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Supporting Cultural Responsiveness Systemically: Humanizing Curriculum and Instruction Through Instructional Coaches

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Instructional coaches are often employed as leaders in districts to support ongoing professional development and mentorship for teachers and/or principals, and curricular decisions (Domina, Lewis, Agarwal, & Hanselman, 2015). Based on literature on school leaders’ use of community-centered epistemologies (Author, 2016; McCray & Beacham, 2011), this work highlights how instructional coaches understand and enact culturally responsive school leadership in relation to curriculum and teaching. This study examines Culturally responsive school leadership (CRSL) at the intersection of school and district-level leadership.
Theoretical Framework
Literature on culturally responsive instructional leaders has been minimal, and thus we approach this by synthesizing two distinct areas of prior research: culturally responsive school leadership (CRSL) and instructional leadership as it is related to equity. Earlier research highlights a need for school leaders to support teachers in cultural responsiveness (Author, 2016). Culturally responsive instruction involves drawing from the culture, ethnic diversity and experiences of students to better meet their instructional needs (Gay, 2002). However, there are often limited organizational structures to support the development of school leaders (Floden, Porter, Alford, Freeman, Irwin, Schmidt, Schwille, 1998).
The data draws from a 6-month long qualitative case study of a mid-sized, Midwestern school district that was attempting to implement culturally responsive leadership practices. After axial coding, findings emerged from interview data.

Data sources
Interviews: This work is based on 90-minute interviews with five individuals in equity related leadership positions including four instructional coaches (i.e. Q-comp coaches), and the director of the Office of Educational Equity in Western School District.
Field Notes: One of the authors of this paper provided professional development over a period of one and one-half years on CRSL to Western School District Q-Comp coaches. This provided an opportunity to serve as a participant observer within the study allowing for an insider view of events taking place (Yin, 2013). Field notes were developed based on these sessions.

Findings/ Implications
There were several findings that illuminate the potential of supporting instructional coaches in culturally responsive work, we highlight three here. The most promising finding was that districts can utilize instructional coaches to strengthen the culturally responsive pedagogy of every teacher in a district. In fact, instructional coaches perceived their ability to be equitable and culturally responsive was easier (or even possible) when district policies and high-level administrators (e.g. superintendent, assistant superintendent, etc.) supported those behaviors. Next, trust from teachers was found to be strongly related with the coaches’ ability to promote cultural responsiveness. Third, the coaches believed their role was enhanced as culturally responsive leaders when they attended professional developments with community liaisons. CRSL is not only a school-level function, but should also be a district-level practice.
Scholarly Significance
This contribution moves beyond school leadership and examines how district leadership practices and decisions foster and hinder culturally relevant practices and the challenges in employing this equity work.


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