This proposal is presented to support a joint research project between Professor Charles Burford of The Australian Catholic University and Professors Luigina Mortari and Valentina Mazzoni of Verona University. This project is the initiative of work conducted between the three academics during Prof Burford’s visit to the University of Verona in November 2012 and during the visit of Professor Mazzoni to the 7th International Conference on Catholic Educational Leadership held in Sydney, Australia in August 2013, at which she presented her paper on “ Discovering Virtues with Children”.
The research and writings of the University of Verona academics on virtues education with children integrates; and in many ways complements, the Australian researchers on moral purpose as foundational motivations in teaching and leading and the investigation of models of discernment and action regarding moral behaviour by teachers and leaders. To further integrate and expand the two research designs is the purpose of this proposal. The Australian research has focused on teachers and leaders analysing the purpose behind their decisions regarding educational actions while the Italian research has focused on the child’s discernment and action. This project will investigate the link between the teacher’s and leader’s purpose for teaching virtues to children and the perception of all stakeholders as to purpose of such actions.
The following outlines the approach being undertaken in the researching of the Australian model and presents a conceptual framework that attempts to aid understanding of the moral discernment process of leaders and teachers dealing with educational decisions such as that being investigated by my Italian colleagues.
LINKING PURPOSE AND MORAL DISCERNMENT
The recognition that leaders in service organisations, such as schools, experience moral and ethical tensions when balancing the demands of competing stakeholders, in areas such as utilising student achievement data, has been reported in the SOLR Project by Duignan et al (2003), and Duignan and Burford (2003). That study found that leaders in contemporary organisations require frames of reference that can assist them to manage situations of uncertainty, ambiguity and seeming contradictions or paradox. The challenges facing leaders in both the SOLR and Pettit (2010) research are complex and multidimensional, with many of these challenges presenting themselves as tensions where value choices are often between right-right, rather than right-or-wrong alternatives (Kidder, 1995). Finding optimal resolutions to such situations demands mindsets and approaches based on understanding the value elements and purposes within the decisions.
The capability of leaders to recognise, articulate and prioritise values in the leadership of organisations has been a consistent focus of writers and researchers on leadership over the past thirty years (Burns, 1978; Fullan, 2002; Hodgkinson, 1996; Sergiovanni, 2005; Starratt, 2004; Willower 1981). The writings of these authors have, to varying degrees, focused on the construct of “moral purpose” and associated leadership processes described variously as “moral potency” (Hanna and Avolio, 2010), “moral agency” (Bandura, 2006) and “moral literacy” (Tuana, 2007). Essentially, all these leadership foci view the ultimate effectiveness of the leadership process and the outcomes of organisational goals as resting in the pursuit and fulfilment of the moral and ethical needs of all individuals involved in leadership processes.
However, the experiences and research by Burford suggest the existence of multiple purposes that act in tandem to influence a leader’s capacity for, and conduct of, moral discernment for decision-making as a precursor to judgement and action. Using the context of leadership decisions involving the use of data on student achievement, it is posited that moral decision-making is influenced by moral discernment of the relevant issue which are created by six interrelated purposes; sometimes complimentary and sometimes conflicting. These purposes have overlapping but differing origins in moral, personal, professional, organisational, public and cultural influences. These purposes interact at differing levels and strengths on leaders who, through the process of moral discernment, create meaning and direction for decision–making from the resolution of the demands of these purposes.
In attempting to understand the influences on moral discernment, it is useful to construct a taxonomy to describe and classify the six purposes, and to show how they interact with one another as a basis for moral decision –making. The framework for such a classification is shown in Figure 1
FIGURE 1: MODEL FOR MORAL DECISION-MAKING
Figure 1 clusters the six purposes that impact on a leader’s/teachers facility for moral discernment into three classification groups or dimensions: Interior (comprising Moral and Personal Purpose), Function (Professional and Organisational Purpose) and Environment (Public and Cultural Purpose). The dashed lines between the Purpose types indicate the fluid nature of the interaction between each, with no one component being mutually exclusive from the others. Each dimension and Purpose will be examined in turn to indicate their influence on moral discernment as a basis for subsequent decision-making and action.
Purpose of The Verona Study
The study would integrate the two research interests by investigating the understanding of the pressures, tensions and the purposes behind the actions of teachers and leaders in schools that were cooperating in the children’s virtues project. The research question would be:
“What purposes are discerned by teachers and leaders involved in the teaching for virtues approach?”
The purpose would be to explore the capacity of teachers and leaders to discern how differing purposes influence their decisions about what is virtuous and what is worth being taught to children about virtues.