Strengthening Your Equity-Focused Leadership: 6 Questions for Self-Reflection
As school leaders, we’re always thinking about what an equitable future can look like, and how we strive for that future even in the midst of ongoing, unprecedented leadership challenges, including the relentless demands of the COVID-19 omicron variant.
New Leaders alum and Program Director Jennifer Kuhr Butterfoss says it best: school leaders who are serious about educational equity are continuously learning and pushing themselves to grow into better and more effective change agents. They create a culture where everyone in the school believes students can learn at exceedingly high levels, and build an environment where everyone in the school community—faculty, staff, parents, and students—feel valued and seen.
The new year gives school leaders a great opportunity to take time for some equity-focused self-reflection to strengthen their leadership practice. These six questions are a great place to begin:
How do my personal experiences shape how I approach equity in my school or school district?
We know that gender, cultural background, lived experience, professional identity—all these aspects of your life provide an entry point for understanding how you view issues of equality and equity.
Taking time for personal introspection with this foundational question is always a must—and revisiting it often is key as well as our understanding and perceptions will always shift and evolve. It’s important to be aware of how our experiences shape our implicit biases, and in order to call out and act on inequities in our schools and districts, we also need to name and examine the attitudes or preferences we have that occur with or without our conscious knowledge.
Am I using language that prioritizes equity?
Proactive principals and school leaders work hard to get to know their communities deeply. They ensure cultural responsiveness and relevance in the classroom, seek to understand how current events affect their students and families, and lead by example when addressing issues of systemic racism and recent traumas.
Part of that deep knowledge also means tapping into what New Leaders Senior Director of Program Implementation and Adjunct Trainer Corps Hal Harris calls the “grammar of equity” — developing strong fluency in the language of anti-racism by educating themselves and serving as a primary voice for the words your school community uses.
Does my school or district have a common definition of equity?
This is simple, yet so important. Just as having a shared language within a school or district can help build meaningful relationships, hear multiple perspectives, and cultivate a positive climate, it also has the ability to unify and create consistency when it comes to equity-minded goals.
Defining equity for your school community, and ensuring the work you do fits your definition, is not limited to the principal or something you should feel you need to take on by yourself. Engage with your teachers, staff, and parents by having an honest discussion:
- What is the current state of equity in our school or district?
- Where do we want to go?
- What steps do we take to continue to move forward?
Creating opportunities for the school community to drive the collective definition and vision together will create shared ownership.
Am I building capacity for others within the school or district to become equity-focused?
Leadership in a school or district is not reserved for principals or superintendents. There are leaders at all levels, and teachers and staff members need to be given the opportunity and tools to enhance their equity mindset as well. As you’re taking time for your own self-reflection, find ways to have shared, open, and constructive dialogues with your team about their own experiences and assumptions. Building effective equity-focused leadership teams is a must for every school and school system.
Modeling is also an important component of capacity building. When you make equity a priority through your actions and words, you’re showing your team that they should also make this work part of their day-to-day instruction in the classroom.
Have I created the necessary systems and processes to support my team as we build a more equitable school?
Equity-minded leadership focuses on making sure there are the necessary supports in place for teachers and staff to be effective. Student data is a great example of support—when a school has data, they can use it as a launching point for discussions about the resources that are available, the students that are being served, and whether a particular program or outcome matches the school’s vision, values, and needs. When decisions are made with data, historically underserved students are put at the center of the discussion and their achievement prioritized.
The opportunity to collect feedback is another support. Creating ways to get the thoughts and multiple perspectives of those who aren’t in the room during leadership meetings—the staff who are paid hourly, the parents who work multiple jobs and aren’t able to attend evening events or pick their children up from school in the afternoons—ensures those with the loudest voices and the most cultural capital don’t end up with the majority of the resources.
Am I prioritizing my own self-care to lead more effectively?
This question may seem out of place. However, putting your mental and physical health and well-being first is the fuel that makes it possible for you to lead from a place of resiliency—and support your team as you build the kind of schools all children deserve. Self-care is the key to resilient leadership that drives transformative change toward educational equity.
It’s important to remember: self-reflection fuels equity-focused leadership. This inner process happens alongside the outer actions that leaders take to advance equity. Ongoing inquiry helps to support sustainable changes not only in your leadership practice but in your commitment to a more equitable and just society—starting with those in your school community.
At New Leaders, we work to advance excellence and equity for all students. Through our programming and district partnerships, we develop equity-focused leaders who:
- Promote a mindset in all members of their team that all children can learn at exceedingly high levels
- Create an inclusive environment that allows all faculty, staff, parents, and students to feel safe, valued, cared for, and seen
- Provide all students with access to effective, high-quality curricula that are both academically rigorous and culturally responsive/relevant
- Create systems and structures that equitably distribute resources
- Consider the impact of their decision-making and policies on historically marginalized groups
Learn more about how New Leaders can develop equity-focused leaders in your district.