 

San Diego State ‘Roadshows: With support of the Wallace Foundation, the Educational Leadership Department at San Diego State is currently engaging in a redesign of the Administrative Services Credential program.  One of the core courses of the program is EDL 655, which was redesigned from a focus on teamwork to ethical preparation.  The tenets of ethical leadership are no longer isolated and are now woven throughout the other six core courses of our program.  SDSU’s program redesign includes instruction related to the new California Administrator Performance Assessments (CalAPA’s) that are required before licensure.  Our program redesign has been recognized by California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the state-wide licensing body, as a model for other credentialing institutions in California.  We are currently presenting and sharing our course sequence, syllabi, and all materials to the other universities in California.  These ‘roadshows’ occur three times per year; higher education faculty from each university attends, hears our presentation, and is given access to all materials in our program.


Further, the Stuart Foundation is supporting this statewide educational leadership program redesign by selecting 3 to 5 universities in California for SDSU faculty to partner with and lead their redesign efforts.  I am a part of these processes and envision sharing my EDL 655 syllabus and required reading with higher ed faculties.  If I were to publish with Corwin, I would have numerous, excellent opportunities to personally share the book with the higher education faculty who teach courses on ethical and equity-driven leadership as well as the other core courses that are necessary for aspiring principals to fulfill the requirements for an Administrative Credential in California.

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ISBN: 9781544337883