Disrupting Deficit Ideologies that Impact Learning for English Language Learners: An Elementary Principal's Role
Libbey Ireland, Jacqueline Heather
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Previous research shows that federal legislation, state mandates, and educator beliefs continue to marginalize students of color, low-socioeconomic status, second language learners and students with disabilities. Systemic structures, marginalizing practices, and deficit ideology permeate the organization and become institutionalized. This study examines the role of the principal in disrupting deficit ideology that can permeate a school. Using a conceptual framework that draws upon the principles of institutional theory and organizational learning to bring about change, a basic qualitative study was implemented. The purpose was to examine deficit and asset models of thinking held in the study’s elementary school and the principal’s role in addressing the change process necessary to challenge deficit assumptions to move toward asset ideology. In-depth interviews of the building’s leadership team, notes from the researcher’s reflexivity journal, and survey data were used to answer research questions that motivated this study. The findings from the research show the impact of deficit ideology on student achievement, culture, climate, and the impact of collective efficacy on the organization. The findings also show the impact of principal leadership on confronting assumptions that freeze beliefs and practices causing them to become institutionalized. When confronted with organizational change, the findings from the research pointed to (a) loss of control, (b) ability to be adaptive, and (c) mindsets impacting members of the study’s elementary school and their need to cling to the status quo. Two additional findings were: (a) an unintended discovery equating diverse programs to deficiency, and (b) principal addressing the change process. The four major conclusions that arose from the examination of the principal’s role in transformational change were: (a) disrupting the current dialogue with transparent communication minimizes fear, (b) galvanizing organizational learning is necessary for adaptability and willingness to change, (c) taking stock as a leader through reflective practices disrupts the deficit mindset, and (d) replacing the known with new behaviors and practices. I conclude that for educators and educational leaders to impact student achievement and close the achievement gap, one must first examine and own their assumptions toward marginalized groups of students; then, take intentional action to create change.