The best interests principle in administrative practice : Canadian in-school administrators' perceptions, definitions and use of the best interests principle
Bishop-Yong, Nicola Wendy
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The best-interests principle is a widely used ethical, legal and social basis for policy and decision-making involving children [italics added] (Kopelman, 1997). In response to modern ethical leadership, a growing number of academics have examined the relationship between the best interest principle and decision making (Cranston, 2006; Tirri, 1999, 2001, 2002). Shapiro and Stefkovich (2001) and Stefkovich (2006) responded to this interest with two educational ethical decision making models where best interests are central. The models incorporated foundational works like Starratt’s (1994) multidimensional ethical framework and Walker’s (1998) jurisprudential and ethical perspectives. Additionally, Stefkovich (2004, 2006) sought to include jurisprudential constructs such as rights, responsibilities and respect . However, despite the academic attention for best interests, only a small number of empirical studies have been conducted (Frick, 2006; Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2001; Stefkovich, 2006). The purpose of this research was to examine the best interest(s) principle through an investigation of theory, practice and professional praxis and thus to identify the common use and understanding of the best interests principle in Canadian in-school administrative practice. Quantitative and qualitative methods were used in this study. Research methodology consisted of self-report, structured questionnaires including both closed attitudinal and open ended questions and a semi-structured focus group interview. A best interests questionnaire was embedded in a larger study entitled Moral Agency and Trust Brokering: Challenges of the Principal and distributed to a stratified sample of Canadian in-school administrators. The data was subjected to both descriptive statistical and thematic analysis. The findings revealed a compelling image of the best interests principle in educational administrative practice. Analyses of the data revealed two categories of thought: (a) broad conceptualizations and general perspectives toward defining best interests and (b) general methodological considerations or approaches to applying best interests’ principle. The best interests of the student(s) was broadly conceptualized and defined as three major categories of thought: best interests as core good, best interests as good pedagogy, and best interests as holistic. Additionally, three methodological considerations were identified as contributing toward the application of the principle: stakeholders’ influence, contextual considerations and relational aspects. Respondents preferred to define best interests in caring and collective terms. Analysis revealed simultaneously narrow and broad interpretations of interests. Implications for theory supported a modified professional ethic and best interests model that balances the ethical paradigms of care, critique, justice and community with the jurisprudential constructs of responsibility, respect and rights. Two central dichotomies emerged within interpretations of the best interests principle in the ethical and jurisprudential literature forming a matrix of best interests: individual v. collective and subjective v. objective. This study placed the respondents centered on the continuum between individual and communal and subjective and objective. The findings of this study indicated that continued best practices in ethical decision making pedagogy would serve to augment the findings of this study. Likewise, continued research in the area of multiple ethical paradigms, ethical leadership and ethical decision making among in-school administrators would serve to extend the findings of this study.
DegreeMaster of Education (M.Ed.)
CommitteeRenihan, Pat; Carr-Stewart, Shelia; Noonan, Warren; Heavin, Heather
Copyright DateApril 2010
ethics and administration