Putting Equity in the Pipeline

When school leaders develop a understand how race and racism create inequitable environments for student learning, they can build more inclusive school cultures that respect differences across sociocultural markers.

Topics: STEM

School leaders must develop a deep understanding of historical systems of oppression to create educational equity in their own school settings, said Mark Anthony Gooden in reviewing a recent report commissioned by The Wallace Foundation during his NAESP Pre-K–8 Leadership Conference session, “Culturally Responsive School Leadership and Principal Pipelines.”

Self-reflection is the starting point. In a breakout, Gooden invited participants to draft a personal story of racial reflection identifying moments in their lives when race was a factor in a situation or a formative experience of personal identity, including moments of privilege and marginalization.

Once leaders develop a critical consciousness surrounding the ways in which race and racism create inequitable environments for student learning through exercises such as these, he said, they can begin to build more inclusive school cultures that respect differences across multiple sociocultural markers.

They will be able to:

  • Support teachers in reimagining existing pedagogy and curriculum to honor knowledge associated with people of color and challenge systems that exacerbate inequities through marginalization;
  • Cultivate a more culturally affirming educational context that welcomes everyone through collaboration with individuals facing historical barriers to inclusion; and
  • Establish partnerships to collaboratively define what educational justice looks like for the school community by sharing power with parents and other stakeholders.

Cultivating New Leaders

Using a Culturally Responsive School Leadership framework, school leaders and principal preparation programs can extend efforts into the principal pipeline to realize lasting improvements to educational equity, Gooden said. Among the steps that can be taken to identify candidates with the robust critical consciousness required are:

  • Reviewing hiring criteria to eliminate or reduce the weight of requirements that might screen out BIPOC candidates but have little correlation with leadership;
  • Including interview questions in the hiring process to learn about candidates’ capacities to identify and confront oppressive practices and their own implicit biases;
  • Teaching candidates to assess inequities through school climate surveys, focus groups, and equity audits;
  • Evaluating whether candidates have the understanding to effectively assess cultural responsiveness in the school;
  • Preparing candidates to identify sustainable, equity- focused instructional practices and culturally relevant pedagogies; and
  • Assessing how candidates intend to learn from the community and apply that learning to improve the lives of students.

Instructional leaders must also provide ongoing on-the-job support and evaluation to promote their vision of equity-focused instruction. Professional development can help fine-tune equity efforts in the school and district, and help aspiring BIPOC leaders rise through the ranks into leadership. It’s a big job, but one that leaders should be eager to take on.

“We hope this report adds to the excitement of making schools more equity-centered by recognizing that indeed, leaders and those who support them have a great deal of work to do,” Gooden said.

Read The Wallace Foundation-commissioned report, “A Culturally Responsive School Leadership Approach to Developing Equity-Centered Principals: Considerations for Principal Pipelines,” by Mark Anthony Gooden, Muhammad Khalifa, Noelle W. Arnold, Keffrelyn D. Brown, Coby V. Meyers, and Richard O. Welsh.