Promoting Equity through Social Justice Leadership in Independent Schools: A Case Study Approach

Baker, John, Administration and Supervision - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Dexter, Sara, CU-Leadshp, Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia

In their collective histories, independent schools, on the whole, have not acted as harbingers of equity or social change; many of these schools have either explicitly or implicitly benefitted from segregation and fears of integration. Beginning in the Civil Rights Era and continuing through the 1980s and 1990s to the present day, independent schools have made greater efforts to provide an education to students from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. However practices remain in independent schools that continue to marginalize these students. The purpose of this study is to support leaders who want to make their schools better meet the needs not just of the wealthy or the elite, but of all students. Rather than examining the deficits in leadership focused on equity, this study focuses on those leaders who are seen as successful in bringing equitable change to their schools. My assumption entering this study was that reviewing the tools and routines of leaders known for their successful work in promoting an equitable school would be useful for leaders in other independent schools as they modeled their own leadership practices, although with the understanding that the independent nature and varied missions of independent schools would result in some external validity in implementing the lessons from these findings. The research in this study includes literature on equity, independent schools, and the limited research on equity in independent schools. The conceptual framework of this study utilizes the principles of Leithwood’s Ontario Leadership Framework and Spillane’s Distributed Leadership frame-work, focusing on the interactions of a leader in an organization and the tools and routines used to determine how leaders implement equitable goals. This study was completed in the first half of 2019 using a qualitative multiple case-study design at three independent schools with Heads of School nominated as leaders in creating an equitable school. Findings from the schools in this study highlighted the importance of an intentional and powerful school mission promoting diversity, equity, and/or inclusion; as important to equity in schools was a school history and presence of institutional memory that emphasized equity in a school’s past actions. Equally important is these leaders’ use tools and routines including professional development, intentional hiring and retaining of teachers, and creating discussion norms that encourage teachers to comfortably talk about issues of equity and inequity in their schools.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
social justice, equity, independent schools, leadership
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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