Sociocultural dimensions of white principal leadership in multicultural elementary schools
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Through their personal and professional beliefs, knowledge, and leadership actions, school principals create a school environment and organization that indirectly––yet conclusively––facilitates or impedes successful student achievement (Goddard, Sweetland, & Hoy, 2000; Sergiovanni & Starratt, 1998). Current sociocultural differences between administrators and students, as well as the climate of academic accountability for all student groups, underscore the importance of understanding the interplay of these dimensions of school leadership. The goals of this qualitative investigation were to explore these dimensions for White principals of high-performing, culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) schools. The research questions focused on (a) the principals’ personal and professional experiences, beliefs, and knowledge, with regard to bilingual and special education and working with diverse communities; and (b) the ways in which principals’ knowledge and beliefs were reflected in their leadership with regard to CLD students in general and special education. Three White principals in Texas elementary schools, rated as “Recognized” or “Exemplary” in the state’s accountability system, were the primary participants in this multiple case study. Using Naturalistic Inquiry as the research design, data were generated through interviews with the three primary and 21 secondary participants, document analysis, and participant observation over the 2002-2003 academic year (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The findings revealed that participating principals promoted and supported students’ learning through a vision of shared responsibility for all students. Their instructional leadership encompassed beliefs about success for all students, high expectations for learning, a focus on academics, curricular/pedagogical knowledge, and actions to advance instructional and learning excellence. Decisions concerning bilingual special education students at their schools were influenced by their orientations to cultural diversity, which, in turn reflected prior sociocultural experiences, cultural/linguistic knowledge, and other external factors. The results of this study suggest that principals’ individual experiences, beliefs, knowledge and actions related to differences in language, culture, and ability in educational environments are highly influential in their development of school policies and practices focused on meeting the needs of all students. The interplay of these factors must be addressed in principal preparation, to ensure a campus environment that supports positive educational outcomes for all students.