How To Post & Comment

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Posting to this Blog is fairly simple. In order to author an original post or comment you must be issued an invitation. That can be done by emailing the blog administrator at Next you will need to create a google account using the email address that you were issued the invitation with. Google accounts can be created at

Using the sign-in option at the top right corner of the blog you can enter you google account id and begin posting.

From there begin by composing your narative in any word processing software. Then select New Post from the top right hand corner of this page and copy and paste your material directly to the message box that appears. When you have finished select Publish Post from the options at the bottom of the page.

Alternatively you may email me directly at and I will arrange to have your narrative posted. If you wish to remain annonymous please note that information in your email.

Do not forget that you are able to comment on others posts in addition to composing your own narratives. Comments work in the same technical manner as posting an original composition but they are archived slightly different.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.

Mark P. Murphy
Educational Leadership
The Pennsylvania State University

Sunday, October 19, 2008

If it's not broke, oh, it is broke?

Note: This post was authored by "Carrie," a public school principal, and posted by the blog administrator.

"If it's not Broke, oh, it is broke?"

In my job as principal among other responsibilities I manage the building budget. Facilities, tools, supplies, and equipment cost money. What gets attention and support; what waits?

One of my most recent dilemmas involves where to spend our limited school resources. The superintendent created an entrepreneurial environment during her tenure. This included grant writing, planning for matching funds, and utilizing the building from early morning to late at night. If she had her way we would run 24/7/365 and make a reasonable return on the investment.

When the building, tools, and equipment are used hard repair and replacement are inevitable. Here are my choices for this week:

Hand washing stations in 8 labs need repaired or replaced; replacement costs for each station estimated at $7,000 and $10,000 each or $90 per hour for time and pay for materials as needed.

The cafeteria manager and the baking and pastry chef share the walk-in freezer. The food service manager (who moved to another district) ordered in bulk over the summer for fall delivery and government surplus was also delivered recently. The chef is gearing up for several large events in October and November and the other cafeteria managers have no room in their freezers at their schools. Additionally the three door reach-in freeze in the baking and pastry lab was diagnosed with two warped doors needing replaced at the cost of $1,400 each or to replace the entire freezer at the cost of $6,700.

With the help of local and grant funds over the past few years several of the manufacturing labs received new equipment, power, floors, and paint. The welding lab nearly doubled in floor space and equipment. Something having to do with the tig welders continues to set off the fire alarm pull stations in random parts of the building. It seems the additional tig welders or the movement of all the tig welders to a new bus bar or the ground or the proximity to the fire alarm wires creates the alarm. As the building principal you do not want to see your volunteer fire fighters several times over the course of two weeks. The company that installed the wiring and panel and the monitoring company do not suggest the same repair; electrical contractors are currently providing quotes. To date fixes range from internal and low cost and external over $10,000.

A major piece of equipment in the manufacturing cluster program is down and repair costs exceed 50% of the old equipment; a new piece could cost $20,000 or more. There is another class in the building with the same equipment.

The maintenance supervisor has been out since the end of May.

You may ask where the dilemma is. While these are facilities and equipment concerns students and teachers are impacted.

Interpretation of the problem (ethic of critique)
Stakeholders in this situation are students, teachers, maintenance/custodians, employers, community, and me. Students could be without a voice, are often impacted, and they do not know. For example the instructor teachers on other machines and does not use the manufacturing equipment or tig welder. The employers are impacted when the student applies for a job and starts working lacking a skill set. The community feels the clash when prices go up or the student employee loses a job. We also have adult education classes in the building; adult students also pay for training which should include tig welding.

Teachers take pride in their labs and their students. Teachers without proper facilities, equipment and tools are demoralized. This can be a very vocal or silent group. Maintenance and custodians work to keep facilities and equipment clean and safe, another vocal or silent group.

Relevant arenas of practice consist of self, profession, and organization. I see this as circle or figure-8 race track: self v. profession v. organization. When I refer to self I refer to each individual student, teacher, maintenance/custodian, and employer involved. These individuals clash with the profession and organization that should provide and yet have limited resources. The organization’s limited resources force a choice or choices providing for some and not all involved in the dilemma.

I believe pride in work and self are values in the conflict.

The turbulence created from the conflict impact morale and a feeling of helplessness. The teachers want the best for their students and themselves. When facilities and equipment are less than optimal discouragement descends.

