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Equity in Schools: What Administrators Need to Know

Gardner-Webb University

The Administrator’s Role in Building Equity in Schools

The Administrator’s Role in Building Equity in Schools

Administrators have a tremendous responsibility to take care of many logistical and managerial tasks at their school on a daily basis. The growing number of requests from the state and local community continue to place demands on administrators at all schools and on each level. Ultimately the task for any administrator is trying to provide efficacy of learning in his or her respective school. Efficacy is the ability to articulate values in practice that connect to strong ethical foundations of justice grounded in our laws and society.

Although it may seem to be a daunting task, collective efficacy is vital to the overall success of the school. Administrators must be able to successfully handle logistical tasks such as scheduling and classroom assignments as well as managerial duties such as staff development and training. These play a critical role in leading to equity throughout the school. A plethora of training, knowledge, and resources is needed to assure that all stakeholders know their level of involvement in the collective efficacy of the school.

At its foundation, school leadership for equity is grounded in efficacy, action, and reflection. Productive action is an artifact of equitable practice that consists of high-leverage steps to improve outcomes for every student. Leaders for equity are educators who gracefully stand up and stand for others, demonstrate courage, and take risks to forge improvement. They are grounded by the confidence that they are doing the right thing. They participate in reflection on their practice in accord with others. Leaders for equity are focused on the significance of their work and are motivated by learning in action.

EquityJohn Ross and Jose Marie Berger stated that if principals are to create schools that are equitable, they must engage all staff members as partners in the effort. To enhance staff capacity, principals must directly address issues of race, provide ongoing training that focuses on equity, empower staff members with greater professional freedom, and hire specifically with social justice in mind.

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Ross, J. A., & Berger, M. J. (2009). Ross and Berger suggest four strategies to enhance equity in schools:

#1. Encourage staff members to talk about issues of diversity, values, and social justice within their Professional Learning Community.

This involves developing a shared conception of the school’s mission and establishing ways for potentially uncomfortable discussions about diversity and fairness to take place. Much of this can be accomplished through the collaboration among colleagues in their Professional Learning Communities. They may discuss strategies and practices that may be implemented which would enhance their ability to cope with issues of diversity, values, and social justice.

#2. Model equity beliefs for staff members.

Principals’ attitudes toward equity not only affect policy but also influence teachers’ beliefs and practices. In modeling those beliefs through daily interactions with staff members, students, and parents, principals must be willing to confront racist language and racial stereotypes. Strong leadership is forged on being consistent and fair when it comes to dealing swiftly and appropriately with the negativity that may come with sensitive issues, an by also treating all stakeholders-students, staff, and parents- with respect.

#3. Clarify misconceptions about equity.

Misconceptions about equity can surface in a number of ways, including student and teacher expectations about certain social groups; the ways in which racism is defined, and a belief in a “deficit” theory of diversity that holds that underachievement by poor students is a result of cultural factors. Principals must expose and refute misconceptions and take a moral stand that all students have the fundamental right to participate in all school activities.

#4. Create a safe, affirming school environment.

School leaders must move beyond legal compliance to create an environment in which all students feel welcomed and valued. This may involve creating support networks for students who may be subject to harassment because of cultural, sexual, or gender identity. Again, taking a moral stand on issues such as these models expected behaviors and sets the standard for professionalism.


Successful school leaders must seek ways to interact more effectively with the various cultures represented in their schools and actively engage in discussions about race and equity. They must instill their values into programs and activities, resource allocation, and instructional leadership. As instructional leaders, they should implement effective strategies that eliminate the inevitability of achievement on the basis of race and focus on equity when conducting learning walks, peer observations, and examining student work samples.

A successful school leader adopts a “whatever it takes” philosophy to apply their leadership values, and they pursue creative ways to validate, build trust with, and seek understanding of their increasingly diverse students. A successful school leader does their best to bridge the gap between home and school by involving parents in decision-making processes. Treating each parent with respect and inviting parents to serve on diversity committees are essential for school leaders to ensure that all voices are heard and present in the school. Larson, R. T. (2008).

Successful school leaders must also seek ways to instill efficacy in their hiring practices and in their promotion of continued learning for their current employees. According to Linda Darling-Hammond, Michelle LaPointe, Debra Meyerson, and Margaret Terry Orr, schools succeed in part because of their ability to employ and develop strong teachers. However, once teachers are working in schools, they need ongoing, high-quality opportunities for learning that focus on existing problems of practice in the content areas they teach with the specific students they serve. Although some states have initiated programs to address these concerns, such programs often come and go with budget shifts. This creates peaks and valleys or gaps in the initiatives rather than a steady set of policy reforms to develop high-quality teaching in all schools. Support for such initiatives that might result in a more seamless transition would include:

  • Provide support for improving the capacity of teacher education programs. Teachers need to know how to provide rigorous, relevant, and responsive instruction to low income students of color. Essential teacher skills include teaching content to diverse learners—including new English learners and those with learning differences—and designing an engaging and relevant hands-on curriculum.
  • Provide funding for at least 10 days of professional development each year. As all high achieving nations do, the U.S. federal and state governments should fund learning time for teachers. Schools should have flexibility to determine how to use this time.
  • Support high-quality professional development in the specific areas teachers need to be effective. This includes increasing support for sustained, curriculum-focused professional learning institutes as well as coaching models that help teachers put ideas into practice.
  • Support training for professional development providers and mentors to ensure they learn about successful methods of teaching students of color and English language learners. Such training should include teachers helping other teachers acquire these skills.
  • Provide time for planning and collaboration so that teachers can develop coherent, high quality curriculum and learn from one another. In addition to having adequately prepared teachers, schools also need well-prepared principals who are strong instructional leaders. Principals need to know how to plan professional development, redesign school organizations, and manage a change process. In addition, they need to know how to organize staffing and teacher time to reduce class size, create teams, incorporate advisory systems, and provide time for collaboration and professional learning opportunities. Darling-Hammond, L., LaPointe, M., Meyerson, D., Orr, M. T. (2007).

Overall, the administrator’s role in building equity in the school is a collaborative effort. It requires large amounts of training and focus by all the stakeholders who are involved. The climate and culture of the school will be molded in a positive way if the administrative team channels their energy in ways that enhance the improvement of student learning and achievement as well as empowering teachers. This investment in human capital will pay huge dividends for the school and community. State and federal assistance is vital as well, as both areas provide the necessary funding, training, and legislation by which the school leadership team may base their own values of collective efficacy upon. Articulation of those values in practice will lay the foundation for a successful school.  



Ross, J. A., & Berger, M. J. (2009) Equity and leadership: Research-based strategies for school leaders. School Leadership and Management.

Larson, R. T. (2008) Educational leadership development for equity: Enhancing a critical theory of action (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Lewis & Clark College, Portland, OR.

Darling-Hammond, L., LaPointe, M., Meyerson, D., Orr, M. T. (2007).

Preparing school leaders for a changing world: Lessons from exemplary leadership development programs. Stanford, CA: Stanford Educational Leadership Institute.


Allen D Eury, Ed D

Dean of School of Education, Gardner-Webb University

Dustin Morehead, Graduate Candidate at Gardner-Webb University

Craig Short, Graduate Candidate at Gardner-Webb University

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