From Theory to Practice: Assistant Principals Leading Every Child, Every Day

Leading with an equity lens means defining what “equity” means for your school and then supporting your efforts with adult learning, quantitative and qualitative data-based decision-making, collective action, equity audits, and equity interaction tracking.

Topics: Equity and Diversity

There is a notion that one of the true costs of leadership is that you will be disliked despite your best attempts to do the best for the most. What if “the most” of your school is doing well, is always considered, is always thriving?

When growing your equity lens as an educational leader, one must pivot their mindset to balance not only what is best for most but also what is best for those populations that continue to be marginalized, unheard, and underrepresented and that continuously experience negative academic and social outcomes. Leading through an equitable lens and practices benefits all students, but bringing others along that journey with you requires significant learning, adaptation, empowering, an asset mindset, trust and psychological safety, co-constructed action, meaningful and authentic dialogue, and time. 

Defining Equity

To take ownership in shaping equitable systems and practices in your schools, you must have a clear understanding of equity. Equity has been a term overly, loosely, and inaccurately used in education.

Educational equity ensures that every student receives the resources, support, and opportunities necessary for academic and social success, regardless of their background or circumstances, thus eliminating predetermined barriers based on social and cultural factors. Equitable systems and practices result in leveling the playing field for all students, especially our struggling learners. 

Prioritizing Adult Learning

Intentionality is required to see and hear everything filtered through an equity lens. To cultivate an equitable mindset and align systems and processes to that pedagogy, it is imperative tobegin with prioritizing adult learning to maximize student learning, opportunities, and outcomes.

Building the skill and ability to recognize inequity, grow cultural proficiency, and understand the social capital that every child brings with them to school is critical during this transformation. Learning is pivotal, and it is important for leaders to learn alongside their staff to demonstrate modeling the behavior and mindset you expect to be permeated throughout the entire building.

For educators to become equity-oriented change agents, they must engage in courageous conversations to build deeper and authentic understanding about systemic inequities, disparities, and biases and how they impact instruction and create opportunity gaps. This might require bringing in an expert facilitator that is skilled in providing support for difficult and vulnerable dialogue and can move the group forward in their learning journey to influence their thinking and behavior.

Data-Driven Decision-Making and Collective Action

We are in the era of assessments and data-driven decisions. Students’ quantitative performance on these assessments is weighed heavily to determine success and to inform next steps. Quantitative data is important, but qualitative data—the data that one cannot gather from a high-stakes test—is as well.

Equally, if not more important than high-stakes testing is the human experience. As an equitable leader, human experience is invaluable and should be captured from the voices of students, teachers, and families. Data lives everywhere: Create opportunities to gather multiple data sources to help identify root causes, what works and does not work in optimizing student experiences, and how it can lead to collective action in improving outcomes for all students.

Coupled with test data, other data sources can include information from focus groups, interviews, surveys, observations, shadowing students, home and community visits, and equity participation and interaction trackers. 

Tracking Equity Interactions

Conducting an equity audit and using an equity interaction tracker is helpful to use as another data source. Equity audits are a systematic approach in assisting administrators in assessing the degree of equity in three areas where inequities tend to be prevalent:

  1. Teacher quality;
  2. Programmatic equity (special education, gifted, discipline, and English learner); and
  3. Achievement.

This quantitative data collected, disaggregated by various social locations, and analyzed would be pertinent data to consider when working with stakeholders to create a meaningful action plan. Also, an equity interaction tracker tracks every adult interaction with a student and codes them as positive, neutral, or negative. It will be helpful to see what and how feedback is given and to what degree.

Building Learning Communities

We cannot get caught up in collecting data for the sake of having data; we must do something with it! Adult learning must also be extended to transform professional learning communities (PLCS) to empower teachers to conduct action research by planning, acting, observing, and reflecting.

PLCs should instill a data-driven culture where blame is not placed on each other or the student but instead instructional practices are examined, shared, and adjusted based on the sources of data collected. This will require school leaders to be instructional coaches to help teachers recognize and accept the collected data as reality and act; we cannot passively lead and maintain the status quo where the same students succeed and the same students continue to fail.

PLCs must be the ongoing and consistent vehicle of learning and doing to create healthy communities where every student is seen, valued, gifts/backgrounds/interests embedded in learning opportunities, and needs are met. 

Centering Equity as an Assistant Principal

You might be thinking, I’m just the assistant principal; what can I do? The answer? A lot. You don’t need a title to lead! As the assistant principal, you can do so much to center equitable practices into your leadership.

Remember, you are not just an intermediary but rather an active participant and an integral contributor. You are in the position to build capacity and contribute to others moving forward in manifesting success for all learners. As assistant principals, you serve as pivotal facilitators in learning, growth, and development, catalysts and change agents, and strategic leaders who actively contribute to the holistic development of all students while equipping staff to offer the best educational experiences possible. 

India Chambers-Richardson is assistant principal at Symmes Elementary School in Loveland, Ohio.