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Culturally Proficient Leadership in Schools

October 16, 2020 • Erin Kolecki

Culturally Proficient Leadership in Schools

Educational entities are aspiring to develop and cultivate leaders who are driven to lead with inclusion, diversity, and equity. Current leadership can support this effort by providing a solid foundation for understanding equity, embracing diversity, and adapting to differences.

Culturally proficient leadership

In a recent webinar hosted by the American Association of School Personnel Administrators (AASPA), Dr. Bess Sullivan Scott defined culturally proficient leaders as those who care more about the success of others than their own success. Culturally proficient leaders lead with the values of democracy, diversity, equity, and social justice. In an organization, there is a collective efficacy in action.

Consider a school district filled with culturally proficient principals. In such a district, every principal cares equally about all other schools in the district. Leaders are driven to help each other, and every student achieves success and joy in learning. Despite outside influences, all district staff are working collectively to improve all student outcomes.

Building the framework

The first step in building your educational entity’s culturally proficient framework is to understand, identify, and then alter self and institutional bias. The work starts from the inside out. Each leader striving for cultural proficiency needs to first look at their own internal beliefs, learn how marginalized groups are impacted, and work towards changing those internal beliefs.

Dr. Sullivan Scott reiterates this process is continuous and on-going. We can’t just fix our biases temporarily, but must adjust them continuously over time.

Building the framework of cultural proficiency:

  • Is not about blame, shame, or guilt. It is about deep honesty with ourself and each other.
  • Seeks to honor and embrace diversity, building one relationship at a time. Culturally diverse leaders recognize, celebrate, and value differences.
  • Is not about celebrating a specific month or day. Honoring the contributions of people of color must be done every day.

Create and sustain equitable learning environments

Equitable learning environments are caring, healthy, and culturally responsive. Children recognize when their environment is authentically safe. Children who feel safe, valued, and affirmed are better able to learn. Creating and sustaining equitable learning environments is not only the right thing to do, it supports efforts to close the achievement gap. Examples of specific actions educational entities can take in support of equitable learning environments are:

  • Adopt a dress code that respects all cultures.
  • Hire teachers, principals, and administrative professionals who are persons of color.
  • Implement responsive professional learning that specifically addresses marginalized students.
  • Eliminate low expectations and enabling behavior toward students of color and students from low socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Implement a teacher handbook that explicitly addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Eliminate teacher seniority scheduling, which often results in the placement of the most experienced teachers in the most high-achieving classrooms and campuses.
  • Eliminate the fixed mindset. Expect students of color to achieve success, regardless of past performance.
  • Explore barriers to learning and commit to removing barriers that limit success for student learning.

HR’s role

Human resources departments can support the effort of building culturally proficient leaders by exploring training and resources for staff and providing valuable data in support of the initiative. Some factors to consider annually include the following:

  • Demographic breakdown of employees by position and location
  • Breakdown of master’s level teachers by campus
  • Demographic breakdown of teacher resignations
  • Demographic breakdown of reprimands, suspension, and terminations

Check data for implicit bias, communicate to leadership, and follow up. Educational entities can examine student data in the same manner and address any disproportionalities appropriately.

Next steps

There are many paths toward building a culturally proficient environment. Remember that feeling or making others feel guilt, blame, or shame is the wrong path. Everyone should look internally every day, with every interaction. Learn to identify implicit biases and develop the skills of a culturally proficient leader and an anti-racist.

Develop a rubric to measure successes and failures and then address systemically all parts of schooling. Provide diversity, equity, and inclusion training to all staff. By providing adults with the tools needed, students will benefit through their educational experience.

Additional resources

For more information on cultural proficiency, check out these resources, which includes online articles and hardcopy books:


Erin Kolecki is a compensation and HR consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Erin an email at erin.kolecki@tasb.org.


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Tagged: Diversity, HR, "Professional development"