Justice Education

Good Work
May 2023

Education, Entrepreneurship, and Character: Creating Leaders that are both Principled and Innovative

Wes Siscoe

When Carole Basile became the Dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, she knew that something needed to change. Not only were less and less undergraduates majoring in education, but even those who graduated hoping to become teachers were now leaving the profession. According to a survey conducted by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association in December 2018, 75.2% of teaching positions were either vacant or filled by teachers who did not meet standard teaching requirements. Arizona was facing a full-on education crisis.

“The big impetus for us was witnessing what was happening in the field of education more generally,” said Cristy Guleserian, Executive Director of the Principled Innovation program with the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU. “It was clear that the status quo just wasn’t working, and we needed to reimagine our whole approach to educator and leader preparation.”

For the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College (MLFTC), that meant not only rethinking its programs and curriculum, but overhauling their entire framework for educating teachers and leaders. Their answer? Educators should be prepared through a lens of both character and intrapreneurship that provides them with a framework for moral and ethical decision-making as they create change in education. Or, as the approach would eventually be called, by creating a culture of Principled Innovation

This new vision, though, led to a lot of questions. The first challenge was figuring out how to think about character education in the context of a large, public institution like ASU. 

“People were asking us, what does it look like to integrate character at a public university? Whose virtues, whose morals are we considering?” said Guleserian. “We knew that we could not simply plug in a system or framework that had been used in another context or at another university. We had to collaboratively create a framework that was a fit for our context and our learning community”

These questions kicked off a design phase that would transform MLFTC. Through conversations with numerous stakeholders and constituents, and inspired by the Jubilee Centre’s approach to character education, college faculty and staff arrived at what they called the Principled Innovation framework.

“At the heart of Principled Innovation are four dimensions of character: moral, civic, intellectual and performance,” said Guleserian. “When individuals practice Principled Innovation in their decision-making and their interactions with others, their actions exhibit the empathy, honesty and humility inherent in moral character; the desire to serve others that is part of civic character; the truth-seeking impulse of intellectual character; and the problem-solving commitment of performance character.”

At the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Principled Innovation provides educators with a framework for thinking about the kind of teacher and leader they want to be. What kinds of transformation do they want to see in their classrooms, schools, and communities, and how do the four dimensions of character contribute to accomplishing those goals? 

The practice of Principled Innovation has led to changes in culture, curriculum, and practice throughout MLFTC. Some students who have been introduced to Principled Innovation in their programs have launched Champions of Hope. The student organization hosts conversations and provides a space for future educators to discuss systemic equity and the challenges faced by students and educators. This discussion forum provides opportunities for students to engage principled innovation reflective practices while developing a community of peers to help support their own practice and process of becoming the kinds of principled educators they aspire to be.

It’s safe to say that the new approach is working. For 2023, ASU placed #12 in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of Best Graduate Schools of Education, ahead of schools like Johns Hopkins University and the University of Texas. And with 4,833 students enrolled in graduate programs, ASU registered the largest enrollment of all the ranked universities.

All this success has drawn attention from other areas of the university as well. While Principled Innovation started out at MLFTC, the framework has now been adopted as a design aspiration at Arizona State University, prompting the university community to place character and values at the center of their decisions and actions. Over the next 5 years, the Principled Innovation approach will be embedded across the university, through a number of faculty, staff, and student initiatives. 

“Over the next 5 years there will be 10 different colleges across the university that will engage in Principled Innovation communities of practice, and committing to demonstration projects that nurture the practice of Principled Innovation,” said Guleserian. “We are excited to see how Principled Innovation will be applied in other contexts. It will also be an opportunity for us to learn how to make Principled Innovation even more impactful than it has already been, as we see how it inspires our ASU community beyond the college of education.”