A Note on Nomenclature Before We Begin
For this series and my own writing, I chose to use the term DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice). I recognize that other institutions may use other acronyms including DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging), and there are others that exist. There is no right acronym, and you must determine what works in the context of your environment. No matter what acronym you use, the ultimate goal is to create truly inclusive spaces where all belong and can bring their whole, authentic selves to school every day.
An Increased Awareness of DEIJ
In a post-George Floyd and siege on Capitol Hill environment, we have seen an ever-increasing awareness of DEIJ issues in international schools. This awareness has led many schools to take action in a variety of forms, including DEIJ training, student-led initiatives, curriculum overviews, the creation of policy, and a host of other initiatives. In this six-part series, I am offering Culturally Responsive Leadership (CRL) as one possible framework for structuring your DEIJ work. Utilizing a framework such as this can help the DEIJ work in your school be organized and systematic rather than disjointed. This series will take a deep dive into CRL and present a step-by-step guide that can be employed by schools to frame their work.
Why a Framework?
The Oxford dictionary defines a framework as a set of beliefs, ideas, or rules that are used as the basis for making judgments or decisions. In an educational context, frameworks are adopted to help a school set strategic direction and move towards its goals. Furthermore, a framework can be employed in order to develop steps toward success or an action plan. In the environment of international schools, teachers are transient. Utilizing a framework can keep the vision constant, ground new employees in the work, and keep the work moving forward without stagnation or deviation.
Why Culturally Responsive Leadership
Before we dive into CRL, it is important to recognize the origins of this work. CRL has its beginnings in Geneva Gay’s work in Culturally Responsive Teaching (2002), and Gloria Ladson Billing’s work in Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (2014). If you have not had the opportunity to do so, I encourage you to look at the work of these two pioneering authors. Their research and writing on being more culturally aware and socio-politically conscious in the classroom are foundational to understanding how people learn differently across cultures and contexts.
Culturally Responsive Leadership moves the conversation from the classroom to the larger reference of schools and systems. We know that inequity is deeply embedded within educational systems (Gardner-McTaggart, 2016; Giroux, 2022; Khalifa, 2018; Lopez, 2016). We also know that in the context of international schooling, many of the values and systems are built upon a Western worldview (Gardner-McTaggart, 2021). As such, identifying and dismantling inequities must be a deeply embedded precept of leadership. As Khalifa (2018) purports, cultural responsiveness is a necessary component of school leadership and must be present and sustainable in schools.
Culturally responsive leaders understand the dimensions and impact of cultural constructs in society and continuously cultivate and revisit their own personal understanding of the impact of culture on their own identity and the ways in which it shapes their approach to their professional practice. Culturally responsive leaders have an understanding of societal inequities, and thus are conscious of the work they must do to become aware of this history and how it impacts education presently. Educational leaders who are culturally responsive need to develop agency, take action, and build schoolwide capacity toward DEIJ issues. Furthermore, they must create democratic systems that support anti-oppressive and egalitarian education.
A Model for Being a Culturally Responsive Leader
The model shown below comes from the work of Lopez (2016) and can guide leaders as they work toward becoming more culturally responsive. Each step is meant to build on the previous step and help a leader, school, and community move toward becoming more culturally responsive. The model is created not with an ending point, but as a continuous cycle so that schools and individuals are encouraged to reflect, refine, and iterate their perspectives and practices over time.
The first step is to be critically reflective as a leader and as an educator. We all carry bias, and therefore, it is important to take the time to wholeheartedly be introspective. The second step involves deconstructing and reconstructing current systems in your given context. This could be curriculum, policy, or community engagement to name a few examples. The third step involves creating the environment for agency and action. As a leader, how will you empower others to do DEIJ work, and help to remove barriers so they can do so? The final step is to provide support and sustenance. This involves examining ways in which permanent structures can be put into place in order for the solutions to live long term.
(Photo source: Lopez, 2016)
As we move forward in this series, we will take a deep dive into what CRL actually looks like, sounds like, and feels like in schools. Speaking to CRL from a theoretical perspective is one thing, but making it useful, practical, and actionable is another. Each step will be expanded on in detail so that an understanding is built using examples of how this could look in your schools.
Gardner-McTaggart, A. (2016). International elite, or global citizens? Equity, distinction and power: The International Baccalaureate and the rise of the South. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 14(1), 1-29. https://doi.org/10.1080/14767724.2014.959475
Gardner-McTaggart, A. C. (2021). Washing the world in whiteness; International schools’ policy. Journal of Educational Administration and History, 53(1), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220620.2020.1844162
Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106-116.
Giroux, Henry, A. (2022). Pedagogy of resistance: Against manufactured ignorance. Bloomsbury Academic.
Khalifa, M. (2018). Culturally responsive school leadership. Harvard Education Press.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the remix. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 74-84,135. https://doi.org/10.17763/haer.84.1.p2rj131485484751
Lopez, A. E. (2016). Culturally responsive and socially just leadership in diverse contexts: From theory to action. Palgrave Macmillan US.
Ryan is the director of IT and Innovation at the International School of Curitiba in Brazil.
LinkedIn: Ryan Persaud