An Informed and Equitable Approach to Mindful Leadership for Educators

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Reviewed by Clare Fisher


This conceptual paper by Kozleski, Stepaniuk, and Proffitt centers around the application of DisCrit in education systems. DisCrit is a theoretical framework that examines the interconnected relationship of racism and ableism. DisCrit is studied to better understand oppressive systems and practices that perpetuate racism and ableism while simultaneously providing insights and tools to learn how to dismantle these oppressive forces.

The authors argue that leaders in special education need to adopt an analytical mindset that is informed by DisCrit theory in order to transform education systems. If educators embrace culturally responsive practices, they will root out policies and traditions that contribute to racism and ableism in the classroom.

Elizabeth B. Kozleski is a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Her research focuses on equity and justice issues in inclusive education. Inna Stepaniuk is an Assistant Professor at the Simon Fraser University Faculty of Education. Her research includes an analysis of the nexus between educational policy, practices, and commitments to inclusivity, equity, and justice. William Proffitt is a visiting Clinical Assistant Professor at the Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis School of Education. His research focuses on understanding the identities and lived experiences of Black boys with and without disability labels, and the lived experiences of those whom Black boys co-construct the world (e.g., teachers, teacher educators, family members, friends, and spiritual advisors).

Methods and Findings

Kozleski, Stepaniuk, and Proffitt identify concepts based on DisCrit theory by which special education leaders can make transformative change:

  • Human capacities: Educators need to center the capabilities of their students of color and differently abled students. (These include emotions, imagination, reason, etc.) 
  • Rebooting individualization and personalization: School leaders, especially principals, should shift education strategy from a standardized approach to a personalized approach. “Learning happens when it is tailored to the needs of learners, designed to support their exposure to and development of knowledge, skills and ways of understanding what matters to them, and aids in improving their mental and physical health and well-being.”
  • Leadership as reflexive practice: Practitioners should collaborate with students, families, and communities on the design of learning practices.
  • Sense-making within educational bureaucracies: Schools should uncover who benefits from their current system and how; leaders must incorporate marginalized voices in this analysis to create disruptive policies that realign moral and ethical outcomes to support all students.
  • Centering marginalized perspectives: Relatedly, school leaders must engage with students of color and differently abled students because they are most affected by harmful policies and practices.
  • Creating sustaining and emancipatory policies: School decision makers should shape policy design and implementation to ensure that new policies are “sticky,” meaning that they are effective and long-lasting. 
  • An ecological systems lens: Thoughtful design of physical spaces and social spaces is essential. Educators should design these spaces to support the needs of individual students and their communities while considering how these strategies can be scaled as needed. 
  • Disrupting our imaginations: A person’s background and culture shapes their perspective on the world and how they imagine interactions with the education system, tools, and processes. The authors challenge educators to integrate these multiple perspectives into one “cultural world” that reflects various values and social practices. 


The authors of this paper conclude by calling for action and leadership from special education educators. They write, “Given the lift needed to move the ecology of our educational system forward, we cannot afford leaders who lack a critical consciousness and the knowledge needed to engage their communities in deep learning and sweeping alteration of patterns of learning and development in schools.” 

The authors ultimately encourage educators to incorporate the concepts of DisCrit theory outlined above into their approach to education design and implementation.


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