Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Major Professor

Leonard Burrello


autoethnography, dilemmas, Ethical frameworks, narrative analysis, school leadership, vignettes


The purpose of this autoethnographic narrative inquiry was for the researcher to describe and explain how he discovered, constructed, and refined his sense of moral purpose as a principal during his seven-year tenure at Orange Pines Middle School. He inductively analyzed and reflected primarily on self-authored texts tied to critical professional ethical dilemmas so as to discover emergent themes, patterns, insights, and epiphanies in the development of his persona as a morally directed school leader. He then analyzed and reflected on how he applied those defined values in interactions with groups of teachers to design and implement elements of school reform. He re-created these critical events through descriptive vignettes in which he captured personal and social implications of the experiences using Clandinin and Connelly's model of three-dimensional narrative space.

In this study the researcher probed especially problematic ethical dilemmas he experienced while working as principal. He viewed the events through the multidimensional ethical frameworks of care, critique and justice of Starratt; the ethic of community described by Furman; and the ethic of the profession, posited by Shapiro and Stefkovich. Included is a discussion of moral purpose by Fullan and Sergiovanni, ethics by Begley, Senge, and others, leadership theories, and perspectives regarding interpersonal conflicts between principals and their staff. The researcher found the ethics of care, justice, critique, community, and the profession provided a useful framework for his professional reflections. He was able to describe and capture the tensions within the dilemmas through the specific language utilized by Starratt, Furman, and Shapiro and Stefkovich to analyze and understand the issues packed within each dilemma. Through the application of these frameworks he determined that his moral purpose has been to approach the position of school leadership with a combination of compassion and justice, in order to establish a collaborative and synergistic school community that works for the greater good of students.

The study calls for more autoethnographic research into the dilemmas administrators teachers face in their daily practice, arguing that the best way to improve public education in this era of intense scrutiny and accountability is through the qualitative analysis of individual cases. The author places his particular constructivist approach to autoethnographic narrative inquiry within the broader philosophical background of qualitative research. This study contributes to the literature by showing focused insights into how representative ethical conflicts and dilemmas school leaders face during their daily practice can shape and guide their moral pursuit of effective school reform. It also shows ways that theoretical knowledge can inform professional practice.