Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Major Professor

Judith A. Ponticell, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Tanetha Fisher, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joyce Haines, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Mann, Ed.D.


decision processes, ethical paradigms, school leadership


Researchers and practitioners in educational leadership have used multiple ethical paradigms, such as ethics of care, critique, community, and the profession, to better understand how ethical decisions are made (Dempster et al., 2004). Research in this field noted a gap in ethical leadership skills possessed by leaders and addressed ways in which leaders could gain these skills (Begley & Stefkovich, 2007; Langlois & Lapointe, 2010; Mullen, 2017). But, how do leaders come to understand ethical leadership and decision making, particularly in the context of a particular school or district?

This study used a qualitative, phenomenological design with the researcher incorporating an autoethnographic approach to examine how a group of interrelated high school administrators came to understand ethical leadership in one school district. Semi-structured interviews were used to engage these leaders in thinking about, reflecting on, and talking about their perceptions of ethical leadership, how they came to understand ethical leadership and decision making, and the factors that influenced this understanding in the district.

Results indicated that this group of administrators used a framework developed through one of the participants to guide thinking and to understand the impact of ethical decision making. This thinking process, along with experiences, other leaders, and reflective conversations, were factors that contributed to the participants’ understanding of ethical leadership and its influence on the decisions they made.