Instructional Leadership in Action

Delivering on the Promise of Equity

by Stephen Fink on Oct 21, 2013


Any discussion of leadership must start with a question of “leadership for what?” For school leaders in particular, we must be clear on the broader purpose of their leadership; for a quality education is not a privilege for a select few, but a civil right for all. In that spirit I believe school leaders must deliver on the promise of equity. In fact this is a guiding principle for the preparation of school leaders here at the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership. Ensuring a high-quality education for all students is the civil rights challenge of our times, and in my view, the raison d’être for every educational leader.

Subsequent blog posts will focus on specific aspects of educational leadership, so why start with a focus on equity?  I can cite an endless list of somber statistics illuminating the devastating consequences of academic achievement gaps, but leadership for equity may best be understood in personal terms.

Our daughter, now 28 years old and successful, is a product of public education.  My wife and I, being educators ourselves, were acutely aware of the quality of our daughter’s teachers from year to year.  And like most students in the course of a “school career,” she had some outstanding teachers and a few poor teachers.  Our daughter blossomed under the tutelage of the outstanding teachers, and my wife and I were there to insulate her from the poor teachers – including one year where I taught her 6th grade math to make up for a lost year of horrible teaching.

In effect our daughter came to school wrapped in a permeable insulation. This insulation – like the GORE-TEX fabric that lets the air in but keeps the rain out – allowed the best teaching to flow in while insulating her from the worst teaching.  My wife and I were there to make up for a year of poor teaching – we were the insulating material.  However what happens to the millions of less privileged students who do not come to school wrapped in this insulation?  For those students a year of poor teaching can have devastating consequences!

Let me be clear, this focus on leadership for equity is not about bashing teachers.  Teachers care deeply about their students, and are working to the limit of their content and pedagogical knowledge every day.  As a profession they deserve to be worshipped, not vilified.  However this is about understanding the role that school leaders can play in equipping, guiding and supporting quality teaching in their schools.  And this leadership must start with, and flow from, a deep commitment to equity for all students – those who come well-insulated and those with no insulation.

In subsequent posts I’ll speak to the specific ways our leaders can deliver on this promise of equity.

This article was posted originally on the Microsoft Partners in Learning Network website.

About the author: Stephen Fink

Dr. Stephen Fink is affiliate professor of educational leadership and policy studies in the University of Washington College of Education. He served as the founding executive director of the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership (CEL) from 2001 to 2018. Dr. Fink is co-author of Leading for Instructional Improvement: How Successful Leaders Develop Teaching and Learning Expertise.

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