Posted in Personal, Reflection

To apologize or not to apologize …

In my principal course yesterday we were challenged in thinking about how we would make ethical decisions in our role.  A couple of different ideas emerged which I thought I would share with my PLN.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about when you feel an apology is needed or not.  This entire post is what I submitted for my reflective assignment, so you’ll have to deal with the ethical and professional standards information – I left it here for a learning experience 🙂  The “whether to apologize or not” dilemma is what really is bothering me at the moment.  I need help to close this file in my overactive brain.

I have come to the conclusion that “learning through narratives” provides the best form of learning for my inquisitive brain.   In our course today, we had a guest speaker from the Ontario College of Teachers speak to our group about the ethical considerations a principal may have to make in their role.

When his first slide started with the “History of the College”, I was a little concerned about the content of the three hour session and how I would motivate myself to actively listen.  However, we were quickly immersed into an engaging morning which led to a greater understanding of what it means when I truly consider “ethical standards” and how the OCT must ensure accountability in the interest of the public.  I found it quite interesting that our speaker talked about the OCT as being “educative” rather than just a body that “enforces” these professional standards and ethical standards.

In considering the ethical standards involved in the role of a principal, he continued to mention that your professional identity is what all your teaching begins with.  A principal’s identity involves being a pedagogical instructional leader, a conflict manager, a leader of communities of inquiry, an informed decision maker, a reflective practitioner, a developer of the organization, a conflict manager, a visionary, a self-directed learner as well as an ethical leader.

The ethical standards were framed together in 4 distinct areas:  Ethics of care, ethics of respect, ethics of trust and ethics of integrity.  Thinking about ethics in these 4 key areas brought about great reflective questions for my consideration:  What should CARE look like?  I believe that one needs to understand the context when answering that question.  There may be many factors to be considered and judgements cannot be made without considering all of these factors.  What does RESPECT look like?  It was described as “giving voice to everybody”.  This is another important item to consider which requires work on the principal’s part to take the time to listen and consider everyone’s thoughts on a matter.  This also related very well to our mentor text today “The Shrinking of Treehorn” – where I made the connection that we need to make sure that nobody becomes invisible on your staff or in your school.  The invisible person, whether it be a student, or an adult, requires great care & respect in order to develop a relationship of trust.

The professional standards that were discussed related to the principal as a pedagogical leader:  commitment to students and student learning, professional knowledge, professional practice, leadership in learning communities and ongoing professional learning.

All of the information around ethical standards and professional standards were synthesized for me when we had to consider a narrative.  A case study involving en ethical dilemma where the principal asked the vice-principal to be dishonest in a certain situation involving student elections for student council.  It brought about a great discussion where we debated on many factors involved.  The most important part of dealing with a dilemma is being able to NAME it.  Once you name the issue, it’s a little easier to work through the following Ethical Decision-Making Framework that was provided to help us with this process (keeping it linear helps you frame your decision based on consideration of many factors):

1. Ethical Dilemma/Issue – YOU MUST NAME IT – What ethical dilemma or issue has emerged in practice?

2. Judgement/Decision – How would your respond?

3. Principal/Value Guiding Decision – What principle or value is guiding your actions?

4. Rational Decision – What are your reasons for your actions?

5. Implications of Decision – What are the possible consequences of your decision or action?

6. Reflections on Ethical Dilemmas of Action and Practice – What new insight or understanding have you gained from listening to your colleagues?

The area of controversy that did not sit well for me was, once a decision has been made, move on.  And even if it was not the right decision, it’s done.  Our presenter said “Don’t go back.  Don’t apologize.”  This really was not sitting well with me, and I had to address it (and no, I did not wait for the Q&A slide at the end of the presentation – which led to ridicule at lunch, but so-be-it).  I felt that if you make a mistake in a decision, I feel it does MORE for your character if you are able to “go back” and acknowledge the fact that you may have made a mistake.  Acknowledge it, apologize for it, understand what you have learned from it, and then move on.  So when I asked for clarity around what he meant by his comment, he did provide somewhat of an explanation which involved the following… the decision you made was the BEST FIT AT THE TIME.  He continued with saying that even if you make a mistake, you probably did what you thought was best at the time.  You thought you were right.  Don’t apologize for that. I’m going to have to think about that one a little longer to see if I can come to an understanding in my own head around that concept.  I’m not totally closed to understanding what he meant, but it’s just not sitting well with my character and “who I am”.

