Background/Context: Most educators have had little if any preparation in racial literacy, the understanding of social identity related to race and the ability to recognize and negotiate racism. In fact, they may view race as irrelevant. Yet teachers and school leaders hold deep-seated racial ideologies that shape their day-to-day practice and have implications for their students’ learning and success This study presents an analysis of school leadership in three, predominantly African-American schools, and the constructions of race, learning, and leadership.
Purpose: The authors draw from Feagin’s (2010) conceptual framework, the White racial frame (WRF), to analyze school leadership practice and ways in which racial ideologies emerge and shape leaders’ work with teachers. The WRF consists of five dimensions including racial stereotypes, racial narratives and interpretations, racial images and language accents, racialized emotions, and inclinations to discriminatory action.
Context and Participants: This study took place in three schools in two urban districts in western Pennsylvania. Participants included three White school principals, instructional leaders, and several focal teachers.
Research Design, Data Collection, and Analysis: This ethnographic case study is part of a larger study that took place in three predominantly African-American elementary schools. More than 80 hours of school-based observations took place, by shadowing each principal weekly and observing her in various capacities as she supervised teachers, led walkthroughs and faculty meetings, and attended or provided professional development. Additionally, multiple interviews of the school leaders and focal teachers were conducted to surface beliefs about race, knowledge of culture and learning, and knowledge of teachers’ cultural competence. We developed a coding scheme based upon Feagin’s (2010) paradigm of the WRF to surface leadership beliefs and practice and used a qualitative data analysis software package to analyze our data.
Findings: The school leaders in this study were deeply rooted within the WRF in their daily leadership routines, perpetuating stereotypes and justifying discriminatory actions in the school, ultimately limiting learning opportunities for children of color and for teachers.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The findings underscore the need for critical knowledge of race and racism to be included in teacher and leadership preparation and professional development. The WRF serves as a fine-grained analytic tool for understanding how racial ideologies surface in leadership. The authors recommend that future research explore the role of school leaders in deframing and reframing the White racial frame and develop the concept of racial literacy in educational contexts.