Distributed Leadership Practices to Better Serve Latinx Families and Students

Nov 5, 2019 by

Ingrid T. Colón –

Latinx students represent one of the nation’s fastest-growing K-12 student populations, yet, many Latinx families do not feel like their perspectives are valued in U.S. schools. Historically, schools have diminished the power of Latinx families by keeping them out of the decision-making process due to deficit views about parents and linguistic and cultural barriers.

A new study by Sandra Quiñones and Anne Marie FitzGerald suggests that distributed leadership may be a useful strategy for combating this problem. Research suggests that K-12 school leadership can be a distributed practice where families and students are trusted leaders and equal partners in these educational spaces. Distributed leadership allows all members of the school community to leverage their expertise and perspective to collectively make decisions for change and improvement.

Quiñones and FitzGerald examined how one school leveraged distributed leadership to promote shared decision-making practices among Latinx families and students. Specifically, they conducted a case study at a Title I, public elementary community school that served a predominantly Latinx population of students and families. Community schools partner with community-based organizations that can collectively help improve student learning and promote stronger families and communities, such as government agencies, institutions of higher education, faith-based organizations, and parent/family groups. Community schools often develop long and lasting community partnerships, which are facilitated by community school coordinators (CSC) who guide the strategic collaboration of the school and community.

In this case study, the school principal and CSC collaborated to distribute leadership among Latinx families and students. Their leadership practices positioned families and students as integral participants and partners of the school. Latinx families and students actively participated and worked collectively to identify and solve a common problem. For example, safety during pick-up and drop-off times was a priority issue affecting the school and community. Parents’ voices were heard and instrumental for collective action around this issue. To do so, the school coordinated meetings in both languages (Spanish/English) and provided interpretation services. These bilingual communication practices allowed opportunities for Latinx families to feel included regardless of their proficiency in English, which tends to be a barrier to share their voice and agency.

Beyond working collaboratively with families, the school actively engaged students in addressing issues impacting their school community, which is notable since students’ perspectives are often ignored in schools. Students—especially at the elementary level—are typically viewed as lacking the background experience necessary to make changes and influence school decisions. Specifically, the school offered a leadership program that included students from all grade levels (Pre-K through fifth grade) to solve community-based problems and to take action on them. This approach encouraged the whole school community to find solutions together and share developmentally appropriate responsibilities. As the school’s CSC shared with Quiñones and FitzGerald, “fifth graders participate in community leadership group and their duties include organizing local neighborhood clean-ups and serving as official [bilingual] greeters at all school/community events. Third graders are in charge of gratitude or thanking partners, volunteers and community members.”

Overall, this study found that leadership practices that focus on cultural values such as family, belonging, commitment, education and taking action can strengthen partnerships between Latinx families and students. Moreover, these leadership practices must include an enfoque compartido or a shared vision to lead juntos/together, which is an important part of the community school model. The authors note that by prioritizing family engagement, school leaders created an environment where families felt a sense of belonging and that they were “valued members of a school community [who were] working collectively towards a common goal of educating children.”

Despite the positive impacts of distributed leadership observed in this study, there are a variety of reasons why this form of family engagement is not a common practice in K-12 schools. A primary reason, argue Quiñones and FitzGerald, is that principal preparation programs and professional development have not yet caught up to the changing demographics of schools. Engaging effectively with Latinx families and students requires well-prepared educational leaders who view them as essential partners for the school and not a challenge to overcome.

To that end, the authors argue that these leaders must be provided with preparation that helps them understand the leadership potential of Latinx families and students; develop the skills necessary to build capacity among Latinx families and students; and recognize that bilingualism and biculturalism can be valued in schools even in the absence of formal bilingual/multilingual education programs.

Although this study focused on a community school, these recommendations are applicable to all aspiring or current school leaders. Latinx families and students deserve empowering school spaces where they feel welcomed and part of the decision-making discussions that directly impact them.

Source: Leading Juntos/Together: Distributed Leadership Practices to Better Serve Latinx Families and Students

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