If you’re like me, you believe that your school—our schools—would be better if we had enough leaders of color to reflect our students, teachers, and staff of color.
But it may be less obvious that there are systems-level reasons why we have fewer school leaders of color in the United States than you would expect.
For Ligia Alberto, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Felician University and one of our commissioners at Middle States, the solution begins by looking at the root issue.
As she said during our “Advancing Education Leaders of Color” webinar, “In my research I had to go back to the […] the achievement gap—because the pool of administrators comes from the pool of teachers. And the pool of teachers comes from the pool of students.”
This was only one of many important insights from the conversation with Dr. Alberto and Ms. Sadia White—an Executive Mentor for the Newark Board of Education, former Chief Academic Officer of Newark Public Schools, and MSA visiting team volunteer.
I strongly encourage you to watch the webinar to learn from two education leaders of color who are at the top of their game, but in the meantime these are my takeaways about how we can advance leaders of color in schools:
- Shift your organizational culture from a deficit- to a strengths-based mindset. Ms. White described how her Newark team succeeded when they shifted to focusing on the strengths that kids could control: “We had to change from a focus on kids being inherently intelligent to the idea that the harder you work, the smarter you become. It is efforts-based.” This insight is echoed in the research from Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck (Stanford University) and Grit by Angela Duckworth (U. Pennsylvania).
- Be intentional about creating leadership opportunities. Dr. Alberto shared insights from her research interviews with leaders of color: “They took on different projects [before they became administrators]—on curriculum, on the school handbook, on unhelpful policy. That’s when they started realizing that they wanted to be leaders and that they were able to do this work. […] Through those experiences, they developed something that they were proud of, and that increased their sense of self efficacy.”
- Unify a diverse population through cross-cultural mentoring. Dr. Alberto’s research reveals that “a mentor does not need to be the same gender or race as the mentee.” Ms. White affirmed that she enjoyed success as a school leader in part because of mentorship by white men and women. Dr. Alberto and White demonstrated that it’s a positive sum game in which both mentor and mentee gain something profound—and as a consequence, can help to unify a diverse population.
- Encourage external networking. Mentoring is not always available, but that should not prevent aspiring leaders of color from finding support. As Dr. Alberto shared, “The alternative is to seek out networking opportunities through outside organizations.” Ms. White concurred: “Joining national organizations was critical to my career rise.”
- Read Dr. Alberto’s research! While her first research paper has been accepted for publication, it is not yet public. Rest assured that we will share it as soon as it is available. Equally exciting, she just submitted for review her latest research on self-efficacy and verbal persuasion as ways to develop leaders of color. We will also share that as soon as it’s available. I value the fact that we can clearly and immediately apply the findings from Dr. Alberto’s research.
In my next blog post I’ll elaborate on some of these ideas, so be on the lookout.
Your commitment to advance leaders of color sits at the intersection of DEIBJ and Talent—two of the huge “Forces at Play” reshaping the educational landscape. You can count on MSA to continue to be the guide on your journey to a school community that enables every person to thrive.
Middle States Association
Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools