Culturally Responsive Leadership: Fostering the Environment for Inclusion and Equity


Author/Creator ORCID




Hood College Department of Education


Organizational Leadership

Citation of Original Publication


Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States


This phenomenological study explored the link between principals' level of cultural proficiency and their ability to identify and address institutional barriers. Principal preparation programs spend little time developing a future principal's ability to address the diversity present in schools today. This knowledge is critical for principals and teachers who remain, middle class and White, as student bodies grow more diverse. The field of pre-Kindergarten-12th grade education will benefit from this study by providing pathways for principals to lead for cultural proficiency and equity. The study draws on critical consciousness, cultural proficiency, critical race theory, and culturally responsive leadership research. This research aimed to identify what principals do to interrupt oppressive systems that serve as barriers for diverse learners. The following research questions inform the purpose. What influenced principals to lead through the lens of equity and cultural proficiency? How do principals categorize their cultural proficiency and equity stance? What shaped their approach to equity and cultural proficiency? How does the level of a principal's cultural proficiency and equity influence their leadership of equity in their buildings? The study examined six principals whose staff and students identified their school as culturally responsive on a survey given by the state. This approach provided rich data that revealed what principals do to create school environments that support their diverse learners' access and opportunities. The study took place in a large, diverse, Mid-Atlantic school district. It included elementary school principals selected using the 2019 State School Survey item on cultural responsiveness. Six Schools whose staff and students identified the school cultural responsiveness as favorable participated in a semi-structured interview and shared documents that represented their leadership. Participants completed a self-anchoring scale and sorting activity to identify their cultural proficiency level and equity stance. Data were triangulated to identify themes that emerged from the principals' lived experiences leading through the lens of cultural proficiency and equity. Results from the study indicated that principals had varied lived experiences that led them to lead their schools with a cultural proficiency and racial equity lens. The principals consistently identified a higher level of cultural proficiency than their stance on equity. Principals consistently demonstrated vulnerability and a combination of questioning and critical reflection to apply their cultural proficiency and racial equity lens. Discipline was an entry point for five of the principals in the study. Another key finding was that race and gender made a difference in leading this work. This was particularly true for the African American and White female principals in the study. The principals' experiences in the study aligned with the research detailed in chapter 2. To better prepare leaders to lead in our diverse schools, teaching and leadership preparation programs need to provide ongoing opportunities for critical reflection. Districts can create coaching and professional learning opportunities for leaders. Districts should also consider using affinity groups to provide leaders of color a supportive space for them to connect and discuss challenges and solutions for engaging in cultural proficiency and equity work. Finally, districts can align the systems cultural proficiency and equity work to the school improvement process to embed the work in existing processes used to serve students.