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Leading for Justice Means Leading for People

Updated: Jul 31, 2021

Leading for Justice Means Leading for People

Sharla Horton-Williams, Ed.D.

School Leadership for Social Justice | | September 2020

Breonna Taylor.

Who cares?

Leading for social justice means you care. Principals should care. Teachers should care. Coordinators should care. Directors should care. Superintendents should care.

Why should you care?

Because if you have any student of color or any teacher or color or any colleague of color, they were likely impacted - broken even - by this event. Regardless of where you fall on the political scale or what you believe about the details of this tragedy, the Black community is collectively traumatized. The Black community is collectively frustrated. The Black community is collectively angry. The Black community is collectively afraid. Individually, people may be internalizing Ms. Taylor's death and the failure to bring charges against the officer who's bullet killed her, but collectively, there is an overt pain that is ravaging the Black community. How we lead in this season matters.

So, how will you lead? Beliefs drive behaviors. A critical disposition for effective social justice school leadership is a commitment to social justice. School leaders for social justice believe that the work of social justice is necessary and they hold an unwavering, relentless focus on equity and excellence.

If you believe in your call to social justice and are committed to this work, your actions will align with that belief. Beyond this, if you believe in your call to social justice, you will also demonstrate a strong commitment to the wholeness and well-being of the people in your larger school community who are personally and collectively affected by matters of social justice. Today, this is Black people. They are hurting. We are hurting. Black people are hurting but we are still showing up at school, at work, and in society. Your Black students, your Black teachers, your Black parents, your Black colleagues, and even your Black supervisors - need your leadership.

School leaders, you have a chance to really lead today. You have a chance to DO what you BELIEVE! The following two-step trauma-informed exercise is designed to help you develop a responsive action plan that supports members of your community. You’ll need paper and something to write with.

1. Stop and think about the people in your school community. Some of them are living through very real pain and trauma right now.

  • Who would have been most affected by this tragedy? List them by name if you can. Otherwise, list them by group(s).

  • What are the emotions that they may be feeling right now? List each emotion.

  • Why might they be feeling this emotion? Write a reason that would provoke this emotion.

  • What might they need from me right now? Write down all of the things that the people in your school community may need from you as they navigate this situation?

  • What can I provide to them and how? Explicitly list all of the support that you can provide to the members of your community. If you can do this for each person, great. If you need to do this for an entire group, that's okay, too - but note if this is an individual or collective response.

2. Now do it. However you as a leader can best and most appropriately respond to the very real trauma and pain felt by the people in your school community, it's time to do it. It may be saying, "I can't imagine how you're feeling right now, but I want you to know that I hurt with you." It may be saying, "I am committed to ensuring that every person that I know understands why this decision was unjust." It may be wearing a Breonna Taylor shirt to work on jeans day. It may be hanging a "Black Lives Matter" sign in your office. It may be making an announcement to students and staff acknowledging the decision and their anger and frustration. It may simply be saying, "I'm sorry."

But you have to do something. Why is your action so important right now? Because inaction and silence can hurt as much as the injustice itself.

"In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What else?

  • How can you, as leaders for justice, empathetically and authentically show support and care from people in our school community? What will you do now? Be specific and explicit in your plan.

  • And what about you? If you are a Black person, specifically a Black woman, what do you need from your leaders and how can they best show care and concern after this week's events? What else do you want them to know?



  • What beliefs did this information challenge? How were your beliefs shifted?

  • What new knowledge did you acquire?

  • What leadership behaviors will change as a result of this shift in beliefs and new knowledge?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams has a 20-year career in early childhood and PK-8 education and is committed to achieving educational excellence and equity for all students - especially Black and Hispanic students who have historically been underserved in education. She has served as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal in private, public charter, and traditional public schools. Sharla earned her doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University, where her research focused on the role of the school leadership in closing the opportunity-achievement gap.

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