Most of all, in considering your actions in any decision making in the school, whether you need to consider ethical standards, or professional standards, or your own personal morals, I think the best questions you can ask yourself is… “Why am I doing this?  Is it for the commitment that I make to my students and my staff?”  I’m hoping, that as I embark on this journey, that I will have the courage to face any of these decisions allowing me to maintain the integrity of “who I am”.


Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board Vice-Principal

8 thoughts on “To apologize or not to apologize …

  1. ‘love means never having to say that you are sorry’
    every other time it is okay
    video replay in sports corrects the human error factor, and confirms that we are human (even though what seems right at the time could be wrong)
    being the boss does not make you right; it makes you the boss only!

  2. John, thank you for sharing your thoughts on my blog! It’s awesome to see that I finally sucked one of my family members into my on-line world. I knew it was only a matter of time before SOMETHING triggered a response from one of my siblings. I understand what you are saying, but I’m still wondering if your answer is yes or no though. Do you think you SHOULD apologize if you realize you made the wrong decision concerning a dilemma, or do you think it’s not necessary because you thought you were doing the right thing at that time? OR do you think it is an “it depends” sort of answer. From what you responded above, I’m thinking it was the latter. I think I’m beginning to lean towards “it depends” but I’m willing to learn from others here. And… don’t worry big brother…. I’ve never really had any interest in being a “boss”. I’m just interested in working with others and learning together. Always.

    1. apologizeapologizeapologizeapologizeapologizeapologizeapologize
      there (no problem with that is there?)

      1. ask Jim Joyce if apologizing is the right thing to do after making a decision that he thought was right at the time (Gallaraga appreciated it and together they showed true spirit and sportsmanship to the delight of Tiger fans; Jim Leyland had tears in his eyes (2 nites in a row)

  3. Your query raises an interesting dilemma and of course more questions… Is there always a ‘right’ way and if so by whose right? Does virtue transcend duty? Do we just have to reasonably justify our decisions or actions, no matter what? Some of course would respond to ‘To apologize or not to apologize…’ with “it depends”, context is everything. Your guest lecturers’ response (i.e., do not apologize) reflects a pragmatic or utilitarian stance that is certainly defensible and one, at least from a business perspective is adaptive and presumably makes one and the organization less vulnerable. I think the ethical stance you are adopting as raised in your query speaks to a higher principle or virtue. You referenced personal integrity – being true to ‘who I am’. In a previous blog post Kelly you also reflected so poignantly on ‘It’s all about relationships’ and I would include relationship to one’s self. So is it truly all about relationships and connectedness? I think so. I would support making the apology.

    1. Terry, thank you for sharing your thoughts and for also finding connections between the various posts. I agree that context is everything. I do appreciate what this gentleman was saying, however, I believe that I will certainly exercise a diligent thought process should this situation arise in my future.

  4. Your piece raises many questions and few answers….which is fine, and it has made my thoughts lead to the following:
    a) the issue of mutual respect and giving people voice…I think all too often “giving people voice” is a substitute for true ownership of the issue or problem…recognizing that many decisions have to be made by one individual I would argue that as much as possible those involved in the consequences of the decision must be more than involved, they must be given every opportunity to assume shared ownership of the decision….if the decision turns out to be a mistake those responsible can review the decision making process and no apologies are necessary…b) is an apology the only option when confronted with having made an erroneous decision? c)The issue of “who I am” while important and critical to our well-being, the question cannot and should not be extracted from its institutional context…”who am I” in relation to my school…to my students…to my staff…to my parents…to my larger community? Finally, your comment on the “invisible” member of the community/school is so very, very important and so often not even recognized….just mentioning it is a step forward in creating not just an ethical institution and practice, but a caring and empathetic one as well….thanks for the food for thought

    1. I agree with incorporating the collaborative decision making model. If that is the case, then the shared ownership of the decision made would be easier to handle if the decision turned out to be the wrong one. One of the challenges of a good leader is to build a team that will work together through tough decisions when it’s appropriate to use that model. However, when a decision needs to be made alone, that’s when apprehension might set in and another dilemma arise. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and adding more questions to the mix!

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