I don’t remember having a teacher, let alone a school leader, who looked like me, spoke like me, or shared my background in any way until high school. It wasn’t until I met my ninth grade English teacher that I saw myself reflected in the leader of my classroom space. I vividly remember her sharing her background with us on the first day of school and feeling shock at finding out how much we had in common. I couldn’t name exactly why, but I remember automatically feeling close and safe in her class from my first day in it. This remained true as the year went along, and my experience in her class is one that I will never forget as it inspired my own pursuit of a career in education as an English teacher.
The California Charter Schools Association released a new study that urges policy makers to increase the number of school leaders of color in California schools. The study outlines the critical role that racially diverse leaders play in the California K-12 public school system. Myrna Castrejon, president and CEO of CCSA stated in the study that, “Not only are racially and ethnically diverse leaders important in showing children of color what’s possible, but national research also confirms the impact they can have on increasing academic achievement and decreasing disciplinary actions for all students.” This study proves the positive impact that school leaders of color have on students of color but also names the harsh reality that the number of school leaders of color is very small.
What Castrejon stated in the release of the study as “what’s possible” is exactly what I saw in my teacher in ninth grade and this “possibility” is what led me to enter the classroom myself and return to teach at my alma mater high school. Now, I’ve managed to build strong relationships with my students and show them the possibilities that are available to them after high school.
Additionally, this study reported on the discipline outcomes of schools where the administration has leaders of color and found that, “Students at high schools with a leader of color were significantly less likely to be suspended. Specifically, Latinx students at a high school with a leader of color were 33 percent less likely to be suspended, and African American high school students were 47 percent less likely to be suspended.” The study speaks to the impact that having school leaders of color has on discipline within schools, and my own experience in the classroom leads me to believe that these stark facts are true.
When encountering a challenge with a student, whether behavior or academic, my instinct is always to begin with a conversation and listen to the student. This often leads to the student opening up and explaining what might be impacting their performance that day. During new teacher training, we are often taught to follow the consequence system and issue warnings as a first resort, never really focusing on building a strong relationship with students in our classes and using that as leverage for their own success in classes. Students have explicitly named this as a noticeable difference in their experiences with teachers of all races at our school, and it’s something that directly supports the findings that this study provides.
CCSA has created a coalition tasked with exploring the impact that school leaders of color have on schools in California, as well as addressing and creating an action plan to fill the gap in the number of leaders we need. On a personal note, I am eager to see the actions that this coalition will take, as we now have proven the great need we have for school leaders that mirror the identities that our students have.
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