Towards a humane response (ethic of care)
In this situation different stakeholders are faced with some similar and different levels of motivation. For example all stakeholders are concerned with values grounded in preference i.e. self, personal preference, habitual, and comfort. Students, teachers, employers, and community are motivated by outcomes. Is the student getting the proper training on the proper equipment? Are the facilities adequate? Is the student employable? Perceptions of others, consultation, and expert opinion are gathered when deciding where to spend money. This is not an experience in which the trans-rational appear.

The conflict is interpersonal for some and intrapersonal for me. The teachers, employers, and maintenance/custodians are at times at odds with one another. The intrapersonal conflict for me is the ultimate decisions for committing the resources. The human needs are to value and feel valued and validated by committing the funds to the program/s.

Ethical action (ethic of justice)

I believe the action or response that would maximize benefits and respect individual rights for all stakeholders is to give everyone new, now; this is not an option. I return to a much used educational word: adequate. Adequate sounds inadequate, sounds less than I want in my lab, in my school, for my students, or for my teachers.

Do the ends justify the means? And if this is truly an ethical dilemma how will I resolve the dilemma? In this example I lean toward avoidance and creative insubordination. Avoidance is not unconstructive in this regard; it is the solution that considers the desired outcomes and avoidance of negatives. There is a fine line between insubordination and subordination and in the above circumstances working in a team often drives the best results. The ends v. means? I liked the newspaper test reference. If this was in the paper tonight or tomorrow, what would I say? How would I feel? Would I still be working here?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Narrative of a Critical Incident of My Professional Life

"Narrative of a Critical Incident of My Professional Life "

Note: This narrative was written by "Thomas" and posted by the blog administrator.

For more than a decade, my home country, Liberia, had undergone a deadly civil crisis. When I matriculated to the University of Liberia in September, 1987, I didn’t complete my study when a civil war hit Liberia on December 24, 1989. During this period, I escaped along with some people and was in the bush for several days. My intention was to flee to Ghana but the possible route for me was to go through the Republic of Ivory Coast, also known as Coted’Ivoire.

My siblings and mother who were in the country side escaped to Ivory Coast during the early stage of the war. I was happy to hear that they had fled. At last, I was successful to cross into Ivory Coast in August, 1990. While in Ivory Coast, I wrote and passed the United Nations teachers recruitment test designed to select qualified Liberians to teach Liberian refugee children enrolled in UN assisted elementary schools. Selected teachers were given in-service training to strengthen their instructional and classroom management skills. I started teaching in the school system in September, 1991. As a refugee and teacher, my allowance (salary) was relatively good to cater for my mother and siblings since I was only one somehow educated and working. In 1993, I informed my mother and siblings that I was going to resign and leave for Ghana. I explained to them that Ivory Coast being a French speaking country, I would not be able to meet my career goal in life and the level of contribution I envisaged to make to my family, community and country would not be realized. The concern of my family was the job and support they received; in other words, they could not think about the big picture I was considering. The dilemma experienced: Should I resign from the job and go to Ghana for a study that I wasn’t certain about in terms of financial resources, and forgo the earnings and family’s needs? This was a hard decision to make; however, after considering the economic and aesthetic values of knowledge, social prestige, and, self esteem, I convinced my family that resignation from the job was unavoidable, and I was prepared to take the risk. I resigned and departed for Ghana in April, 1993. After a period of struggle in Ghana, I was offered admission and won a UN scholarship.

In 1997, I completed my BS degree study at the University of Ghana. I returned home where there was relative calm. I secured employment with the University of Liberia as Teaching Assistant in Agricultural Engineering. I was never motivated by the professor whom I work with. I assisted the students in tractor driving and maintenance, mathematical problem solving, and marking of papers. He would permit me to read a book for day when I needed it for a week to digest the materials in order to help the students. My professional life became miserable and started hating the course because he was not just my pivotal person. I decided to return to Ghana for graduate study since I was not defining myself professionally.

Dilemma experienced: Leaving job and not certain of financial support for graduate study became a serious dilemma. However, I took the risk and resigned from the job as Teaching Assistant, and left for Ghana for the second time.

Upon arrival in Ghana, I secured a teaching job with at high school known as Precious Jewels Foundation School System. The principal and proprietor of the school was my former schoolmate at the University of Ghana. While in the school, I was appointed as elections chairman to conduct the student council elections for academic 2002/2003. The principal’s son was vying for the position of school president. Another student, a male, was opposing the principal’s son. Instead of the principal allowing the students to make decisions about their choice through ballots, he wanted me to determine the outcome of the elections in favor of his son. Dilemma experienced: Should I maintain my little earnings by faking the result in the interest of the principal or make a moral judgment as a result of my professional values and accept losing income? When the elections result was about to be announced in the school auditorium, the principal called me to meet him in his office. I refused to attend to his call because I considered it my moral obligation to remain impartial until the release of the final result. The principal’s son lost the elections and his opponent won with a very wide margin. This brought rift between the principal and me. As a result of my efficacy in instructional activities and leadership, I was supported by the teachers and student populace.

