The 14th Annual Leadership and Ethics Conference, Exploring the Meta-Values of Authentic Leadership:Moral Literacy in Action, officially begins this evening at the Nittany Lion Inn.  The work of the conference, however, is already underway as many of its participants gather this morning and this afternoon for pre-conference workshops.  Those in attendance at this morning’s workshop heard Charles Burford (Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at The Australian Catholic University) discuss the Leaders Transforming Learners and Learning Project (LTTL).  Following his presentation of the conceptual model involved in the project, Terri Patterson and Virginia Outred (Principal and Vice-Principal of St. Kieran’s Catholic Primary School, Manley, NSW, Australia) shared their experiences implementing and expanding on this model in transforming the educational culture at one particular elementary school in Australia.

The conceptual model driving the LTTL project is one of ethically and morally based leadership aimed at generating an environment in which students will gain moral literacy in addition to the facility with reading, writing, and mathematics that we often think of as the central aim of primary education.  The authentic learning experience, according to Burford and his colleagues in the project, is a transformative one that allows learners to grow “in dialogue with the world in which we live”.  Rather than focusing narrowly on problems such as how to motivate students to improve their grades and their test-scores, educational leaders need to be looking to “broad visions of what human beings and schools might become at their best” and “speak[ing] realistically to the problem of concrete moral choice”.  Students should be encouraged to seek an understanding of the diverse truths concerning “what it is to be human”, in order that they can thrive in, rather than simply being confused by, the complex world of human affairs.

You may be thinking that this all sounds rather nice, but it is merely another example of pie-in-the-sky academic thinking.  The experience of Terri Patterson and Virginia Outred should convince you otherwise.  They have been working together for several years to implement their own version of the LTTL model at St. Kieran’s.  The initial resistance they met with from teachers at the school has apparently given way to an environment of communal commitment to a shared educational purpose.  As students have become more motivated to ask questions and seek out connections between what they are doing in class and what is going on in the world around them, teachers have become more comfortable with the alternative model of leadership implemented by Patterson and Outred.

This pre-conference workshop provided an informative look at both the theoretical and the practical issues involved in taking on a leadership role for moral literacy. In doing so, it set the stage for what promises to be a lively and important three-day discussion of moral leadership in and for the twenty-first century.

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