Deeper Moral Purpose

It is easy to wonder what motivates superintendents who overcome challenging odds and accomplish large scale improvement among their system and its students. The work is challenging, to be sure. Especially considering the hard conversations and difficult decisions they face, why do they do what they do? The answer to this seems to be based in a particular belief structure. It comes down to the fact that, while superintendents view the work of continuous improvement to be a collective endeavor, those that are effective actually balance that with a sense of individual responsibility. In other words, they take the successes and failures of their districts as a personal reflection on their own leadership. As such, the drive that each superintendent demonstrates is based in both a sense of responsibility for the success of their system and also on a deeper moral purpose or what might be called the greater good. They view successes and failures in their system very personally.

It is this internal sense of purpose that in turn leads them to make the difficult decisions and have the hard conversations that are necessary to ensure that their principals and each school go back, evaluate what was done, and work to continuously improve. What may make the difference between these leaders and less effective ones is that they harness that deeper moral purpose as a motivator for themselves. Yet, as Fullan (2007) also pointed out:

The key, then, [to "reframing change"] is how to help people feel and be better. If feelings and emotions are the key factors, one would think that an appeal to moral purpose in situations of terrible failure would be a great motivator. Not so. Even in extremely difficult circumstances, moral purpose by itself is insufficient. One also must feel and see that there is a means of moving forward. (p.43)

It seems, then, that the effective superintendents have this deeper moral purpose. And, while not sufficient in and of itself, together with other actions they take, the deeper moral purpose motivates their workforce because they as leaders help people see a means for moving forward by connecting to research, following through on high expectations, and using the many other mechanisms that they put in place in order to succeed.

Connections & Resources

The following indicators in the WISE Tool (Idaho's online planning tool) would make for natural connections for superintendents who are considering making plans related to this topic.

IA09 The superintendent and other central office staff are accountable for school improvement and student learning outcomes. PDF Icon CLICK HERE Link
IB11 The district ensures that school improvement and restructuring plans include "quick wins," early successes in improvement. PDF Icon CLICK HERE Link
The New Meaning of Educational Change

The New Meaning of Educational Change (Fullan, 2007)

In The New Meaning of Educational Change, Fullan explores a number of topics related to systemic reform. In part of the book, he discusses moral purpose as a motivator for change within the larger framework of improvement. In subsequent writings, Fullan has expounded on the idea of moral purpose and how it is at the heart of those who are "change leaders" in school systems. For more information on Change Leaders, Moral Purpose Writ Large, or other related topics, visit Michael Fullan's website at the Center for Development and Learning.

The Moral Imperative of School Leadership

The Moral Imperative of School Leadership (Fullan, 2003)

In another book, specifically on the topic, Michael Fullan delves into The Moral Imperative of School Leadership. If you are interested in how an inner sense of responsibility and accountability can play a part in impacting the culture and context of schools and districts, consider reading this book. For further reading in the same vein, consider looking up writings by Fullan and his colleague Andy Hargreaves in the "What's Worth Fighting For?" trilogy.