Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Educational Leadership

Committee Director

Karen Sanzo

Committee Member

Melva Grant

Committee Member

Steven Myran


The importance of culturally responsive pedagogy has gained prominence in the last few decades. Educational leaders have a significant impact on student outcomes and, as such, it is important that leaders are culturally responsive to meet student needs. The purpose of this study was to use qualitative case study methodology to gain a better understanding of culturally responsive school leaders including their daily actions, the barriers they face and the role of critical self-reflection in their practice. The research design and methodology of this study take into consideration the study’s focus on culturally responsive school leadership through the theoretical triad framework of critical race theory, critical social theory and transformative learning theory. This research study used individual case studies with a cross-case analysis as a research design.

This qualitative study answers two research questions:

1. What is the relationship between critical self-reflection and the role of culturally responsive school leaders in transforming their schools to align with culturally responsive pedagogy?

2. What actions do leaders make to enact culturally responsive practices in schools, and what barriers do they face enacting those practices?

There were five major findings from the analysis of data in this study. The first was the impact of a leader's background on their leadership. All of the participants in this study shared how their background impacted their perspective as a culturally responsive school leader. The next three findings focused on how leaders respond to the needs of their students and then transform the school to meet those needs. One of the primary actions of a culturally responsive school leader is first to understand and know the needs of their students and then to address those needs directly. Another finding of the study was how the culturally responsive school leader cultivates a culturally responsive school environment. Next, each of the participants expressed how they are a catalyst for change through the daily actions they take to transform their schools to meet the needs of all students. Finally, by using critical race theory as a lens for this study, the fifth finding emerged of Culture as a Gateway to Race. This finding focuses on how culturally responsive school leaders tend to use the safer term of “culture” as a gateway to the discussion of race when working to create culturally responsive schools.

The results and findings of this study provide opportunity for future research related to culturally responsive school leadership. The focus of this study on critical self-reflection supports the importance of critical self-reflection to the work of culturally responsive school leadership. The findings of this study also support the body of literature regarding the importance of culturally responsive practices being intertwined into every action a leader takes. This study additionally supports the research regarding the importance of opposing the status quo through the confrontation of barriers to equity and social justice.


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