This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Culturally Responsive Leadership: How Do Instructional Leaders in an Alabama School District Perceive They Employ Culturally Responsive Leadership in Their Daily Practices?




Chambers, Kia

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology

Restriction Status


Restriction Type


Date Available



Culturally responsive pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995) and culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2018) have challenged educators to create an inclusive educational environment where all students feel valued, respected, and empowered to learn. While it is widely accepted that teachers are critical for the success of the classroom, the profound impact that educational leaders have on student achievement outcomes cannot be ignored. Culturally responsive school leadership has gained popularity in recent years as the demographics of public schools become more diverse. Over the past few decades, school reform and accountability have gained popularity, pushing for equity and inclusion of all students. However, public schools in the United States still face significant disparities in academic achievement, suspension rates, and over-representation of minority students in areas of special education. Advocates for equity and inclusion argue that all students, regardless of their economic status, race, or ethnic background, should be given equal opportunity to achieve success and engage fully in the educational process to reach their highest potential. The glaring disparities that continue to reign in the nation’s public school systems require school leaders to use culturally responsive practices that transform schools into learning environments that meet the needs of all students. This qualitative case study aimed to understand how three instructional leaders in an Alabama school district describe the practices, behaviors, and strategies of cultural responsiveness in their daily routines. This study details the challenges, beliefs, and practices they explained they encountered as culturally responsive instructional leaders. This research was guided by the following research questions: 1. How do instructional leaders in an Alabama school district describe the ways in which cultural responsiveness shows up in their schools? 2. How do instructional leaders in an Alabama school district describe cultural responsiveness in practice? 3. What stories of preparation do instructional leaders in an Alabama school district recall that hindered and/or advanced their path to addressing cultural responsiveness? The study’s conceptual framework was obtained from the research of Muhammad Khalifa, as explained in his book Culturally Responsive School Leadership. The participants in this study were three school-level instructional leaders from the same school district in Alabama. Multiple semi-structured interviews were conducted with each participant, and thematic coding was used to conduct the data analysis and obtain the study findings. There were four major findings from the analysis of data in this study. The first was that culturally responsive leadership shows up in demonstrations of culturally responsive leadership. The participants in this study described how culturally responsive leadership was demonstrated through their (a) actionable mission, vision, and values (b) communication and (c) practices of differentiation. The next major finding focused on the behaviors of the instructional leaders as it relates to being culturally responsive in their daily practices. The participants described practices of (a.) inclusive decision making (b.) positive reinforcement and (c.) community engagement. Finally, the last two findings focused on the advances and hindrances experienced by the instructional leaders in their plight for culturally responsive leadership. The participants expressed their personal stories of challenges they faced as well as support received as they employed culturally responsive leadership. As a researcher, it is crucial for readers to comprehend that my focus was specifically on identifying instances where the participants’ described behaviors and actions were aligned with the Culturally Responsive School Leaders Framework. The findings of this study present a significant avenue for future research pertaining to the utilization of cultural responsiveness by instructional leaders. These findings lend robust support to the existing body of literature underscoring the imperative need to enhance the training and professional development initiatives focused on cultivating culturally responsive leadership within current principal preparation programs, as well as in available professional development opportunities.