Seeking financial support for graduate study, I applied to the Association of African Universities head office in Accra, Ghana, for a Ford Foundation International Fellowship. The competition included 1400 applicants. After an initial review, 20 applicants of the initial 1400 were invited for personal interviews. A total of nine applicants were determined to be qualified for a fellowship and I was one of the nine. I was admitted at Penn State University for my Master’s degree study (2003-2005). Dilemma faced: Should I stay in America to defy immigration regulation and work or return home to contribute my quota to the development of my war ravaged country under a life threatening condition? In support of my inner conviction to impact lives of young people and community leaders, I returned home and secured job with a regional based NGO, Social Enterprise development Foundation of West Africa, and was able to contribute meaningfully to the development of my country.

Applying the Value Audit Process: Begley, P. (2005). A Value Audit Guideline. Penn State

Step 1: Interpretation of the Problem (ethic of critique)

-The stakeholders include: Family members (mother, brothers, and sisters), principal, teachers, professor, students, friends, organizations, and I.

-What arenas of practice are relevant? The relevant arenas of practice are self, profession, organization, community, and culture. For example, “self” is relevant as an arena of practice because my focus is to bring about self esteem and self actualization socially, economically, and professionally. In this way, my moral stand in decision making is paramount. The meta-value of profession is critical as an arena of influence.

-Does the conflict exist within an arena or between two or more? Example: personal vs. organizational. The conflict exists within an arena. The conflicts existed within an arena and also between two or more people, in relation to my values, the meta-values of my profession (i.e. aesthetic, economic, and ideological purposes) community, culture or organization. For example, making a decision to leave my family and resign from a job in Ivory Coast for a study which I didn’t have money for, was indeed a conflict within the self. The situation at the high school was a conflict between two or more people.

-Can the values in conflict be named? The values are integrity, goal-achievement, commitment, responsibility, honesty, justice, courage, and patriotism.

-How much turbulence are the values in conflict creating? The degree of risk was high for all dilemmas experienced. For example, if I had not gotten a scholarship, I wouldn’t have gotten my first degree.

Step 2: Towards Humane Response (ethic of care)

-What motivations and degrees of commitment are apparent among the stakeholders?
The levels of motivations among the stakeholders include the following:
Concerned with self, personal preference, habitual, comfort. Earning a higher degree would give me a higher income; high self esteem; and a high social prestige.
Concerned with desired outcomes, avoidance of undesirable. My family didn’t want to starve (avoidance of undesirable); therefore, my being on the job to help sustain them, was their desired outcome.

Concerned with ethical postures, first principles, will or faith. My decision was and has been basically embedded in faith.

-Is the conflict interpersonal or intrapersonal? The conflict is interpersonal and intrapersonal. For example, when the dictatorial and unprofessional practice of the principal was opposed, it became an interpersonal conflict. Taking a moral stand to announce the fair results of the elections became intrapersonal (within me).

-What are the human needs, as opposed to organizational or philosophical standards? Human needs are physiological, security, self esteem, and self actualization. These needs were considered at levels. For example, when I resigning from a UN job in Ivory Coast to travel to Ghana for study, my mother and siblings were concerned about food to eat and house to live in, which represent physiological and security needs. On the other hand, I was concerned about self esteem and the thought of empowering them economically in the near future.

Step 3: Ethical Action (ethic of justice)

-What actions or response would maximize benefits for all stakeholders?
For example, I rendered fair judgment in declaring the election result of the high school openly. I remained impartial and the student populace and teachers accepted the result as being free, transparent, and fair, although the principal wanted the result to favor his son. Secondly, my desire for further education enabled me to secure employment after completing master’s degree and was able to build a better house for my mother.

-What response would respect individual’s rights? Response in line with values that an organization or institution is subscribed to or a meta-value of one’s profession. For example, in the case of the high school, our individual rights were respected.

-Are desired ends or purposes interfering with a selection of a means or solution?
Yes, indeed, the desired ends interfered with the process of selection a solution. For example, the desire of self esteem interfered with the sustenance plan of my family since I had to resign a job that was sustaining all of us.

-If an ethical dilemma exists, I can resolve it by taking a moral stand. I took a moral stand at the high school in opposing the principal’s dictatorial and unprofessional behavior. I ignored his threat of dismissal and did the right thing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

As if I needed more motivation to gripe about local school politics...

