A Philosophy of Leadership
I am, at heart, an educator and leader who has been shaped and formed by the anti-racist and human rights lenses of Black educators and school leaders who have come before me; who were silenced and erased, but chose not to be forgotten. I am a product of justice systematically denied, but also of justice demanded with all deliberate speed. I am a product of the revolutionary act of the Great Migration, which leads me to question and call out where education upholds socially constructed and racist tropes, opposed to the value of other people’s children.
Leadership, within education, can not develop and effectively grow without an understanding of the personal narratives we all bring to the profession. Consequently, leadership ought to iterate form three main principles: authenticity, honor, and justice. The interconnectedness of these principles outlines and calls systems to task; to answer the questions presented by the needs of the moment, and not the needs of privilege or a commitment to uphold the status quo. Dr. Cornel West describes this interconnectedness of leadership through the lens of servant leadership, particularly when he asserts that “You can’t lead the people, if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people, if you won’t serve the people.” While simple in syntax, this statement calls for leadership to show up with a degree of authenticity that iterates from one’s ability to honor and love the population they are serving. Ultimately, if one truly loves the population they serve, they engage in practices, schema, and macrocosmic interaction that pushes all aspects of a system toward justice.
In my own practice, I articulate the aforementioned philosophy of educational leadership by first being an educator based particularly in reality based pedagogy, second being a leader driven by systemic awareness, and finally being a team member for colleagues to identify where justice is delayed in our practice. Reality based pedagogy posits that in order for an educator to be effective they must first understand the socio-political realities of their students, the communities in which they teach, and the conditions that impact learning. In short, an understanding of the lived experiences of young people is a prerequisite to being able to successfully educate. This framework, which is built upon by Christopher Emdin, also calls educators to make sure that the lessons that are crafted enable students to identify their own agency within socio-political realities that may attempt to marginalize or minimize particular communities, especially those of color. Reality pedagogy calls the educator and the leader to move beyond simply being culturally responsive and calls them to be aligned with the needs of the lives of the young people within the school. Leadership is not contained to responsiveness, it is inextricably linked to proactive practice that radiates from the lives that young people lead and present.
Moreover, leadership must be driven by systemic awareness. The United States as a country has dealt with the pandemic of anti-Black racial injustice since 1619 when the first enslaved Africans reached the shores of what is now considered Virginia. While there are a myriad of injustices that exist, the trope of anti-Black racism has seeped into educational, housing, health, judicial, and urban policy. While social and physical pandemics spike and metastasize, anti-Black racism adds a layer of cancerous vengeance. This is a system that is baked into the American fabric. As an educator and leader, it is my responsibility to name that system and name how it manifests. This is not a political stance. This is a naming and assertion that it is educational malpractice not to name that America in and of itself has to reckon with race, because the longer we wait the more injustice is dealt to young people. How can one effectively educate children, for example, and not acknowledge the layers of racial injustice in this country when the coronavirus pandemic has literally killed Black communities five times more than white communities and when Black boys are three times more likely to be suspended in the formative years than their white counterparts? If I am to be a leader for this century, I must name and call out the direct blockages to educational justice.
Therefore, finally, my role as a leader is to be a coalition builder among colleagues to identify how we can enact justice within our school and for our students. Justice is what love for students looks like out loud. If we are committed to our students and their learning, we must love their full identities enough to advocate for the resources, realities, and ramifications that will allow them to participate in our schools as full human beings worthy of dignity and respect. In short, my leadership is built and sustained by a love for young people to actualize their full potential. My role is to actualize justice, from subject to subject and student to student.