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Bending the Arc Towards Justice: Equity-Focused Practices for Education Leaders

reviewed by Cameron C. Beatty & Alounso A. Gilzene - January 24, 2022

coverTitle: Bending the Arc Towards Justice: Equity-Focused Practices for Education Leaders
Author(s): Rajni Shankar-Brown (Editor)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1648026087, Pages: 326, Year:
Search for book at Amazon.com

Bending the Arc Towards Justice, edited by Rajni Shankar-Brown, offers hope through chapters grounded in ideas that center equity practices for educational leadership. The chapters are intended to offer inspiration to create equitable, healthy, sustainable schools and communities in our world (p. 15). The book offers diverse perspectives and can serve as a resource for educational leaders through innovative models, culturally relevant pedagogies, case studies, counterstories, and equity-centered strategies shared by the contributing chapter authors. The book is purposeful in connecting theory to praxis while also centering the inequities and challenges currently facing school leadership in the United States.

In the first chapter, titled A Revolution of Love and Action: Bending the Arc Toward Justice Through Equity-Focused Educational Leadership, Shankar-Brown frames the book by using Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.s words where he challenged the nation to create a worldview where everyone works together to abolish racial injustice, to eliminate poverty, to practice nonviolence, and to work together for freedom and human dignity (p. 1). The chapter goes on to remind educational leaders of the opportunity to embrace Dr. Kings words of wisdom and help ensure the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice (p. 2). The chapter is strong in outlining the persistent challenges of school leadership navigating economic, racial, ethnic, linguistic, gender and sexuality, and cultural diversity issues across the United States and globally. The chapter also frames the book in current times and contexts. For example, it  highlights the turbulent political climate and experiences of racial injustices, trauma from family separation and deportations by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the ongoing COIVD-19 pandemic. The chapter goes on to frame the following chapters by highlighting the intentionality of language, transformational solidarity, disrupting injustice, and a call to action.

In Chapter 2, Pratt and Dantas-Whitney discuss moving towards an emancipatory pedagogical framework of hope. The chapter authors offer portraits of two educational leaders that examine critical realities and hopeful possibilities in bilingual educational contexts in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The chapter concludes with promising practices for challenging oppressive structures. The Emancipatory Pedagogical Framework of Hope table in the chapter is an important resource for educational leaders to use when assessing their own practices and moving towards addressing deficit discourses.

In Chapter 3, titled Woke Leadership: Why Critical Race Consciousness Matters for Educational Leaders, Quigley and Allie describe how Critical Race Theory (CRT) in education encourages new questions to ask about opportunity gaps and racial, educational disparities (p. 49). The chapter also outlines how critical race praxis in education is necessary to move action steps toward educational justice. The chapter ends with key recommendations for woke educational leaders that includes exploring ways to eliminate academic programs that reinforce racial stratification and produce predictable racially disparate results, and to decenter White orientations and worldviews in their approach to schooling and uplift the cultural practices, ontologies, and epistemologies of historically marginalized people (p. 67). In the fourth chapter, Gullo discusses a justice for bias framework that includes holistic flexibility, meaningful relationships, and equity-focused morality. Gullo offers a literature review on how implicit bias remains a contributor to inequities in schools. The chapter engages equitable practices for educational leaders to consider with their staff to create learning environments that reduce the impact of implicit bias through the justice for bias framework.  

In Chapter 5, titled The Privilege of Intersectionality and the Development of Response(able) Educators, Antonette and colleagues use intersectionality as an analytical tool to address changes in the American Public School System (APSS). The chapter stresses that honoring the intersectionality of diverse schools and communities must include collaborative approaches with educational leaders who reflect the communities they serve. In Chapter 6, Morgan and Morgan offer a framework to support educational leadership using Ubuntu onto-epistemology as a foundation to attune to themselves in a manner that produces deep equitable change within education (p. 138). The framework focuses on the actions of the leader to promote equity while working within structures of systemic oppression. With Chapter 7, Ryan suggests professional learning experiences designed to support school leaders to identify their why in relation to equity and to develop an understanding of equity literacy.

Chapter 8, written by Beall and Andrzejewski, introduces the concept of equity audits as a tool for school improvement. The authors describe the auditing process as a continuous disaggregation of school data to truly understand student representation and proportionality within all aspects of operations (p. 166). Once the data is collected, the educational leadership team of the school needs to prioritize data based on the goals and develop an implementation plan to address the spaces of inequity within the building. To better understand this work in practice, the authors utilized a survey and then conducted interviews with leader researchers from schools. What they found was that there was little understanding of equity audits and their utility. The participants did, however, endorse the practice even though they said they would not use it personally, which speaks to the larger issue of schools not understanding how they could inadvertently promote inequity.