Critical Incident

My first passion has always been baseball. I still fantasize about a career covering a major league baseball team for a newspaper, or calling games on the radio each night, or anchoring SportsCenter on ESPN. I let my obsession wane as I got into my career, but having XM Satellite radio with every broadcast of every game has rekindled some of the old flame.

I read baseball books constantly as a boy. Roger Angell, Roger Kahn, Peter Gammons, David Halberstam, and others were my literary role models; my fellow English teachers wonder why I haven’t read Hawthorne or Fitzgerald. I wonder why they don’t appreciate what it meant to be a Brooklyn Dodger fan in the early 1950’s.

For as much as I appreciate the history of the game and the literary tradition of baseball, I enjoy playing and coaching the sport even more. I’ve been in a competitive men’s league in my hometown area for the past 13 years, and had the opportunity to coach at the Junior Varsity level for two years while teaching in Local School District. This time as a coach is the subject of my critical incident.

When I first took the position, an area man who ran an auto body shop had taken the varsity coaching position from a teacher who had coached for a number of years but had very little success. The new coach, who we’ll just call BB, had played softball with my dad in their younger adult years. My father also officiated his wedding ceremony, so yes, we had met. He also had a reputation as a hot-head who was notoriously more interested in his players on the field than in the classroom or outside school. Knowing all of this, I learned quickly to expect the unexpected from BB.

During that first year, we were able to keep nearly all the players who started. BB’s varsity team did a fair job of playing up the their competition, but were not talented enough to win a lot of games. My JV team did not fare very well, but we played hard and were competitive in some games where we should not have been. I declined the offer to move up and be the varsity assistant, however, because of many instances where BB and I clashed over how issues such as the importance of players being academically eligible and my high expectations for my players to grasp complex nuances of the game. BB said on numerous occasions that he didn’t care about his players in the classroom, and also that our players could not handle advanced signal systems because they were “just from around here.” He also did a poor job of managing games on the field and routinely embarrassed himself with poor conduct directed toward umpires and other coaches.

Our second year went poorly, as you can tell. Record-wise, my JV team did very well, winning a very prestigious tournament against three top teams. The varsity players quit the team in droves, leaving BB little choice but to call up players from my team to fill the holes. I was left with as few as two players for practice. My role as a teacher, and a well-liked teacher, was to catch the players who quit and try to bring them back, while commiserating with them that playing for BB had become nearly impossible.

At the end of the season, I applied against BB for the varsity job, knowing full well that I would not be offered the position. BB had painted the school’s golf cart, and donated money for the after-prom party. I had done great work in the classroom and on the field as a coach. The politics of the school leaned toward BB. I did not choose to come back as JV coach again. There is some tongue-in-cheek material in this paragraph.

Thankfully, I met the new softball coach and worked alongside him as the varsity assistant for the next two years. The bitter taste that had been left in my mouth by a corrupt organization that would rather have BB as its varsity coach than me was appeased somewhat by the fun Jack and I had with the softball team. We didn’t win much, but we molded a group of young women into a team that learned how to care about their performance. This opportunity to teach young people to take pride in preparation and how you carry yourself despite long odds for success was great character-building experience.

Value Auditing a Critical Incident (Paul Begley, Penn State, 2005)

Step 1: Interpretation of the Problem (ethic of critique)

The stakeholders in this critical incident were quite varied, ranging from players and parents of players to the coaches involved to the administrators charged with hiring coaches. The stakeholders with the most voice were BB and the administrators, both of whom had much more influence with their voices than the players. I had a voice, although it was subordinated by my lack of political “pull.”

Throughout this time, relevant arenas of practice included self, group, profession, organization, and community. There was much conflict between these arenas. For example, my personal passions for teaching and coaching young people in an ethical manner with strong moral components clashed with administrators and BB’s desire to maintain organizational practices focused on political and bureaucratic traditions. This struggle between self and organization is one that dominated my years at Local School District. I will maintain, however, that without this struggle I would not have entered administration and encountered the measure of success I have had. I can fairly maintain that the turbulence of the conflicts between BB and myself pushed me out of the pit of bureaucracy and community politics and above the fray. This is the first time I’ve ever commented that I am better for not getting the job I wanted so badly.

Step 2: Towards a Humane Response (ethic of care)

The stakeholders involved had divergent motivations. But, and here is where I have a more cynical view of meta-values, each major stakeholder claimed the same motivation.

