Aug 09

Cultivating Equity-Focused School Leaders

“This is not a call-out. This is a call-in.” 

-Rebecca Cokley

Our visions for equity often exclude people with disabilities—and it’s no different in our schools. If COVID amplified the inequities across our education system, then this is a moment ripe for change. 

What are the qualities of a leader who is committed to equity? How might we cultivate more equity-centered school leaders who hold a firm and pressing commitment to students with disabilities?

Over the last year, we set out to explore these questions. A few standout findings:

  • Beacons (individual leaders with exceptional commitment to improving education for students with disabilities) don’t accept the status quo. They see inequities as a call to action, and share a mindset that has enabled them to turn their commitment into concrete outcomes for students with disabilities:
    • All kids are a joy, not a duty
    • Know what you don’t know, and embark on a path to knowing
    • Be persistent and humble
    • Welcome a challenge, advocacy is essential
  • Leadership pipeline programs demonstrate strong foundational practices; the infrastructure for impact is already present. There needs to be more explicit conversations with leaders about ableism in schools, more instruction on how various academic and school climate design decisions impact students with disabilities, and further capacity building around the skills and values of an inclusive leader.
  • Beacons and leadership pipeline programs named the power of experience or a personal connection to someone with a disability (i.e., self or a family member) as influential in igniting a commitment to students with disabilities or leading inclusive schools.

To break the persistent inequities in access and outcomes for students with disabilities, we all must evolve our mindsets and expand our skill sets. We have identified opportunities to accelerate the development of school leaders who envision equity for students with disabilities and to fully understand how that elevates inclusion across the entire school community.

  • There is power in experience. We have all had experiences that surface privilege, ableism, and injustice. How can we reflect on those experiences and infuse them into our personal and organizational core values? 
  • Continuous learning is critical. Leaders, like the rest of us, need to unlearn, relearn, and build skill sets around leading inclusive and equitable school communities. We are identifying next steps towards creating ongoing and experiential learning opportunities for school leaders around inclusive education and high-quality practices for students with disabilities. 
  • Strive for implementation, not just knowledge. Growing knowledge is important, but getting to authentic implementation is the goal. When we develop leaders, we need to be more focused on building skills rooted in implementation science and incorporating tangible action planning around the design of inclusive systems and practices.
  • Positive peer pressure works. Giving voice to the stories of the Beacons has helped to put a fine point on the critical qualities and characteristics inclusive leaders must have. Leaders across the country need human touchpoints, coaches, and mentors. To cultivate more Beacons we need to share their stories more broadly with the goal of inspiring others to flourish into Beacons themselves.

There are multiple pathways to this destination, and we know change takes time. But to make better progress, we all need to take continuous steps forward. Each of us holds power and has a sphere of influence. Stay tuned to see how CLE grows these learnings and opportunities, and join the journey.

How might you take more responsibility in using your power and influence to ensure—everyday —that students with disabilities are a priority and part of the larger equity conversation?