By Danielle Miller and Nick Kovalcik
By Danielle Miller and Nick Kovalcik
What does it take for principals to lead schools successfully, and how prepared are they? Principals face a difficult task in ensuring that every student has the opportunity to participate in a high-quality educational experience. School leadership must prioritize equities and excellence to fulfill this challenge, and principals must be instructional leaders who prioritize equity. We must ask ourselves these important questions:
Many school leaders are working tirelessly to guarantee that every student participates in a demanding learning experience daily, resulting in the highest degree of social, emotional, and academic achievement. This is a difficult task, and it will be far more difficult if school districts do not make the same effort.
The kind of professional learning and coaching that will build the capacity of school leaders to be equity-centered leaders must be included as part of this district commitment: Those who lead with an equity frame, who are relentless about having the highest quality of instruction and robust supports in every classroom, and who have the courage to partner widely and effectively, both inside and outside of schools, stand up for every student.
“Equity-centered leadership is essential because, through a sharp equity lens – i.e., the process of diagnosing and assessing equity within the culture, policies, programs, practices, and procedures within a school – leaders model and set direction; they shape an environment where equity and excellence are the standards for everything; they develop people personally and professionally; and they make the organization “work” so that teachers and school-site staff can engage in effective teaching, learning, and support (Leithwood, 2004).”
Most importantly, schools and districts have a shared vision and common language around the essential work of equity-centered leaders who seek equity and excellence for all students.
So, how do we develop leaders who prioritize equity?
1. Provide Equity-Focused Content
Simulations provide a pedagogical approach for professional learning on equity-based teaching practices. SchoolSims simulations are used for current and aspiring school leaders and teachers to allow users to run through challenging scenarios and make mistakes in a safe place. With titles such as “Navigating the Politics of Equity-Based Budgeting,” “Synergistic Leadership,” “Equity: Exploring Beneath the Surface,” and “Cultural Competency,” these simulations focus on an array of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion topics allow school leaders and teachers to reflect on their choices and learn to be more conscious of equity-based issues that arise in and out of the classroom.
2. Give Opportunities For Self Reflection
Your lived experiences can result in an unconscious bias. As equity-centered leaders, you need to recognize these biases and reflect on how you can overcome them. Simulations provide this space for self-reflection. As you go through the simulations, you come to decision points that allow you to stop and reflect on the scenario that is taking place thus far. Each outcome is different based on the decisions you make. As the simulation ends, you are given a feedback report showing how your choices impacted the results.
3. Develop Communities of Practice
Simulations provide the perfect opportunity for communities of peers and other educators who share similar work and have similar goals, experiences, and challenges to come together to speak on their experiences and learn from each other. The decision points in the simulation allow for pauses to take place where the real learning, from each other, starts.
4. Implement Job Embedded Learning
Experience is the best teacher. That is why it is so important to have real-life experiences and learn on the job. Courtney Wall, Director of Principal Pipeline Initiatives at Charlotte-Mecklenburg, uses simulations as part of the school’s aspiring leader program. She describes this job-embedded learning experience as such: “Paired with professional learning aligned to the district’s Equity-Centered Leadership Framework, the simulations provide an opportunity to apply learning to real-world situations in a risk-free environment. In small groups, participants often draw on their strategic decision-making and problem-solving skills to navigate the challenge. The immediate feedback allows participants to reflect on and evaluate the effectiveness of their leadership actions. There is also knowledge and insight to be gained from facilitating a simulation.”
5. Through The Use of Inquiry
Inquiry is a process through which leaders can study their own leadership practices as well as teaching and learning in their schools. As Donald O. Leake, Ph.D. from The College of New Jersey, mentions, “All of us are prone to professional blind spots – particularly as related to equity issues.” By becoming aware of the way we lead and teach, especially the implicit biases and microaggressions that exist in schools and leadership positions, we can become better prepared to be equity-centered leaders.
Many school leaders are working hard to ensure that every student, regardless of ethnicity, zip code, socioeconomic status, language, or gender, participates in a rigorous learning experience daily that leads to the highest level of social, emotional, and academic success and readiness for college, life, and living-wage jobs. This is a difficult task, and it will be far more difficult if school districts do not make the same effort. The kind of professional learning and coaching that will build the capacity of school leaders to be equity-centered leaders must be included as part of this district commitment: Those who lead with an equity frame, who are relentless about having the highest quality of instruction and robust supports in every classroom, and who have the courage to partner widely and effectively, both inside and outside of schools, stand up for every student.