I had motivations concerned with self and personal preference (my passion for baseball); motivations concerned with desired outcomes (a winning baseball program with young men who were successful on and off the field); and motivations concerned with ethical postures (a baseball program needed a coach that cared about doing things the right way).

BB’s motivations were concerned with self (his son was on the team, he played there in high school); avoidance of undesirable (winning was placed above player development and academics); and ethical postures (a baseball program needed a coach that cared about doing things the right way).

The administration’s motivations were concerned with self, desired outcomes, along with an interesting twist of concern for the perceptions of others. At the meta-value level, however, that similar ethical posture was there as a refrain (the baseball program needed a coach that cared about doing things the right way).

So, we have three different stakeholders who cared about “doing things the right way.” What was the right way? Was it my value system? Was it BB’s? Was it the administration’s? Each set of values was different, although we each wanted the same result. Hence, my hesitation to blindly advocate for meta-values; there must be more grass-roots effort expended to establish common “mini-values” before a meta-value can mean anything at the organizational level.

Step 3: Ethical Action (ethic of justice)

There is an old saying in baseball: “you’re only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher.” I feel the same way about justice in public school systems. While the maximized benefits for the student athletes involved in the baseball program would have been to have a coach in the school who valued each person’s overall worth and contributions both on and off the field, the administration did not see the situation the same way. They felt that they owed the auto body shop owner who painted the golf cart a coaching job, even though he repeatedly embarrassed himself with umpires, lost many players due to personality conflicts, and alienated parents because of his coarse manner.

The decision made was wrong. There is no question in my mind that an unethical decision was made by the athletic director when I applied for the coaching job. It has little to do with me personally, and I feel comfortable saying that now that I am at a school where we deliberately work to make ethical decisions free from political influence. It was the wrong decision because those involved had to suspend their own morality and values to retain a coach who consciously subverted their administrative vision for student programs.

Now, let me qualify something: I made the right decision for myself and the players. I could not continue as JV coach. The “ends” of a successful program were interfered by me being in the building and BB being out of the building. The best solution for the program, no matter who the coach turned out to be, was for one of us not to be involved any longer. The players had too much of an outlet for complaining about BB with me, which undermined his efforts. This was addition by subtraction since one of us would not be involved any longer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008



Note: This narrative was authored by ECM and posted to the blog by the blog administrator.

As a middle school reading teacher, I worked as part of the middle school team. Because my district was tiny—fewer than 800 students—all the middle school teachers (grades 7-8) were on the same team because there was only one teacher for each subject area for both grades. Other members of the team included: the science, social studies, math, English, learning support and writing/public speaking teachers, and the blended and guidance counselors. The middle school principal, nurse, and school psychologist were also official members of the team, though they only came to meetings if necessitated by a specific situation. The team met every day for 40 minutes, during which time we discussed student academic, social, and emotional issues, as well as complaints about administrators, parents, and all the other issues that typically promote faculty grumbling. We also met with students and parents, held IEP conferences, and planned middle school events.

I should point out that while I considered most of my colleagues to be excellent teachers, my teaching style was quite different. My desks were arranged in groups of four; I had a reading corner with a lending library, bean bags and carpet; and my classes were largely based on small and large group discussions and projects related to text. My colleagues subscribed to the more traditional classroom set-up and lecture formats.

The extent of my participation in team conversations was determined largely by topic. On a number of occasions, our team got into heated arguments over policies, and responses to organizational dilemmas. At other times, the whole team would debate a student issue or school policy with an administrator or the school psychologist. Team members also argued issues directly related to the practice of teaching and to the students. One such case was the deliberation over the possibility of sending Maria to the alternative school, housed in a defunct garment factory next door.

I thought this was the worst idea anyone could ever have considered! Maria was a Mexican-American student who had just moved into the district one year ago and received learning support for a reading disability. (She was the only Mexican-American student in the school.) Her mother was a drug dealer who, after a drug arrest, purchased a bus ticket and went to Mexico to live with her boyfriend, abandoning her children. Maria’s younger brother (a sixth grade student in the elementary school) had overdosed on cocaine earlier in the year and was lucky to survive. Maria was taking care of her younger siblings with no parent in the house until Children & Youth finally stepped in and placed Maria with a foster family in the district who knew her and her family.

Because of all of these factors, naturally Maria had some trouble with authority figures. I sent her to the office on a number of occasions, myself, until I figured out how to relate to her. Other teachers could not make the situation work, and, consequently, Maria spent many after-school hours in detention. So, it was no surprise when three of the team members, including the learning support teacher (who had a very large teaching load), proposed that Maria should go to the alternative school.

