Completing the Circle

Connecting women in leadership during a time of disconnect.

Topics: Women in Leadership

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, NAESP launched the Principal(ing) in Place webinar series in an effort to provide members with remote options for professional development. One session in particular caught the eye of many women in leadership: “Leading While Female.”

Featuring the authors of 2020’s Leading While Female: A Culturally Proficient Response for Gender Equity, Trudy Tuttle Arriaga, Stacie Lynn Stanley, and Delores B. Lindsey, the session brought connection, camaraderie, practical takeaways, and more. By the end of it, educational leaders from around the country had created “Sister Circle” book clubs to discuss the book further.

We decided to co-facilitate a group in California. We called our female friends, told them about the book, and created our first Sister Circle book club, facilitated by the NAESP Center for Women in Leadership. Neither of us had to sell the idea of equity for women in leadership—these women were all in. The stories in the book resonated with every one of us, and we felt privileged to continue the work the authors of the book had started.

Joining the Club

For the book club, we had a monthly conversation surrounding the theme of each chapter in the book: Owning the stories we tell, cultural proficiency, confronting and overcoming barriers, moving forward with guiding principles, and so on. Throughout the book, the authors concentrate on coaching, professional networks, and familial advocacy as supporting the narratives of women in leadership.

The book starts the conversation around the authors’ personal experiences. They believe that when you “own” your story as a female in leadership, you can embrace the work you do from your own perspective.

Women and men alike must be aware of their implicit and explicit biases, the book says, as well as how they react to conflict or controversy. If you are aware of what’s happening around you, you can prepare yourself for a difficult conversation when others push you to a place of discomfort, and “continue to learn about [yourself] in relation to others.”

Understanding your barriers will lend the confidence to have conversations about why school systems need to create a space that supports women in leadership. As women in leadership, we believe we have the responsibility to grab other women by the hand and bring them along through support and mentorship. Women have the right to be in the room.

Helping Sisters Advance

Your authors met in September 2016 after embarking on doctoral studies at California State University, San Bernardino. During the orientation meeting, candidates were invited to introduce themselves by stating their name and current position. We were the only elementary school principals in the cohort and connected instantly.

Since then, we have maintained a strong and lasting friendship—a sisterhood. We have collaborated, shared, learned, supported, listened, cried, laughed, and trusted each other. We have “tapped each other on the shoulder,” as Dr. Andrea Thompson, the webinar’s facilitator and NAESP fellow, said.

The Sister Circle allows us to embrace more women and helps give them an opportunity to share their stories and learn together. As a woman of color, I (Blazy) know what it feels like to be turned away or ignored. The Sister Circle helped me step into the discomfort and embrace it with nepantla. It’s an Aztec term meaning “in the middle” that I understand as being in the midst of discomfort or chaos and not becoming part of it—the eye of the storm.

Our goal is to continue conversations around equity. As Leading While Female says, rather than responding with anger or defensiveness, we must realize that although today’s educators didn’t cause the inequities, the historical, societal, and educational forces delivered these inequities to our doorsteps to be addressed now.

There is enough room at the table for everyone, and if the table is too small, we can make it bigger. Male counterparts have a role in this, too: When there is a known inequity, advocacy and allyship are imperative responsibilities.

We hope that everyone will help the current generation of educational leaders shape new and refreshing alternative narratives. As Mahatma Gandhi once stated, “We but mirror the world. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”

Tap a sister, a colleague, a friend on the shoulder. Grab them by the hand, and don’t let go.

Mina J. Blazy is director of Research, Learning, and Data at the Beaumont Unified School District in Beaumont, California.

Mary McAllister-Parsons is principal of Twinhill Elementary School in Riverside, California.