Best Practices for Educational Social Justice Leadership Preparation Programs

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Reviewed by Brian Xu


Given the recent increase in racial diversity of the US university student population, it is critical now more than ever educators and administrators must be equipped to meet the challenges and demands associated with effectively teaching students of all racial, Indigenous, and ethnic identities. As such, racially diverse leaders are crucial in all environments, especially those with greater racial diversity. Previous studies have indicated that schools with administrators of color, for instance, are generally associated with better educational outcomes for students of color. While more research needs to be conducted in this field, the importance of culturally responsive leadership in addressing student needs is abundantly clear.

Nonetheless, there is still much that remains unclear about the most effective strategies that can empower leaders of color in educational space. This study examines a school leadership preparation program’s effectiveness to integrate culturally responsive frameworks into tangible practices and distills the findings into learning that similar programs can leverage in their own practice.

Kyo Yamashiro is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) where she researches strategies to improve student outcomes. Karen Hutching is the Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at LMU where she specializes in quantitative research methodology and survey construction. Manuel N. Ponce Jr. is an Associate Professor and director of the Institute of School Leadership and Administration at LMU where he studies topics like educational leadership preparation. Dana Coleman is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Education at LMU and the Executive Director for the Independent School Alliance, a coalition of schools in Los Angeles that provide opportunities for students from underrepresented backgrounds. Laura McGowan-Robinson is the Founder and CEO of Diversity in Leadership Institute, which is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for Black and Latinx students in California.

Methods and Findings

The leadership preparation program that is the subject of the study is located in Southern California and embedded in a private university with a Jesuit tradition and a social justice mission. School administrators, teachers, and other education staff enroll in the program, learn skills and tools for making instruction and curriculum more equitable, and graduate with a degree or certificate. Several of the authors of the study are involved in the program, giving them an inside perspective into its design and operation. The authors explore how the program engages educators most effectively at three stages: before entering, while participating, and after completion. The best practices that emerge from the research are as follows:

  • Before the program – in recruitment and admissions:
    • Proactively identified and recruited racially diverse educators by utilizing networks that have Black, Indigenous, and educators of color 
    • Created affordable programs and/or offer financial aid to candidates from socioeconomically underrepresented backgrounds
    • Streamlined course offerings and reduced credit requirements, which also reduced tuition and lowered cost barriers
  • During the program – through preparation and support:
    • Utilized hands-on field learning that focused on disparities and inequities that are relevant to educators’ and students’ lived experiences
    • Presented various programming formats tailored to different learning needs, including developing a hybrid “executive” model for educators in later stages of their careers
    • Promoted mentorship and networking opportunities for Black, Indigenous and  educators and administrators of color
  • After the program – through placement and retention:
    • Providing formal support in the job search process, including mock interviews and alumni connections
    • Continuing assistance for a period of time after program completion to ensure that educators could find employment matching their qualifications
    • Maintaining teams of advisors, mentors, and professors to provide individualized attention


Evidence indicates educators who have completed the program gained knowledge about how to better support teachers, build community, and promote equity at their schools. As a result, the practices outlined in the study can serve as a model that other programs can learn from in order to more effectively support Black, Indigenous and staff of color in their professional development.

Furthermore, the program is continuing to improve. For instance, a new initiative will be launched in the future to specifically recruit more Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders. Curriculum is continually being iterated on to emphasize anti-racism and cultural responsiveness. Ultimately, the authors contend that providing leadership programs is  instrumental to creating more equitable professional development opportunities for Black, Indigenous and educators of color. For the field of education to become more equitable for staff and students alike, it is crucial for universities to address the  racial inequities and barriers, to pave the way forward for its leaders and learners.


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