Race-Conscious Ethics in School Leadership: From Impersonal Caring to Critical Responsibility: From impersonal caring to critical responsibility

Michael G. Gunzenhauser, Osly J. Flores, Michael W. Quigley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background/Context: This research is informed by leadership theory and care ethics and how these theories intersect with race-consciousness. This study contributes to the emerging literature on race-conscious leadership ethics that supports building capacity for equity leadership. Purpose: The authors explore the intersection of race-consciousness and leadership ethics, studying how leaders explain their practices for increasing equity, their leadership ethics, and their sense of responsibility and personal capacity to address racial achievement disparities. Participants: The participants are 22 school leaders: 20 principals and two school district officials from 14 urban and suburban school districts in a metropolitan region in one northeastern state. Research Design: This article draws from a semistructured interview study, based on Seidman's three-component interview design but combined in a single interview: history, focus, and reflection. The authors follow a constructivist, exploratory design to develop interpretations and a three-part conceptual framework. Data Collection and Analysis: Semistructured interviews allowed the researchers to engage participants in deeper explanations and captured the leaders' lived experiences through their subjective points of view. Analysis proceeded through a collaborative coding and memo-writing process among the three authors, each contributing distinct historical and racial identities and professional backgrounds. Findings: Finding a broad range of perspectives about race and its significance for the experiences of children in school settings, the authors identify variations in moral perspectives that play out in differential views of caring and responsibility, especially when leaders talked about the racial and socioeconomic diversity among their students and how they address inequities in opportunities and outcomes. The authors explore four themes: (a) community-based caring, (b) tough-love/tough-luck caring, (c) color-evasive caring in “fortunate communities,” and (d) caring with minimal responsiveness. Many principals, especially White principals in schools with a small percentage of students of color, maintain a color-evasive perspective and demonstrate “impersonal caring,” with abstract and technical concern for student performance. Race-conscious principals demonstrate caring that takes on different forms, denoted by more marked elaboration of “critical responsibility” for children of color. Between these two perspectives are varied attitudes and perspectives. Conclusions/Recommendations: Greater attention is needed for continuing ethical cultivation of school leaders. Across themes, there are multiple routes to developing capacity for race-conscious leadership ethics, through engaging in deeper reflection about personal history, expanding one's understanding of what it means to care across difference, critiquing one's color evasiveness, and learning from colleagues who demonstrate collective responsibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-40
Number of pages40
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number2
Early online dateFeb 11 2021
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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