I have a friend who is a high school principal in the DFW area. Often when we talk, I will always ask him, “How are the Black students?” I am never ashamed of asking campus leaders how a specific ethnic group is doing on their campus simply because I believe it’s analogous to asking how one’s child is doing by a particular name. This high school principal and I share the same ideologies when it comes to being culturally responsive leaders. We see the campus subpopulations as children who need all our attention and our goal is to know all our children. So if one asks about a particular ethnic group, our focus will be to discuss that specific ethnic group inside our campus family. Each ethnic group is different, just as each child is different in a family. One particular child may need a little more attention than the other children for a specific time but not forsake the other children. Just as one particular ethnic group may need a bit more attention than the other ethnic group at a particular time, it may not forsake the other ethnic group. This awareness is what culturally responsive school leaders (CRSL) look for on campus. So then, it’s easily justifiable to ask, “So how are the Black students?” Or “How are the Latinx students?” Or How are the Asian students?”.
Culturally responsive teachers in the classrooms benefit from CRSL, who focus on fostering a culturally appropriate environment for teacher growth and learning. Strong campus leadership is a common predictor in teacher collective efficacy. An administration consisting of culturally responsive campus leaders can influence and stimulate professional teacher learning. It is essential to understand that oppressive and exclusionary practices will remain on campus unless the status quo is challenged, and leaders and teachers know how to identify such patterns and push against them. If leaders do not attempt to identify these practices, then they endorse those practices. It is a continuous fight and struggle in the classrooms as well as campuses.
Educational leaders’ competency to measure and assess their effectiveness in working with diverse teachers, students, families, and communities directly connects to their willingness to reflect and acknowledge deeply held beliefs, deficit thinking, and assumptions concerning students who represent differences from their own. As a CRSL, this requires a personal journey to grow. There will also be efforts to resist change and challenge the new leadership in the school with an emphasis on organizational change for the cultures. Leadership must become familiar with the obstacles and resistance to dismantle oppression and exclusionary practices.
There are four salient behaviors that CRSL should practice to foster change on their campus. Leaders should focus on becoming culturally and critically conscious, equipped with an awareness of self, his/her values, beliefs, and dispositions when it comes to serving diverse ethnic groups. School leaders also play a crucial role in ensuring that teachers are and remain culturally responsive. CRSL has to articulate a vision that supports the development and sustaining of culturally responsive teaching practices. This claim does not necessarily mean the principal will prepare and continuously develop culturally responsive teachers in school. Still, they must have adequate knowledge to recognize and challenge common communal patterns of inequities that lead to their diverse ethnic population’s disenfranchisement. The school leader’s ability to leverage resources to identify and foster a culturally affirming school environment is also critical. CRSL must intentionally interrogate radicalized suspension gaps as well as exclusionary and marginalizing behaviors.
These leaders would seek to challenge and support teachers who fell into the familiar pattern of disproportionately referring minoritized students to special education. Or punishing minoritized students more severely and more often than their white classmates for the same infractions. The school leader’s ability to engage students, families, and communities in culturally appropriate ways is also paramount. For example, a school leader’s ability to understand, address and even advocate for community-based speak of the community aspect. School leaders’ role in promoting overlapping school–community contexts and speaking (or at least, honoring) native students’ languages/lexicons. CRSL also creates structures that accommodate parents’ lives or create school spaces for marginalized student identities and behaviors will again speak of a community aspect.
School leaders are becoming more aware of the need to become more culturally responsive only because their communities are becoming more diversified. Based on campuses’ diversity, school leaders, teachers, and all other campus staff should invest in growing and learning how to become more culturally responsive. This new growth will enhance student achievement and student outcomes. After all, that’s the primary focus. Every student. Every day.