Thread: Ethical Responsiveness in Accountability Contexts

In the Norris study (2017) participating principals’ beliefs and practices of their accountability expectations were misaligned with school system expectations. It is not unusual that variations and inconsistencies about the ways messages of the external expectations are received by senior leaders. Studies such as Seashore Louis, Knapp, and Feldman (2012) and Spillane, Reiser, and Reimer (2002) also found that implementers did not necessarily decode the policy message accurately, that is, the intent of the policy makers. A misaligned priority in the Norris study, centred on student learning; most participating principals encouraged diverse learning experiences for students, and discouraged the drive for performance results. Yet School System advisors’ expectations considered that performance results indicated the ‘health’ of the school. Such variations in these leaders’ sensemaking pose an argument that there was no single line of authority or message being conveyed by school systems’ authorities.

However, this argument is not strong. School System authorities in the Norris study were confident that their accountability expectations were clear to their principals. These priority misalignments raise the question about what is happening for educational leaders in not being able to absorb and integrate demands as intended. For system authorities, the misalignment raises the question about what it takes to make the expectations clearer to leaders. One strong possibility is that irrespective of how clear the expectation is made educational leaders will make choices that align with their beliefs. Some would say this is ethical responsiveness!


Norris, J. (2017). From metaphors to mantras – Principals making sense of and integrating accountability expectations: A grounded theoretical model. (Doctor of Education). Australian Catholic University, Sydney. Retrieved from

Seashore Louis, K., Knapp, M. S., & Feldman, S. B. (2012). Managing the intersection of internal and external accountability: Challenge for urban school leadership in the United States. Journal of Educational Administration, 50(5), 666-694.

Spillane, J. P., Reiser, B. J., & Reimer, T. (2002). Policy Implementation and Cognition: Reframing and Refocusing Implementation Research. Review of Educational Research, 72(3), 387-431. doi:10.3102/00346543072003387