Responsive educational leadership is focused on equity, equality, and social justice
Educational institutions have long struggled to ensure that social justice is part of their culture and fabric. Work to ensure that all students in the school—ethnic minorities, immigrants, refugees, religious minorities, and all others - have equal access and a learning environment that respects and supports their development as unique individuals shows steps in the right direction. Equity means we are working to ensure access, learning, and the results of education are available to all.37 However, some futurists describe a future where inequities and inequality are even more pronounced.38 Education researchers have continued to point out the digital divide that will impact access to the necessary technology tools that will connect students to an engaged life and work opportunities.39 We believe the answer lies in caring, in reconceptualizing the leadership of principals and the aims of schooling to build a more equitable society.40
As for principals, Johnson41 has told us that principals need to work toward an ethic of care, to have high expectations, and to use their values and cultural knowledge while building critical consciousness. Individuals who seek to build responsive schools must work to ensure equity, equality, and social justice, all of which are essential for a supportive learning environment “where historically marginalized students have the opportunity to be prepared for access and success...” in life outside school.42 As a key value in distributed leadership, these ensure there are equal opportunities for all people, although they are not identical, to participate, be heard, and have their knowledge and skills valued by the community. Social justice means the school and those in it seek to care for the social good and the social interests of the community. Respect for individuality and equality in the form of support for the basic living conditions—resources, respect, recognition, love, strength—becomes essential.
We are facing a challenge of diversity not because we are different, but because that difference is often used to stoke fears and anxieties. With significant deficits in communication and cooperation, we lose the valuable potential capital of diversity and instead we see obstacles, misunderstandings, inconvenience, and often conflicts. Diversity, unfortunately, sometimes leads to inequality. The biggest problem lies in how we see diversity and inequality—it is neither natural nor deserved (e.g. believing somebody is not educated or motivated enough to deserve equality). Diversity means providing autonomy and respecting differences. Responsive leadership in such a setting means managing effectively by challenging inequities. Managing in this case is not agreeing with the values, language, or actions of exclusion, but rather attempting to respond to the needs of all students and all teachers while remaining aware of issues in the community. If it is the needs of the students or teachers, we should consider restructuring organization and providing curricula and redirecting resources to increase equal opportunities. Responsive educational leadership comes from facing difficult issues, even those that appear outside the mainstream. Leaders at every level try to use the potential of everyone, even those whose diversity at first glance seems to be an obstacle to the work of the organization.43 Various perspectives, customs, and above all, values assist principals in approaching the situations that naturally arise in an environment of difference. In this way, we increase the school’s ability to accept all possible students.
The responsive school is a place of resistance to injustice. Democratic strategies ensure that we are working together in “the mutual construction of meaningful knowledge and practice.”44 So, in the time of COVID-19, diversity and inequality are even bigger issues needing attention than before. Meaningful knowledge and practice are not fancy slogans, but necessities. We have to change the understanding of reality, we need to transform how people perceive well-known concepts, and we should build our approach upon a perspective in which diversity is a positive resource, not a burden.
It is a school that creates, as part of the aims of education, equality of conditions. The school ensures the opportunity to learn,45 and pays attention to the how well the work of the organization is as teachers, staff, and students provide input. Reflection about the functions of the processes of the school itself are always under review. Ultimately, the staff reviews whether they are ensuring a good education for everyone, positive conditions for each child in the community, and an unequivocal respect for diversity.
The acceptance of otherness and an openness to dialog with all aspects of the community helps to build positive attitudes toward others. Acceptance of people, expressed in providing feedback, reducing distance in our social spheres, and working toward trust, creates strength of community. Operating and developing processes on a basis of strong values such as the ultimate richness of diversity, helps the responsive school deal with the challenges that come when we express our differences of opinion. By seeking and implementing new ideas, working to change reality, and putting the key aims of development of individuals in the context of issues in the world, we build the framework for actions focused on an improved society.
We must come to understand that every individual in a school and in a community represents a number of identities and perspectives. This occupying of more than one perspective (e.g. Scottish Catholic female, Danish gay male, German-American Jew, African female) has been eloquently called “intersectionality” in English.46 Focused originally on the multiple layers of identity black women with various sexual orientations have, the term highlights the multiple forces pushing against individuals. But it also shares the power of the multiple perspectives we bring to our lived experience, our unique contexts, and our learning. Diversity, a wealth of perspectives, also brings a range of possibilities for solutions. Maxine Green has written that “the hope lies in the possibility of our developing a vocabulary in which our many differences can be formulated.. .that these accounts can be offered from the vantage points of people’s lived experiences.. .”47 The diversity of individuals increases the range of creativity in school, and the school itself is a place where individuals learn to appreciate the diversity and uniqueness of individuals in the community, even if they have lived experiences and opinions completely different from those we ourselves harbor.