Emerald Henderson

Doctoral researcher

Emerald HendersonResearch Topic

Virtuous Leadership in the School Context: Cultivating Teacher Character Through Role Modelling

Research Summary

Largely rooted in neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics, character education seeks to morally transform pupils’ characters by imbuing them with substantive ethical ideals in the form of virtues. In this context moral development is akin to virtue enhancement. Whilst there are a number of didactic methods promoted by character educationalists, the method of moral role modelling by teachers, involving admiration and subsequent emulation by pupils, is thought to offer particular promise for facilitating virtuous character development. However, if teachers are required to be moral role models, it is important that they are suitable subjects of emulation. As at all stages of our careers we need role models to act as sources of moral inspiration, it seems reasonable to suggest that this method may also enhance moral development in teachers, thus improving their ability to be role models to children.  

Emerald is particularly interested in the extent to which virtuous leadership affects moral development in teachers. In this context, teacher educators will likely be the character leader role models for pre-service teachers, whilst for in-service teachers these role models will primarily be derived from the senior leadership team. Her research synthesises elements from moral philosophy, moral psychology, education and professional ethics. It will attempt to evaluate virtue development in both cohorts by developing an innovative and theoretically informed methodology. She will specifically assess how virtuous leadership though role modelling influences the integrative intellectual virtue of practical wisdom, or phronesis, and correspondingly moral virtues such as justice, honesty and compassion. In virtue ethical terms, these traits are the components of character which enable individuals and society to flourish. Emerald is also interested in evaluating the constituent elements of role modelling and how these inspire emulation, and further the influence of role models on teacher professional/moral identities.

As a result of herresearch, Emerald hopes to provide pedagogical recommendations for future teacher training and raise the profile of role modelling as a strategy for moral development in teachers. 

Research Interests

  • Neo-Aristotelian character education
  • Role modelling and moral exemplarism
  • Virtue ethics and moral education
  • Teacher education and professional ethics
  • Applied ethics
  • Philosophy in schools
  • Well-being and education
  • Ethical virtue-based naturalism

Research Supervisors

Professor Kristján Kristjánsson and Dr Laura D’Olimpio


  • MA Applied Ethics (Utrecht University)
  • PGCE – Secondary Religious Studies (King’s College London)
  • BA Philosophy (King’s College London)


Emerald Henderson’s PhD in Character Education is supervised by Professsor Kristján Kristjánsson and Dr Laura D’Olimpio. It focuses on the extent to which virtuous leadership through role modelling influences the moral development of pre-service and in-service teachers. She seeks to illuminate how best to equip teachers for their new roles as facilitators of flourishing by examining how moral exemplars, as sources of moral inspiration, stimulate the construction of teacher professional/moral identities. Her research aims to provide pedagogical recommendations for future teacher training using virtuous leader role models.

Emerald holds a BA in Philosophy and PGCE from King’s College London, and an MA in Applied Ethics from Utrecht University. Prior to her master’s she taught for nine years, as Head of Philosophy and later Head of Eudaimonia. This experience ignited her enduring interest in neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics and, naturally, teacher education. 


Email: eih168@student.bham.ac.uk