The Ethical Educator:
Pointers and Pitfalls for School Administrators

The Ethical Educator: Pointers & Pitfalls for School Administrators is an accessible, nuts-and-bolts resource for education leaders at the school and district levels as they confront difficult ethical situations in their day-to-day work. The book features 100 real-life cases drawn from School Administrator magazine’s Ethical Educator column over the past ten years.

The dilemmas encompass numerous aspects of administration, from First Amendment and religious liberty issues to personnel and board relations. Every case provides an opportunity for the reader to consider how they might handle a similar situation and to reflect on the perspectives of experienced administrators who explain how they would address the dilemma. Each chapter begins with a down-to-earth introduction by a nationally recognized school district attorney, who touches on relevant legal parameters and case law.

Making ethical decisions tests us as administrators, for those decisions set precedents that shape how others perceive our ethical judgment and, in turn, the ethical identity of the school or district. The Ethical Educator: Pointers & Pitfalls for School Administrators will help the reader become a more effective education administrator, a more courageous leader of a school organization, and simply a human being with a greater sense of ethical alignment and purpose.

Praise for The Ethical Educator: Pointers & Pitfalls for School Administrators

With the escalating challenges school systems are facing, The Ethical Educator can serve as a desk reference for superintendents and other administrators as issues arise. This book provides dozens of real-life, straightforward cases ranging from conflict of interest to student and employee discipline to personnel to board relations and more. This is practical guidance I wished I had access to during my 27 years as a superintendent. The insights contributed by the authors come at a time when the need for excellence in public school leadership has never been more vital in our country.


Today’s events and circumstances bring unprecedented challenges, continually confronting leaders with difficult and unclear choices. At the heart of the most perplexing challenges are those that require thoughtful decision making, especially those that have limited precedent or legal guidance or are of greater complexity which must be framed in ethical terms. Leaders who anchor deliberation and decision making in an ethical framework will find themselves on more solid footing. The Ethical Educator is a most timely resource and should be a must-read that is placed on every leader’s bookshelf to be pulled down at those moments of difficult decision making when leaders need guidance and support. 

Gene Wilhoit, founder, Center for Innovation in Education; past Kentucky Commissioner of Education; former executive director, Council of Chief State School Officers

Every superintendent and school administrator should keep a copy of The Ethical Educator: Pointers & Pitfalls for School Administrators handy. By compiling and augmenting a decade’s worth of AASA Ethical Educator columns, the authors have created a resource for K-12 leaders that is filled with thoughtful analyses of real-world ethical dilemmas involving conflicts of interest, grading practices, taking stands on community issues, and many other topics. When ethical questions arise, this guidebook will assist superintendents and school administrators in arriving at sound and well-reasoned answers.

Craig Hawkins, executive director, Coalition of Oregon School Administrators

The authors have constructed a remarkable illustration of ethics as a leadership function, not a management task. While circumstances often are nuanced, doing the right thing requires transparency and the courage to meet issues head-on. For current superintendents and other education administrators, it is a reminder that who you are and what you do defines the organization. This is a must-read for those aspiring to lead a school district. The examples are authentic, trustworthy, and easily digested. In summary, this work reinforces Einstein’s observation that relativity applies to physics, not ethics.

Joseph J. Scherer, chief executive, National Education Exchange; past executive director, Superintendents’ National Dialogue

When it comes to curriculum, instruction, and so many other topics, district leaders know that they must adhere to a strong set of ethics and values. These authors bring depth and breadth of experience to issues in education, law, and the complexities of running schools. You will appreciate their thoughtful and pragmatic approach. I highly encourage you to keep this book as a resource for many years to come.

Sandy Husk, interim CEO, ASCD; past CEO, AVID Center; former district superintendent

In these challenging times, how we lead with care, empathy, and commitment to equity matters as much as what specific actions we take. This book offers down-to-earth guidance and support for administrators striving to follow an ethical path, make the right decisions in complex situations, and serve as ethical role models for students, teachers, families, and communities.

Linda Darling-Hammond, president, California State Board of Education; the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus, Stanford University; founding president, Learning Policy Institute

This book is a welcome tool to help school officials and their attorneys make ethical decisions. The topics cover the waterfront of legal and ethical issues faced by school leaders, and the book’s advice comes with great storytelling, humor, and insight.

Joy Baskin, Esq., education counsel and associate executive director, Texas Association of School Boards; past chair, NSBA Council of School Attorneys

Given the dilemmas that education leaders face, easy answers are a rarity and decisions are often subject to intense public scrutiny. Over the years, I and many of my colleagues have turned to AASA’s Ethical Educator column for practical insights and useful approaches to the challenges we face. In a time when every decision is questioned, this book is a much-needed resource to help us reflect on the how and the why of our decisions and to remind us that ethically grounded solutions will best serve our students and all our constituents.  

Aaron C. Spence, superintendent, Virginia Beach City Public Schools

The superintendency can be a lonely position. Since dilemmas are often politically charged or confidential in nature, the superintendent can’t readily confer with others in the school district. This book delivers a much-needed network of experienced colleagues who offer thoughtful and practical guidance on many of the toughest issues faced by school leaders. I predict that copies of The Ethical Educator will soon be marked-up with margin notes, dog-eared, and residing on the desks of superintendents everywhere. 

Colt Gill, director, Oregon Department of Education; adjunct professor, University of Oregon; former district superintendent

The Ethical Educator provides practical insights on the real dilemmas faced by school administrators in the day-to-day operation of our schools. The book’s hypotheticals are easily understood because they arise regularly in schools all over the country. The book is well-grounded in law and policy and is anchored in overriding principles designed to serve the common good. It would be an excellent resource for small-group discussions among school administrators and board members. 

Jim Walsh, Esq., partner, Walsh Gallegos Treviño Kyle & Robinson P.C., Austin, TX; former member of board of directors, NSBA Council of School Attorneys; author, education law blog 

Superintendents deal with complex issues daily. Today’s problem for a neighboring superintendent may well be yours tomorrow. Sharing varying perspectives on these problems tends to produce better decisions. The Ethical Educator is a terrific tool to do just that. 

Thomas A. Scott, executive director, Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents; former school superintendent

I am so excited to share The Ethical Educator with my graduate students. As a retired P-12 administrator who now teaches aspiring principals and superintendents, this book is just what I’ve been looking for. There has never been a more challenging time to be a school or district leader. Complex decisions have to be made in real time every day—often without precedent or clear foundation. The cases in The Ethical Educator are thought-provoking and authentically reflective of the kinds of difficult situations administrators will almost surely face.