Dr. Travis Burns, Ed.D.

Connect. Engage. Inspire.

Organizational Justice: The Importance of Fairness, Respect, and Equity in Principal-Teacher Interactions

Scales-of-JusticeThe importance of school principals in leading and managing school improvement efforts aimed at promoting student achievement has long been recognized.  To increase student achievement, school organizations certainly need effective principals to confront academic inequities and social injustices related to class, race, disability, and gender that are indeed woven into our social fabric and serve as barriers to student learning.  However, ensuring academic equity and promoting social justice in schools perhaps begins with principal-teacher interactions and the development of teacher perceptions of organizational justice.  In this article, I briefly highlight the importance of social interactions between principals and teachers and outline several principal behaviors that lead to collective perceptions of organizational justice.

What is Organizational Justice and Its Potential Benefits?

Helping principals understand the importance of organizational justice is a step in the right direction toward enhancing learning outcomes for all learners regardless of class, race, disability, or gender.  In schools, organizational justice may be defined as teacher perceptions of fairness, respect, and equity related to interactions with the principal and the application and enforcement of policies and procedures.  When teachers perceive the principal to be fair, respectful, and equitable, they may be more apt to exhibit desirable work behaviors that exceed minimal contractual expectations and benefit individuals and the school.  Desirable teacher behaviors that exceed contractual expectations may include, but are not limited to, volunteering to serve on a school improvement committee, making innovative suggestions for improving the overall quality of the school, contacting parents after school hours, providing advance notice prior to taking personal leave, and giving up planning time or staying after school hours to tutor students.  In the aggregate these “extra role” professional behaviors may serve to enhance student achievement as measured by standardized performance measures.  In fact, Hoy and DiPaola (2005a; 2005b) have consistently found a link between student achievement and teacher work performance that goes above and beyond minimal contractual expectations. 

How can Principals Promote Organizational Justice?

School principals must be mindful of their interactions with teachers and strive to exhibit behaviors that promote a sense of fairness in their schools.  A major objective of the relatively diminutive literature base that exists on the subject of organizational justice in schools has been to identify and examine effective principal behaviors that promote a climate of fairness, respect, and equity.  Adherence to the following behaviors adapted from the research of Hoy & Tarter (2004) is recommended as a guide for school principals in bolstering levels of organizational justice in their respective schools:

  • Be equitable in celebrating individual and group successes.
  • Be perceived as fair in the assignment of duties such as lunch duty and bus duty.
  • Allow teachers to have a voice in decision-making processes.
  • Allow teachers opportunities to express respectful disagreement with decisions.
  • Be sensitive to the needs of teachers when communicating bad or negative      information.
  • Be consistent, but allow for flexibility in the application of procedures and      rules. 
  • Ensure that self-interest is subordinated to the mission, goals, and objectives of the school.
  • Take responsibility for mistakes and correct them.
  • Base decisions on data as opposed to rumor and innuendo.
  • Actively seek the opinions of staff members.
  • Be benevolent, honest, open, sincere, trustworthy, and impartial in all actions.

These behaviors have in common a focus on the welfare of classroom teachers rather than a narrow focus on the principal. They are rather small sacrifices that principals should be willing to make to support teacher task performance. 

School Climates of Injustice

School leaders who ignore the implications of developing and sustaining a climate of justice do so at their own peril.  Dissatisfaction with decisions, procedures, or interpersonal interactions with the principal are precursors to negative perceptions of organizational justice. Additionally, teachers who perceive incongruence between their efforts and recognition and/or awards received may be more likely to view the principal as unjust.  Individual teachers may cope with such stressors in varying ways.  Teachers may withdraw from participating in school activities or seek support and validation from fellow teachers, friends, or family members.  Moreover, injustice perceptions may lead to counterproductive teacher behaviors such as arriving to work late, leaving work early, spreading rumors, and blaming others.  Such behaviors serve to detract the principal from performing other essential duties that support teacher task performance.  More importantly, it goes without saying that counterproductive teacher behaviors can jeopardize collective efforts aimed at promoting academic equity, social justice, and student achievement. As such, principals will do their students and schools a great service by developing and sustaining a school climate and culture that places organizational justice at the forefront of interactions with teachers.   

Concluding Remarks

While principals have many demands on their time, developing positive teacher perceptions of organizational justice is a critical component of effective schools and a successful principalship.  Recent accountability measures compel teachers to go above and beyond minimum expectations for performance to bolster student achievement as measured by high-stakes state and district assessments.  To this end, principals must be mindful of the organizational justice construct and its benefits.  Promoting academic equity and social justice is not just about what teachers can do in the classroom to improve student-learning experiences; it is also about what principals can do to exhibit respect, fairness, and equity when interacting with teachers.  Principal interactions with teachers must be respectful and the application and enforcement of school policies and procedures must be perceived as fair and equitable. 


DiPaola, M.F., & Hoy, W.K. (2005a). Organizational citizenship of faculty and achievement of high school students. The High School Journal, 88, (3), 35 – 44.

DiPaola, M.F., & Hoy, W.K. (2005b). School Characteristics that Foster Organizational Citizenship Behavior. Journal of School Leadership, 15, (4), 387 – 406.

Hoy, W. K. & Tarter, C. J. (2004). Organizational justice in schools: No justice without trust. International Journal of Educational Management, 18, 250-259.



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This entry was posted on December 21, 2012 by and tagged , , , .

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