Chapter 9, titled My Brothers Keeper Male Academy: A Response to Race-Based Inequalities for Males of Color in Urban School, discusses the creation and operation of the My Brothers Keeper Male Academy in Buffalo Public Schools. The school was conceptualized as a space to address discipline and drop-out disproportionality for male students of color. A point of emphasis in the discussion of the school is that its success was predicated on a systematic commitment to creating a culturally and linguistically responsive environment. The curriculum, policies, professional development, and activities are described as all being aligned to cultural and linguistic responsiveness, which demonstrates the value of institutional consistency in creating equitable school spaces. In Chapter 10, Bryant outlines the characteristics of schools serving high-poverty communities. This is done to demonstrate the multitude of challenges educational leaders face in this context including chronic absenteeism, teacher retention, discipline, and school safety (p. 216). The author then dedicates space to highlighting exemplar cases of schools that are succeeding within a high-poverty community context. These examples are used to make recommendations, which emphasize the need for high levels of organization and intentionality behind decisions when reforming a school environment.

In Chapter 11, Allee-Herndon and Perrotta discuss the importance of educational leaders facilitating the use of counterstories in the curriculum as social justice practice. Here, the authors place the onus on school leaders to focus on social justice advocacy and anti-racism in classrooms and support teachers through structures like professional learning communities and other like practices. The main takeaway of this chapter is that brave spaces and social justice need to be intentionally created and sustained by leadership for them to be successful. The author also provides useful recommendations for how educational leaders should approach social justice work in elementary and secondary educational settings. Chapter 12, titled Soft Skills and Entrepreneurial Competencies to Promote Equity in Schools, acknowledges the multifaceted role of the educational leader. Floris and Floris adopt a socio-constructivist approach to articulating the skills educational leaders need to navigate a changing societal context. The authors argue that these soft skills, coupled with a pedagogical framework, accept adaptability in changing times and create an environment conducive to the promotion of diversity and equity (p. 269).

The final chapter of the book, titled Giving Equity A Voice: Supporting School Administrators with Global Equitable Theories and Practices, presents novel conceptualizations of equity that go beyond the status quo. Here, the authors utilize culturally sustaining pedagogies, critical cosmopolitanism, and intercultural awareness in concert as a conceptual frame for global equity (p. 286). Global equity in the text is expressed through three frameworks: exploreawakenact, global telephony theory, and human-centered practices, which all point to a new imagination and possibility for equity. Educational leaders who adopt a global equity perspective work to sustain culture, focus on strengths, and connect students, school communities, and others to opportunities. Commitment to global equity requires a paradigm shift in leadership that is inclusive of the perspectives of students, faculty, staff, and community in meaningful and intentional ways.

Overall, this book is an excellent resource for educational leaders who want to deepen their understanding of equity-centered practices, with examples and frameworks that are applicable and consider different contexts. The broad appeal of Bending the Arc Toward Justice is the fact that it is: 1) relevant for the sociopolitical moment within a U.S. educational context, 2) provides a practical set of guidelines for educational leaders to help in navigating complex discourse around oppression and liberation, and 3) centers hope, love, and empathy as a means of disrupting injustice and creating equitable communities (p. 15). The extant literature on educational leaders is consistent in positioning leadership as an incredibly important lever for sustainable systematic change (Bush & Glover, 2014; Bryk et al., 2010; Fullan, 2001; Leithwood & Riehl, 2004). As such, Bending the Arc Towards Justices emphasis on leadership practices for equity is aligned with the dominant discourse on reform. However, recent literature has advocated for a shift away from constructing leadership as formalized, hierarchical, and individualistic, and instead promotes a more inclusive, community-based, collaborative, and responsive process where students, teachers, parents, and community members are included in decision-making processes (Bertrand & Rodela, 2018). Bending the Arc Towards Justice does an excellent job of navigating this tension by highlighting the importance of leadership while also dedicating much of its chapters to defining leadership as active and inclusive engagement with all members of the school community.



Bertrand, M., & Rodela, K. C. (2018). A framework for rethinking educational leadership in the margins: Implications for social justice leadership preparation. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 13(1), 1037. https://doi.org/10.1177/1942775117739414

Bush, T., & Glover, D. (2014). School leadership models: What do we know? School      Leadership & Management, 34(5), 553571.           https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13632434.2014.928680

Bryk, A., Sebring, P., Allensworth, E., Luppescu, S., & Easton, J., (2010). Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago. University of Chicago Press.  

Fullan, M. (2001). The new meaning of educational change. Routledge.

Leithwood, K., & Riehl, C. (2004). What we know about successful leadership. Practising             Administrator, 26(4). https://search.informit.org/doi/abs/10.3316/aeipt.140107

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 24, 2022
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23961, Date Accessed: 2/1/2022 1:40:37 PM

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About the Author
  • Cameron C. Beatty
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    CAMERON C. BEATTY, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department at Florida State University. Cameron teaches courses in the undergraduate leadership studies program and the higher education graduate program, as well as conducts research with the Leadership Learning Research Center. Cameronís research foci includes exploring the intersections of gender and race in leadership education, leadership development of Students of Color on historically white college campuses, and understanding experiences of racial battle fatigue for Black and Latinx students.
  • Alounso A. Gilzene
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    ALOUNSO A. GILZENE, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Florida State University. Dr. Gilzeneís research foci include: 1) exploring school leader decision-making around the use of non-profit and community-based organizations in predominantly Black schools; 2) the utility of restorative practices in mitigating race-based disparities in school discipline policies---and the impact this has on the school to prison pipeline; 3) and urban school leadersí navigation of inequitably funded school districts.
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