Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Major Professor

Janice Fauske, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Zorka Karanxha, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Lenford Sutton, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Phyllis Jones, Ph.D.


Critical Incidents, Dilemmas, Leadership, School Administrators


There has been a renewed interest in the inclusion of ethics as part of educators' training and interest in understanding the moral and ethical dimensions of educational practice. This research was designed to study the types of dilemmas school level leaders face, the characteristics of typical dilemmas, and the implications for leader preparation, professional development, and practice.

In documenting the lived experiences of former school level leaders, the grounded theory approach to qualitative inquiry and the critical incident technique (CIT) were employed. Data collected from interview sessions, dialogs, journals and reflections were used to analyze the types of dilemmas school level leaders faced, the characteristics of typical dilemmas, and the implications for leader preparation, professional development, and practice.

This study confirmed the prevalence of ethical dilemmas for school level leadership. The critical incidents shared by the participants revealed that school leaders were guided by district policies and experienced dissonance or tension between their guiding ethical beliefs and policies or expectations of the district. The data determined that school level leaders sought to act in the best interests of students. Participants acknowledged that the core of their ethical and moral fiber was developed early in their youth and was reinforced by pivotal life experiences. This acknowledgement suggested that pivotal life experiences could influence an individual's ethical and moral fiber. The findings also indicated that professional development in ethics could be effective for school level leaders. Additionally, the data revealed a dichotomy around whether ethics could be taught. The findings were inconclusive in determining how race and/or gender played a significant role in the dilemmas that school level leaders face or the resolution of the dilemmas. Further research and study of this issue may be warranted in light of the changing demographics of our schools, communities, and school level leaders. Critical reflection proved to be a process that could benefit practicing and aspiring school level leaders. Exploring how this process could be implemented in school leader preparation and professional development programs is a phenomenon worthy of further research.