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Race-Conscious Ethics in School Leadership: From Impersonal Caring to Critical Responsibility


by Michael G. Gunzenhauser, Osly J. Flores & Michael W. Quigley - 2021

Background/Context: This research is informed by leadership theory and care ethics and how these theories intersect with race-consciousness. This study contributes to the emerging literature on race-conscious leadership ethics that supports building capacity for equity leadership.

Purpose: The authors explore the intersection of race-consciousness and leadership ethics, studying how leaders explain their practices for increasing equity, their leadership ethics, and their sense of responsibility and personal capacity to address racial achievement disparities.

Participants: The participants are 22 school leaders: 20 principals and two school district officials from 14 urban and suburban school districts in a metropolitan region in one northeastern state.

Research Design: This article draws from a semistructured interview study, based on Seidman’s three-component interview design but combined in a single interview: history, focus, and reflection. The authors follow a constructivist, exploratory design to develop interpretations and a three-part conceptual framework.

Data Collection and Analysis: Semistructured interviews allowed the researchers to engage participants in deeper explanations and captured the leaders’ lived experiences through their subjective points of view. Analysis proceeded through a collaborative coding and memo-writing process among the three authors, each contributing distinct historical and racial identities and professional backgrounds.

Findings: Finding a broad range of perspectives about race and its significance for the experiences of children in school settings, the authors identify variations in moral perspectives that play out in differential views of caring and responsibility, especially when leaders talked about the racial and socioeconomic diversity among their students and how they address inequities in opportunities and outcomes. The authors explore four themes: (a) community-based caring, (b) tough-love/tough-luck caring, (c) color-evasive caring in “fortunate communities,” and (d) caring with minimal responsiveness. Many principals, especially White principals in schools with a small percentage of students of color, maintain a color-evasive perspective and demonstrate “impersonal caring,” with abstract and technical concern for student performance. Race-conscious principals demonstrate caring that takes on different forms, denoted by more marked elaboration of “critical responsibility” for children of color. Between these two perspectives are varied attitudes and perspectives.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Greater attention is needed for continuing ethical cultivation of school leaders. Across themes, there are multiple routes to developing capacity for race-conscious leadership ethics, through engaging in deeper reflection about personal history, expanding one’s understanding of what it means to care across difference, critiquing one’s color evasiveness, and learning from colleagues who demonstrate collective responsibility.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 2, 2021, p. 1-40
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23583, Date Accessed: 4/19/2021 9:56:05 PM

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About the Author
  • Michael G. Gunzenhauser
    University of Pittsburgh
    E-mail Author
    MICHAEL G. GUNZENHAUSER, Ph.D., is an associate professor and associate chair of Educational Foundations, Organizations, and Policy in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a philosopher of education and qualitative research methodologist who studies ethics and epistemology in relation to social justice in education. His work includes the book, The Active/Ethical Professional: A Framework for Responsible Educators (Continuum, 2012).
  • Osly J. Flores
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    E-mail Author
    OSLY J. FLORES, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on race-conscious school leadership, school leaders of color, ethical leadership, and supportive practices toward graduate students of color. He is co-author of “Advancing Equity-Based School Leadership: The Importance of Family-School Relationships” in The Urban Review (2020); he co-authored “The (Unspoken) Pact: A Composite Counternarrative of Latino Males’ Compańerismo in a Doctoral Program at a Predominately White Institution in the Midwest” in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (2020).
  • Michael W. Quigley
    Robert Morris University
    E-mail Author
    MICHAEL W. QUIGLEY, Ph.D., is assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Organizational Leadership in the School of Informatics, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Robert Morris University. He conducts research on educational leadership, critical leadership, and youth leadership. He is the co-author, with Anthony B. Mitchell, of “‘What Works’: Applying Critical Race Praxis to the Design of Educational and Mentoring Interventions for African American Males,” in the Journal of African American Males in Education (2018).
 
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