Featured Blog Post: Eugene Pinkard
Gene Pinkard is the Director of K-12 Leadership for the Aspen Institute Education & Society Program. A former principal and principal supervisor, his work focuses on helping education leaders strategically improve equitable outcomes for students.
Bringing the Equity Standard To Life
The Professional Standards for Educational Leadership (PSEL) include a timely call to action in a professional standard that asks principals and principal supervisors to “confront and alter institutional biases of student marginalization, deficit-based schooling, and low expectations associated with race, class, culture and language, gender and sexual orientation, and disability or special status.” These words are at the heart of PSEL’s Standard 3–Equity and Cultural Responsiveness–and the work that principals do every day.
Now as much as ever, educators need guideposts that speak to the ambitions of American public education to ensure opportunity for all students. If there is any doubt, the need is illuminated by the data of a racial opportunity gap that we have yet to effectively close, despite some bright spots and progress. Every day principals deal with race and racism in schools, and these issues are becoming increasingly political. We need principals to lead on questions of equity. This is why NPBEA’s commitments to create new resources to help school leaders enact the standard are vital for understanding effective school leadership.
This work is complex and sometimes requires courage—and leaders need support and guidance to do it well. There is a distance between policy and practice, and we only fulfill the potential of robust standards when leaders can utilize them as a roadmap for elevating service to students and improving outcomes. Principals, school systems, and states share the responsibility for using Standard 3 as a signal of their commitment to achievement for every student and then following through by leading toward improved practice.
In my experience as a former principal, having challenging and authentic conversations about how racism affects students and families within our school’s community was an integral part of serving our students’ academic, social and emotional needs. One way that we created space for these conversations was through faculty book study. Another core practice was analyzing student data, identifying race-based gaps, and reflecting on our own practice as opposed to positing the children as problematic. We also created curriculum units that asked students to identify a justice issue in their community. I was fortunate to work with faculties and communities that were open to this conversation. I also had mentors and colleagues who modeled these practices. Not all principals have these supports, and systems leaders need to create the conditions, learning opportunities, and resources to turn standards–an ideal–into reality for faculty and students.
The language of the standard reminds us that authentic priorities pervade systems. When we “address matters of equity and cultural responsiveness in all aspects of leadership,” we find no shortage of aligned research-based practices. For example:
- Creating a climate of safety and belonging. In the language of the standard, “ensure that each student is treated…with an understanding of [their] culture and context.” Climate is the construct in which students see themselves and their stories as valued in the community, and a key mechanism by which principals drive achievement.
- The commitment to disrupt institutional biases and provide access to excellent instruction has implications for hiring and human capital where diversity is an asset and reflective practice must be a norm.
- The “preparation of students to live in and contribute to the diverse cultural contexts of a global society” means leaning into the challenging but necessary conversations about race and racism that ultimately benefit students’ sense of self and academic achievement.
States, systems, and partner organizations should continue to support principals by creating resources that orient principals toward equity-informed leadership, while also giving leaders the latitude (and insulation) to respond to the unique demands of their local community. This is the design behind the Aspen Education & Society toolkit Coming Back to Climate, which includes tools to make improvements in cooperation with the community. This approach calls our attention to the principles of Standard 3 while simultaneously creating a sense of agency and ownership among students, staff, and families. States and districts can use Standard 3 to assess investments in their talent pipelines, supervision/coaching, and evaluations—determining the strategies and metrics that infuse equity into principals’ day-to-day practices.