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Principal Ann Bonitatibus will teach Ethical Leadership course

Robert Stotz
Principal Ann Bonitatibus teaches a seventh period Ethical Leadership course. The class covers the fundamentals and applications of being a leader. “In other schools, the Ethical Leadership class was intended [for] principals to meet periodically with their SGA leaders or some club presidents,” Bonitatibus said. “At TJ, we wanted to take more of a philosophical approach to ethics in leadership.”

Jefferson principal Ann Bonitatibus is set to teach a seventh period of Ethical Leadership for second semester. The decision came just over a week prior to the beginning of the second semester, on Monday, Jan. 29, due to staffing complications.

While the course itself is not new to Jefferson, the circumstances that placed Bonitatibus in the position certainly were. Due to a lack of teacher availability and to avoid hiring a part-time teacher for a single period, Bonitatibus filled the gap herself.

“It has been offered every year, and I’m not the first teacher of it. When we were looking at it for this year, we had our staffing just right, so I said, ‘You know what, that’d be an opportunity that I’d love to take,’” Bonitatibus said. “I’ve taught leadership courses before [at the] university level. I thought it might be a good match.”

With a background in both computer science and communications in college and a master’s in organizational leadership, Bonitatibus has extensive experience in teaching.

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“I had a unique teaching experience in that I taught both English and mathematics because of my undergraduate work in college,” Bonitatibus said. “When I was a superintendent of a school out in California, a university called California Lutheran University, I taught some leadership courses.”

Applying this prior experience to the classroom setting, Bonitatibus structured the course to foster skills she believes are valuable to leaders.

“Coming back into this environment and teaching a leadership course, I want to make sure that it’s inquiry-based and that we ground ourselves first in the philosophy behind ethics and leadership,” Bonitatibus said.

This ground-up method proposed by Bonitatibus helps students such as senior Ebba Cha who are looking to redefine what it means to be a leader.

“When I heard the course title, I was surprised because I considered [leadership] to be something you’re born with, or you’re not, which is what I thought of myself,” Cha said. ”I didn’t know something that you could learn, so I thought that was really interesting, which is why I took the class.”

Having the principal double as a teacher has notable differences from a traditional classroom setting. This includes learning in an isolated classroom near the main office and tamer energy from students. 

“It’s a new experience. There’s a lot more to consider given that it’s the principal, and I feel like the rules are kind of heightened in the classroom,” Cha said. “Because it’s a leadership class, [however], and the principal is teaching it, I feel like that’s pretty relevant.”

In addition to classroom differences, the course curriculum lacks homework and traditional testing. The distinct style of learning enables students to explore their own role in society.

“It’s a pretty freeing class because it’s more of a brainstorming kind of thing where you dive deeper into definitions and meanings rather than solving questions that have explicit answers,” Cha said. “You get to think about yourself and your past, and what you want to do and who you want to become in the future.”

Students are encouraged to make the most of their personalized journals to guide their experience.

“Being able to write down and then talk about your thoughts helps with learning,” Cha said. “Even though we don’t have any tests, or quizzes or homework coming up, I feel like I remember most of the stuff we learned yesterday more than I would if it was a class that was more like [an] assignment and test space.”

Viewing these journals as a tool to better understand personal goals as a leader, Bonitatibus hopes to focus on growth over the semester and beyond.

“As we start the course, it’s really first grounding yourself in your core beliefs. What I’m hoping is that through a journaling process, students will develop a self-awareness of what their core beliefs are,” Bonitatibus said. “Then five, ten, twenty years out, they can continue to see how their views on ethical leadership evolve

As outlined by the course, the application of the material is versatile in life, not only to a student’s core values but to their career, as well.

“You can have all the subject knowledge in the world, but if you do not understand how to ethically approach the work that you do, and lead others to accomplish your goals, then all the knowledge that you have isn’t going to have an impact,” Bonitatibus said.

Regardless of what students gain from Ethical Leadership in the short term, Bonitatibus views the course as a starting point for developing these fundamental skills.

“I’m hoping that we’re laying that foundational work that would be meaningful as people move along in life,” Bonitatibus said.

This story was originally published on tjTODAY on February 13, 2024.