Improve Students’ Learning Experiences by Becoming a Culturally Responsive Principal

America’s schools are growing increasingly diverse. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, most K-12 students enrolled in America no longer identify as white, and an increasing number of them identify as mixed-ethnicity. With this growing diversification of our schools, education leaders must develop culturally responsive environments to meet the needs of all students. We need culturally responsive principals.

Culturally responsive school leadership is crucial to ensuring students have the resources and support for successful learning outcomes. By focusing on multiple aspects of student achievement and supporting students to uphold their identities, culturally responsive principals can help students develop critical perspectives on the world around them and shape them into socially aware leaders and problem solvers.

Why Culturally Responsive Pedagogy?

Research suggests culturally responsive teaching is associated with improved academic performance as well as interpersonal development. Culturally responsive schools connect learning to students’ real lives and promote understanding of other cultures, encourage student engagement, foster critical thinking skills and challenge students to view the world from multiple perspectives. They also create a safe space for students to ask questions, solve problems and achieve academic goals.

How Can Culturally Responsive Principals Improve Their Schools?

Educator and researcher Gloria Ladson-Billings proposes three main components of culturally responsive education:

  • a focus on student learning and academic success
  • development of students’ cultural competence to foster positive ethnic and social identities
  • support for students’ critical consciousness or their ability to recognize and critique societal inequalities

When school leaders utilize all three of these components, principals can facilitate positive school climates, significantly contributing to students’ well-being and academic success.

To build this climate, principals must begin with hiring diverse and quality teachers. The National Council on Teacher Quality notes that four out of every five teachers in the U.S. identify as white, even though over 50% of the country’s student population identify as people of color. This means there is a difference in representation between teachers and learners, given the diversity of our student bodies. There is an abundance of evidence that suggests students excel when faculty bodies more closely reflect the diversity of their student bodies.

The faculty body should reflect the diversity of the school, providing students with a wide variety of role models and mentors to help them develop personally and academically. This transformation begins with hiring practices. Culturally responsive principals must not only diversify their faculty but also ensure the individuals they hire are qualified to contribute to an inclusive school climate.

It is also the job of the principal to ensure all faculty members employ culturally responsive teaching practices. School leaders can provide the necessary training, assessment, support and accountability to push these efforts.

Faculty members alone cannot create this school climate, however. According to the National Association for Elementary School Principals (NAESP), “stronger partnerships and collaboration between schools and communities improve family engagement, which is critical to bridging home and school cultures. Additionally, these partnerships increase the sense of trust between students, families, and schools, which in turn improves student connectedness to school and feelings of inclusiveness.”

The NAESP recommends principals develop innovative ways to connect with students’ families and the broader community. Connections with community members and families can open opportunities to utilize existing strengths and resources in the community, keep families better informed and involve a broader network in creating and sustaining a positive, supportive school culture.

The NAESP suggests culturally responsive principals should consider who their policies exclude or harm. This process requires engaging in assessment strategies, utilizing community networks and thoughtfully crafting responses to their students’ diverse strengths and needs.

Above all, culturally responsive principals must be informed in culturally responsive practices, strategic in crafting a supportive school culture and mindful of their school’s unique needs. All students deserve to be well served by their schools, and that begins with school leaders.

Learn more about Youngstown State University’s online Master of Science in Education – Educational Administration (with Principal Licensure Option) program.

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