Standard 3 of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) reads, “Effective educational leaders strive for equity of educational opportunity and culturally responsive practices to promote each student’s academic success and well-being.” How do we take this important aspiration and realize it through our practices and actions?

In June, our school’s administrative team hosted a two-day Climate Summit for our entire staff. The aim was to collaborate around our school’s newly defined core values; clarify our common practices around creating a safe and positive school climate; articulate our social-emotional learning plans for the upcoming year; and standardize our discipline practices to ensure consistency, fairness, and, most importantly, increase opportunities for our students to be in class, rather than excluded.

As part of this summit, I shared a slide featuring an infographic illustrating the school to prison pipeline. In sharing this slide, I explained to our team that if we do not change some of our practices to be more culturally responsive and engage all of our students in learning, we will be enabling this system to perpetuate, rather than disrupting it.

Engaging teachers and your school team in a conversation about race and equity and disproportionality in discipline data is not an easy task. Every school leader wants to close achievement gaps, serve the whole child and ensure their teachers feel supported and safe. How do we engage in the bold and complex conversations around our data, practices and policies while understanding the role of institutionalized racism in an ever-changing school landscape? Ensuring all school leaders, at every stage of their career are well-prepared, reflective, constant learners engaging in culturally responsive leadership is essential.

On June 27, the Principal Ambassador Fellows hosted the Principals at ED Principal Preparation Summit at the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. This was the third gathering we hosted this year focused on school leaders.

The convening included nearly 40 participants across the education spectrum. The theme of the day was preparing and developing culturally responsive school leaders.

Our students are increasingly diverse and varied in their assets and needs and yet achievement gaps and opportunity gaps continue to persist. School leaders set the tone, the priorities, and the way of being in their schools, and are critical to ensuring access to a quality, engaging, rigorous, and relevant school experience.

The day focused on problem-solving across domains of school leadership, specifically addressing two questions: 1. How do principal preparation programs address developing culturally responsive leadership? 2. What components can be built into programs that address this area for principals that will allow them to personalize and build better learning conditions for all students? The day also included a listening session with Secretary DeVos.

The assembled educators and thought partners collaborated on various strategies that can be implemented by local school districts, principal preparation programs, and more informally through networks of school leaders collaborating together. These include intentionally recruiting teacher leaders to become principals; fostering collaborative networks among principals; and aligning systems of support for administrators across their careers.

One of the day’s participants remarked, “The Summit has forced me to recommit to my mentor work for new principals, and re-energized my view around the value of veteran principals.”

Another participant noted, “It was good to hear multiple perspectives and feel less like we are working in silos.”

Investing in developing culturally responsive principals requires collaboration, time and engagement from a variety of sectors. Most importantly, it requires courageous leaders at all levels who are willing to reflect, model, learn and lead in order to disrupt systems that fail to serve all students.

Dana Nerenberg was a 2016-17 Washington Principal Ambassador Fellow

The photo at the top is from a Principals at ED gathering at the U.S. Department of Education occurring prior to the gathering referred to in this post.

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