The alternative school was tiny, bursting at the seams with students from our district and a neighboring district, ranging from grades 7 to 12. One and one-half teachers and an aide were in charge of the alternative school. Students completed their work online in the mornings and were free to play computer games, as a reward for good behavior, in the afternoons. The students in the school were mainly drug dealers and other habitual disciplinary problems. It was basically a dumping ground for those students who teachers could not cope with in the regular building.

I entered this debate with passion. Why would we send the abandoned daughter of a drug dealer to this building? What good would we accomplish by placing her with drug dealers? What would we be teaching her by abandoning her yet again? Didn’t we owe it to this girl to spend some extra time with her? My worries fell on deaf ears in our team meeting, so I met with the blended counselor on my own. She agreed that it would be a bad placement for the student, but the teachers and the principal did not want to deal with her anymore. I talked to the principal. He wanted to do what the team requested. The foster mother agreed to the move because Maria was behind in her coursework, and the principal assured her that Maria could make up any lost time (up to one school year) in the alternative education setting.

This was a really challenging interpersonal situation for me. While I was concerned about the impact of this decision on Maria, my colleagues were concerned about the impact her behavior would continue to have on their classes. We were arguing from two very different perspectives. I had the minority voice, so we shipped her off to the alternative education building mid-year. Two years later, I still feel that we failed Maria.

Step 1: Interpretation of the problem:

The stakeholders included the teachers, counselors, administrator, Maria, and her foster mother. Maria was voiceless. Her foster mother agreed to the placement because she thought Maria could make up an academic year in the five months remaining in the school year.

The following arenas of practice are relevant: self, professional, organizational, community, cultural, with conflict occurring between and within multiple arenas. Conflicts existed between the self and organizational and between the professional and organizational. My values conflicted with the values I perceived in the organization—order and conformity over the individual. I also felt conflict between my personal professional values and those of my colleagues—I was willing to spend extra time without an aide to help Maria with her coursework, but my colleagues were unable or unwilling, in some cases, to act similarly. I believe conflicts existed between the organizational and cultural, and community and cultural, as well, which made it so difficult for my colleagues to work with this student, many of whom were from the district community or a neighboring community, both with homogeneous rural populations.

Values in conflict included: flexibility, adaptability, obedience, authority, justice, conformity, teamwork. The values in conflict created some turbulence within the team as the blended counselor and I lost an impassioned battle over what we perceived to be dangerous social and academic risk to one student.

Step 2: Towards a humane response:

I think my colleagues were concerned with the self and preference, as removing Maria from their classrooms would create a less challenging experience in their classrooms. I think they were also concerned with desired outcomes—fewer distractions from Maria would mean more uninterrupted time and focus spent on content. The counselor and I were concerned with avoidance of undesired outcomes—we saw a move to alternative education as possibly disastrous for Maria’s future. Maria’s foster mother and the principal were concerned with perceptions of others and consensus among experts, which they largely received. The conflict was interpersonal, with colleagues differing in values, motives, and actions.

The human needs were, for Maria, the sense that people around her cared enough to spend the extra time required to help her understand content and develop positive relationships of caring. Maria’s foster mother had a need to feel that she was taking proactive steps to help Maria further her education and improve her behavior.

Step 3: Ethical action:

The actions taken by the principal—sending Maria to the alternative education building—maximized benefits for most stakeholders. Maria would no longer be a distraction in my colleagues’ classes. Keeping Maria in the regular school and providing her with increased counseling services and academic support would have respected her individual rights. A more open team system, in which colleagues shared effective practices in working with learning support or behaviorally challenging students, might have alleviated discipline problems concerning Maria before alternative education was even considered. The ends did not interfere with the means for the majority because sending Maria to the alternative building alleviated distractions in my colleagues’ classrooms. The ends would have interfered with the means if we were making a decision based on best interests for the student and her potential for academic and social success.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Disaster Avoided

"Disaster Avoided"

Note: This narrative was authored by JTW and posted by the blog administrator.

It was approximately 8:05 a.m. in the morning. School had just begun. The resuscitation of the pledge of allegiance and the moment of silence was completed in each classroom of the school. As I prepared to leave my office to begin a formal observation of a teacher, Mrs. Light came rushing into the office. She looked at me and said, “I do not know what to do about this so I am bringing it to your attention.” She opened the palm of her hand to reveal a 22 caliber bullet!

I immediately asked her where she found it. She explained that as she was closing her door to begin class she found it laying directly outside her door on the floor. I began to think furiously as to what my next move should be. Is there a possibility that there is a student in the building with a gun? Are they planning on using it to harm another student or a teacher or possibly me? Are they already executing a plan somewhere inside the building? I calmly said thank you to Mrs. Light and told her that I would take care of the situation immediately and asked her to return to her room.

