We increasingly understand how important it is for our students for us to be culturally responsive leaders. Have you wondered how your leadership measures up against the culturally responsive continuum? How do you know if you are truly a culturally responsive leader?  Exactly what does it mean to be culturally responsive? And why, especially now, is this  so critical? These are some of the essential questions we should ask ourselves to ensure we are showing up as authentic, inclusive, and responsive leaders. 

Equity, accountability, and cultural responsiveness are  key school improvement considerations for leaders of today. It is simply not enough to show good overall graduation results, it is critical to ensure that every group of students is reaching positive outcomes regardless of ability, race, gender, language, and socio-economic status.

What does it mean to be an Inclusive Leader?

The release of New York State’s Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework is propelling our systems in a positive direction. As the shifts are in motion, we must consider whether our current leaders  possess the skillset and mindset to lead differently. Do they know their role in creating cultures of belonging where everyone can thrive? Do they know what it takes to be an inclusive leader?

Jennifer Brown published the second edition of her book, How to be an Inclusive Leader, which provides us with insights into a new theory of change and an inclusive leader continuum. According to Brown, “Inclusive leaders understand that status quo only works for certain identity groups and that people are having radically different experiences in society and the workplace.” We as leaders cannot be ‘jack of all trades’ but we definitely need to engage in hearts and mind work to move from unaware, aware, active and advocate stages to cultivate the skills of an inclusive leader.

When The Diversity of the Student Body Differs From the Teacher Workforce

How we support our building and district leaders in this work is critical and directly linked to student performance. We know that leaders are tasked with taking care of everything within their building, and  they are expected to shift their skills to become cognizant of their biases, and awareness of cultural appropriateness. Based on the most recent demographic research on NY state teacher diversity, there is a significant gap between teachers, leaders, and students. There are many more students of color than there are teachers of color. What worked in the past is no longer applicable in today’s classroom. Students need role models who understand their backgrounds and can relate to their current and past lived experiences. Leaders must have a more refined and focused skill set to understand their groups of students and their individual needs. At PLC Associates, we developed a program, Leveraged Leadership, to help leaders build these skills. 

The Foundation Five Practices to Build Student Success CTA

A Case Study on Comprehensive Professional Learning Strategies to Support Teachers of Multilingual Learners (MLL)

A great example of how Leverage Leadership works in action is Westbury Union Free School District, a district composed of six schools and almost 5,000 students in New York State. When the district identified major population shifts, it partnered with PLC Associates to provide a series of comprehensive professional learning activities to support teachers of Multilingual Learner (MLL) students. District leaders were very intentional in the design of these offerings, making certain that staff was provided with key strategies that could be implemented quickly and show impact. According to Svetlana Stowell, a facilitator of professional learning, “It was impressive to see the enthusiasm and willingness of staff to immediately apply the strategies provided and then, follow up in their various meetings to further refine methodologies.” The sessions included: the use of technology, supporting differently-abled students, ELL/MLL language acquisition understanding, instructional shifts, and mindset work. Westbury’s outstanding work continues as they offer ongoing intensive yearly support to every school and every staff member, building a team of culturally responsive educators and leaders.

Key Questions to Build Capacity of Inclusive Leaders

When supporting your leadership teams to build their capacity as Inclusive Leaders, here are key questions to consider:

  • Do your leaders have a deeper understanding of the concept of self-identity and its components?
  • Do your leaders understand key groups of students and data outcomes for each of your historically under-served subgroups?
  • Do your leaders possess  a tool box of skills, including evidence-based strategies, to meet the needs of each of your student subgroups?
  • Do your leaders understand their role in creating cultures of belonging where everyone can thrive?

The answers to these four key questions provide a pathway to establishing the responsive environment we need to accommodate all of our student needs and for our entire school communities to benefit from a true “culture of care and belonging.”

PLC Associates, LLC., a Scholarus Learning Company works with schools across the nation to improve school performance, student achievement, and culture through a systems-thinking perspective. Penny Ciaburri is the Founder of PLC Associates, LLC. Svetlana Stowell is a Senior Associate.


Brown, J. (2022) How to be an Inclusive Leader. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Culturally Responsive-Sustaining  Education Framework. (2018) http://www.nysed.gov/crs/framework

NY State Teacher Diversity Database. (2018-2019) https://data.democratandchronicle.com/ny-teacher-diversity/

You can learn more about the Foundational Five here.

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