Theses Doctoral

Black Principal Perspectives on Social-emotional Learning and Culturally Responsive Leadership in Urban Schools: the Role of Beliefs, Values, and Leadership Practices

Brooks DeCosta, Dawn

Black principals who are leaders of predominantly Black urban schools experience the challenges of leading in school environments where students experience a higher rate of poverty, violence, and trauma, as compared to their White counterparts. Historically, pre-Brown v. Board, Black principals sought to create learning environments where they focused on a “whole child” approach, not only attending to the academic needs of students but also equally prioritizing their physical, emotional, and social needs as well. A component of a whole child approach is what, in more recent years, is referred to as social-emotional learning (SEL). Black principals today who believe in a whole child, holistic approach express the challenges of employing an SEL approach in environments of high accountability and high demand for behavior consequences. Historically and currently, Black principals operating in an “ethno-humanist” role express a connection with students that motivates them towards a compassionate, culturally responsive, individualized approach with their students. This qualitative study was done through interviews with 10 Black urban school principals to learn more about their beliefs, values, and practices with regards to SEL and Culturally Responsive School Leadership (CRSL). Using a composite narrative case study approach to protect the identities of individual participants, study findings are presented as three major themes representing the articulated beliefs, values, and practices of the study principals: (1) Caring for Students: (2) Caring for Community, and (3) Caring for Self. A discussion of the findings revealed how the participants’ childhood experiences and upbringing informed their leadership practices, grounded in self-awareness and self-care, allowing them to sustain themselves in order to meet the social, emotional, cultural, and educational needs of Black children in urban schools. The study concludes with implications for practice and a proposed framework that bridges social-emotional learning and culturally relevant and responsive approaches to urban school leadership.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Horsford, Sonya Douglass
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
May 29, 2020