I immediately called the Superintendent to inform him of the situation. He was not in the district that day, of course, but he asked me to get the administrative team to my building as soon as possible and together we would discuss what course of action needed to be taken to ensure the safety of all involved. As I was waiting for the administrative team to convene I decided to notify the school over the intercom to stay in their classrooms until further notice and asked the teachers to be certain to lock their doors from the outside. I could not take the chance of having someone enter a classroom and begin a shooting spree; all I could think about was the incident at Columbine High School.

I directed the custodian to check all exterior doors to ensure the security of the building. Anyone who came to the main office door was allowed to enter but was asked to remain in the office. I was certain that as soon as all of the administrators from other buildings began arriving at my building that the office staff would realize that this was not going to be an ordinary day.

At approximately 8:30 a.m. we convened a conference call in my office with the Superintendent. Together, as a team, we collaborated on what was our next move. Police, both state and local were notified as well as the Sussex County bomb squad. We requested the bomb dog be brought from the Sussex County into the building to make sure that we did not have a gun in the school that possibly had already been fired. We also decided that we would collectively search all rooms, available space in the school as well as students and their lockers. Basically we decided that it was necessary to make a sweep of the entire building inside and out, for it was the only way to ensure the safety for everyone inside the school.

An announcement was made over the loud speaker that everyone would need to stay in their classrooms until further notice and any classroom emergencies should be called into the main office. We knew that we were under a time constraint due to the amount of building space we needed to search and the amount of students and their lockers that would need to be searched. There was also a time constraint due to students and teachers being locked in rooms without food, water and bathroom facilities.

At approximately 8:45 a.m. we began to search all areas including lockers, rooms, and students. We began in the front hallway where the 22 caliber was initially found and systematically went through each hallway, room and locker one at a time. The local police provided us with metal detecting wands to use to scan the students. At approximately 9:35 a.m. the Sussex County police dog arrived and was taken through the building to alleviate fears of a fired weapon. The building both inside and out was determined to be safe and by approximately 11:00 a.m. all students were able to move about freely and classes resumed for the remainder of the day.

A letter was drafted, as per the Superintendent’s request, explaining the incident. I was very relieved that this seemed to be an isolated incident, possibly a bullet that fell out of a student’s pocket that was left there from a weekend of hunting.

At approximately 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon that same day, Miss Uply came into the office and asked to see me. She too had something in her hand. She looked at me and said, “I’m not sure what to do about this but I thought I should bring it to your attention.” At that point and time I thought déjà vu! What could possibly be wrong now? She opened her hand and unfolded what looked like a Kleenex and inside the Kleenex was a pocket knife. I looked at it in disbelief. How could this day go so wrong? First a 22 caliber bullet and now a knife! She must have saw the look on my face and said to me, “I do not think this one is as bad as our incident earlier.” Shannon gave this to me because she was afraid that she would get into trouble. She knew that you were searching everyone so before you searched her she hid the pocket knife in a tissue box in the classroom. When the searches were over she retrieved the knife and gave it to me and asked me to bring it to you and explain to you what she did. To make a long story short, this young ladies father is a knife maker and she had the pocket knife left in her sweatshirt pocket from the weekend and forgot it was there. When her class was told that they would need to be searched and they were asked to empty their pockets she found the pocket knife, panicked and hid the knife before she was searched.

I brought Shannon into my office and asked her to explain what had happened and how the pocket knife came into the school. It was not my decision to make as to whether she would receive a suspension or possibly even an expulsion due to a weapons violation, but I did promise her that I would speak on her behalf as to the sincerity and cooperation that she showed in my office. Fortunately, we do not have a zero tolerance policy and the superintendent understood that mistakes can be made and told the student that if there is another incident such as this one she will be suspended and an expulsion hearing will occur.

Let me take you back to the 22 caliber bullet. Approximately a month later, rumors throughout the student body were brought to my attention. A specific student was being tied to the 22 caliber bullet that was found in the hallway outside Mrs. Light’s doorway. We checked the students schedule and indeed he was a student in Mrs. Light’s first period class. We called Fred to the principal’s office and explained to him the severity of the situation and that we were being told by many students that the 22 caliber bullet found the previous month was his. Fred confirmed and apologized for not coming forward. He explained to us that he was afraid of the consequences of his actions and did not want to be chastised by his peers. As previously thought, he was hunting over the weekend, thought that he had taken all of the ammunition out of his jacket pocket and obviously missed one.

