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How Culturally Responsive School Principals Can Foster Better Student Outcomes

“Diversity” is no longer a buzzword tossed around in the world of marketing. In classrooms across the U.S., diversity is a critical component that fosters success. According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, “Students of color (black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, or American Indian/Alaska Native) made up 47 percent of public school students nationwide in 2014, and the National Center for Education Statistics predicts this population will increase to 56 percent by 2024.” The Association’s website further points out that “13.7 million or 19 percent of children under age 18 were in families living in poverty” and that around 9.8% of high schoolers identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

While this change in demographics is inspiring, it may be difficult for students, teachers and principals to foster environments in which every student’s identity is not only respected but also celebrated when building the school’s ethos. Principals play many roles when building culturally responsive schools, an advanced degree in education focusing on principalship can equip individuals for careers in this realm.

Supporting Faculty and Staff

For principals aiming to set the tone for culturally responsive schools, it’s essential to be at the forefront of these discussions. But, as Dr. Joseph Ellison III points out in his article for Getting Smart, the work starts in the principal’s office. The author and educator notes that aside from a clear commitment to look at children’s uniqueness and reshape the school’s curriculum based on this information, teacher development and training are the most important tools in this work.

“A culturally responsive teacher must be willing to engage in deep introspection of personal biases and their impact on classroom instruction. Part of the job of the principal is to provide professional learning which will forward this work and elicit strategies to address the results of this introspection,” he said.

Principals must actively seek to immerse themselves in this topic. “This means attending conferences, participating in trainings, and constantly reading professional literature to remain abreast of the best ways to guide staff to a deeper level of cultural responsiveness” is crucial, according to Dr. Ellison. Additionally, principals must seek out professionals who can come to the school and share their wealth of knowledge about these subjects.

Hiring With Purpose

Another way principals can lead the change is by taking a closer look at the hiring process and making an active effort to hire diverse staff and faculty. Representation is important to helping people build confidence and feel motivated, and a lack of individuals who represent minority groups generates an inherent feeling in students that effort is useless. By adopting principles of equity in the hiring process, principals can improve student outcomes.

Building Trust With the Community

Of course, allocating budget to activities that are pertinent to students’ backgrounds and technology that promotes inclusion are also essential for personalized instruction. However, none of these will be enough if the principal detaches themself from the school culture. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s important to be honest and transparent about the fact that this is all a learning process. Building trust with the students, hearing their concerns, taking them seriously and reaching out to families are vital. Especially when dealing with students from backgrounds unlike yours, it’s paramount to dismantle the preconceived notions one has and exercise empathy.

An advanced degree in urban education and principalship can equip professionals to lead school communities using skills in professional development, hiring strategy and community building.

Learn more about Norfolk State University’s online Master of Arts in Urban Education with a concentration in Principal Preparation program.

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