LEADING FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE: A QUALITATIVE STUDY OF SCHOOL PRINCIPALS IN WASHINGTON STATE
Cloninger, Karen L.
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School leaders play an important transformative role as they carry out policies and practices that support socially just education for all students. The lack of clarity around socially just leadership makes it difficult for principals to distinguish this component of their work from what some simply refer to as just good leadership. This qualitative study explored how six public school principals striving to lead for social justice envision and enact their leadership practice. The questions that guided this inquiry were: (a) How do school principals who are striving to lead for social justice understand and conceptualize social justice? (b) How do the leadership characteristics and dispositions of principals that identify as socially just leaders influence how they work for social justice? (c) What are the leadership actions principals undertake as they engage in working for social justice in their schools? (d) What do principals who are striving to lead for social justice envision as the goals or outcomes of their social justice work? Data were collected principally through open-ended, phenomenologically oriented interviews. The findings reveal unique characteristics and dispositions that influenced two key goals that guided the participants’ work: (a) student academic success and (b) capable and caring citizens. Three leadership actions they took to achieve those goals were creating a climate of belonging for students, nurturing a climate of growth, and creating the container for social justice. Although these socially just leaders strove to influence their entire school community in service of their goals, their attention and ways in which they influenced teacher development were determined to be critical for pursuing their goals regarding social justice.