In light of now knowing what happened on that day should Fred have a consequence for his actions, or non-action, on the day of the incident? Police were involved, the school day was disrupted. We do have a school board policy #713 which states if a student impedes or delays the educational process they can be disciplined by reprimand, detention, suspension or even expulsion. We decided to give the reprimand, taking into consideration the student’s previous record and sincerity.

Both of the incidents presented could have been disastrous from many aspects, but because of level heads, collaborative teamwork and cooperative students, staff and faculty, the day was salvaged for academia to continue. This day made me realize that I am capable of providing leadership to my school. Even more so, I can be an effective member of an administrative team.

Step 1: Interpretation of the problem (ethic of critique)

• Who are the stakeholders? The stakeholders from the incidents of the day are Mrs. Light, Miss Uply, Fred, Shannon, all students, parents, administration, superintendent, office staff, custodial staff, local and state police, Sussex county police and the bomb dog.

• Are any unrecognized or without voice? Due to how the incidents originated the students, teachers and parents are without voice. They had no control as to the events that occurred. They were a captive audience due to the possible severity of the situation.

• What arenas of practice are relevant? The arenas of self, group, profession, organization, community and culture were all relevant.

• Does the conflict exist within an arena or between two or more?
The incidents conflict is between the culture and the organization. The culture is one of acceptance of guns, ammunition and knives due to the number of people in the community that hunt for food or play. The organization, in this case the school, exists to educate. The organization is not accepting of weapons within the school setting, however is willing to be understanding of mistakes made. There also is a conflict between self and the group due to the fact that not all students and their families are accepting of hunters and their use of weapons. This is a case of a few interrupting the education of the majority.

• Can the values in conflict be named?
In this specific scenario the values of profession, care and critique are all aligned. There is a question however as to whether or not justice was served due to the fact that neither student truly received a punishment as such, other than a reprimand. One could say that a certain faction of the community would be in conflict with the value of justice in this case.

• How much turbulence are the values in conflict creating?
There is a degree of risk for structural damage to people, specifically the relationships between students, teachers and the administration because of the disruption that was caused for all. This incident could also cause damage to the relationship between the community and the school administrators. I believe the one salvation is that the community is never privy to what consequences are given to students, unless of course the student shares the information with other students, then all bets are off!

Step 2: Toward a Humane Response (ethic of care)

• What motivations and degrees of commitment are apparent among the stake holders?
Mrs. Light and Miss Uply used rational values that were grounded in consequences. They were concerned about the outcomes that the weapons would bring for everyone involved. Fred and Shannon were acting sub-rationally when they brought the weapons to school and grounded in consequences when they acknowledged their mistake to the administration. Fred also was grounded in consensus. He was concerned of what his peers would say or do if they found out it was because of his actions that they had to be locked in their classrooms for quite some time. The superintendent required the use of rational values that were grounded in consensus by the administrative team. The remainder of the student body, faculty, staff and parents had no motivation and commitment, as previously stated they were a captive audience.

• Is the conflict interpersonal (among individuals) or intrapersonal (within an individual)?

I believe the conflict is both interpersonal and intrapersonal. It is interpersonal because there are many stakeholders involved. It is also intrapersonal due to the beliefs that both of these students have in regard to the value and purpose of a weapon which is in direct contrast to the thought process of the value, or non-value of weapons within the educational system.

• What are the human needs, as opposed to organizational or philosophical standards?
The human need, first and foremost, in this scenario is the safety of the students, staff and teachers in the school. The organizational or philosophical standard is the weapons policy that is in place to deal with organizational factors and needs for the educational environment within the school.

Step 3: Ethical Action (ethics of justice)

• What actions or response would maximize benefits for all stakeholders?
In this scenario, I believe that the actions taken by administration did maximize the benefits for all stakeholders. All decisions were made in a timely manner to minimize the disruption of the school day and the educational process.

• What actions or response would respect individual rights?
I believe the individual rights were respected due to the lack of a zero tolerance policy.

• Are desired “ends” or purposes interfering with the selection of a “means” or solution?
The desired “ends” of the school is to ensure that the student’s education is not impeded or delayed. When a weapon is brought into a school, intentionally or unintentionally, the educational process is delayed. It is our jobs as administrators to minimize the impact the decisions of students have on the educational process. All stakeholders were treated equally in this scenario.

• If an ethical dilemma exists (a choice between equally unsatisfactory alternatives), how will you resolve it?
I have always prided myself in taking a moral stand. I believe that we compromise our character if we do not.