Leaders’ Influence on Culturally Responsive Practice in Schools




Isabel, Margo E.

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Research indicates that the impact of educational leaders on student success is second only to that of teachers’ instruction. This influence arises from a set of core leadership practices, which leaders adjust for the requirements and context of their particular environment (Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004, 2008). Research shows that culturally responsive practice, that is, creating equitable opportunities for all students, is successful in serving the increasingly diversified student body that all educators face (Bartolome, 1994; Gay, 2000; Irvine, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Novick, 1996). How leaders maintain successful teaching practices in multicultural settings, however, needs further exploration and is the central question for this study. A qualitative study using a case study design was conducted, including three purposely selected Mid-Atlantic independent schools. Interviews of 16 school leaders, 3 teacher focus groups, multiple field observations, and document and artifact review provided data. Findings include: (a) Leaders’ adherence to site-specific values was essential to making their visions a reality. These values surfaced in three core leadership practices: setting direction, developing people, and developing/redesigning the organization in a manner designed to sustain culturally responsive practice. (b) The head of school must set the direction for the school. Specifically, when the head reinforces and models core values critical to culturally responsive practice through specific and visible actions, the community understands these values, embraces them, and works in unison to sustain them, thus building a strong school culture. (c) By distributing leadership, heads of school ensure that the values and culture that fortify these culturally responsive communities are consistently reinforced throughout the community. These findings suggest that school leaders may need to employ a holistic approach to ensure that culturally responsive practice is sustained throughout the school community.



Culturally responsive leadership, Culturally responsive practice, Leadership in independent schools