African American Female Principals’ Challenges


The Supreme Court of the United Stated made a landmark ruling in 1954, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. This decision sought to declare school segregation as unconstitutional. This decision was expected to change the racial tint of school facilities over the next four decades, especially in the South (Patterson, 2001). However, there have been no improvements witnessed in the field of education as an aftermath of the Brown decision. There was no increase in the number of educational leaders nor the quality of education improved. The decision has not also changed the level of contribution by the African American female principals (Ortiz, 1982). In cases of merger between Black and White schools in the South, it is predominately the African American principals at Black schools, who face the brunt of such changes by losing their jobs. Research indicates that almost 98 percent decrease in the number of secondary school principals was registered between the years 1963-1970 in one of the states (Patterson, 2001). There are different socio-cultural and political issues faced by the Afro American female principals. While this review attempts to examine the challenges of the African American female principals in the present day context, it also suggests some potential support systems, the institution of which might help improving the leadership position of African American female principals.

Get your customised and 100% plagiarism-free paper on any subject done
with 15% off on your first order

McCray, (2003) identifies the denial of chances to the aspiring African American administrators to occupy challenging positions to act as educational leaders in the capacity of principals at predominately White schools (McCray, 2003). It has been found that most of the African American principals are made to work as principals in schools where the majority of students belong to Black community and the White administrators are given the chance to work on principals with large number of white students. It is critically important to analyze the reasons for such placement pattern, which is designed to defeat the reforms expected in respect of school resegregation. There must be issues, which stand in the way of recognizing the quality levels of services of African American female principals. This study examines the relevance of Critical Race Theory (CRT) to the leadership role played by African American principals in the issue of providing education to the Black community. The Critical Race Theory is used as the theoretical framework. The crux of CRT is to challenge the notion of White privilege, and the conceptual framework of CRT can be seen as embedded in the lived experiences of people of color (Taylor, 2000). CRT focuses on the acknowledgement of the role that race has played in the schools and society. CRT seeks to establish policies to ensure that individuals who have been historically sidelined without reason are provided with equal access to the available opportunities (Bell, 1992).

History of African American Female Principals

The position of AA women principals and their maternal approaches to urban school leadership has been evidenced by the history of AA community. The lives and work of Black principals who were functioning as educational leaders before the pronouncement of Supreme Court Judgment were recorded through archival research and interviews. The task of building and maintaining schools catering to Black students was undertaken by Blacks who were functioning as principals of common schools as well as other all-Black institutions (Jones, 2003; Franklin 1990; Butchart 1988). Zion school was the first all-Black school established in the South in the year 1865. This school was operated with an all-Black teaching and administrative staff (Anderson, 1988). Blacks could get the opportunities for getting their education under different set of circumstances than Whites for whom education has always been an entitlement. There were systems of private and public education designed and implemented by Blacks in the South between 1860 and 1935. Common schools and Sabbath schools were the two types of schools established and maintained by ex-slaves. Sabbath schools were sponsored by Churches. This type of schools was opened in the evening time and on weekends. The objective of these schools was to impart literacy instruction to ex-slaves. The schooling for Blacks in the South assumed importance under the segregated circumstances and the general hostility existed against educated Blacks. One of the most prominent issues that was at the central focus in the history of Black Americans was their struggle to take part in an educational system to provide them freedom and to grant them recognition in the society.

Anderson (1988) noted:

“The short range purpose of Black education in the post-slavery era was to provide the masses of ex-slaves with basic literacy skills plus the rudiments of citizenship training for participation in a democratic society. The long-range purpose was the intellectual and moral development of a responsible leadership class that would organize the masses and lead them to freedom and equality.” Anderson (1988, p 31)”

In the 19th and early 20th century, principals and leaders were instrumental in providing leadership to AA communities. Teaching and leading were intertwined with each other and were considered as part of social activism. During this time AA women educators had a major role to play in this social activities. The women educators developed a number of self-help programs and women’s clubs with the sole objective of providing food and clothing to the poor. They also provided care for poor working mothers and housing for orphan children. In addition, many AA women educators considered it as their religious and spiritual mission to advance education and social causes.

Our academic experts can deliver a custom essay specifically for you
with 15% off for your first order

During the 19th century, AA women principals have been identified to be the source of courage and strength and they taught qualities of perseverance and hard work to the schoolchildren. They were able to acquire these qualities since they had to face both racism and sexism along their way to success. AA women principals were of the view that their cultural heritage was a strength that they could transfer to their school community. This was possible for them, as they could understand the needs of the children of their communities. Lomotey, (1989) identified three essential qualities of AA women principals. They are: (i) a commitment to educate all the students, (ii) confidence in the ability of the students to perform academically well and (iii) compassion for all the students. According to Wesson, (1998), most of the AA female principals were hired in troubled urban school districts, which are characterized by inadequate financial resources and are inflicted by other social ills.

During the period from the 18th century until 1950, there were many educated professional elites, such as ministers, journalists and politicians, who led the struggle for providing educational opportunities to the Blacks (Franklin 1990). A number of schools were opened in the North and South by African American minister educators. These members of the Black community who acted as principals or headmasters strongly believed that while it is possible to strip off the Blacks of their wealth, civil rights or property, it would not be possible to take away the knowledge acquired by them through education.

In the education history of African Americans, mention should be made of Jeremiah Burke Sanderson who served as a principal-teacher in all-Black public schools located in the Stockton and San Francisco. He was the holding the position of the principal for the period from 1859 to 1874. While studying for the ministry Sanderson turned out to be one of the outstanding educators and he advocated strongly for the education of Black children.

Savage (2001) researched the agency of African teachers and principals in Franklin and Tennessee between the period 1890 and 1967. In this work which covered the status of Blacks’ education in both pre and post Brown period Savage defines agency as “self-reliance, proactive actions and self-determining philosophies that result from a ‘centeredness’ within one’s community” (p 172). Research findings of Savage indicate that Black principals acted in ways that were beyond their means to achieve the aim of providing education to Black children. Savage (2001) observes that Black principals could operationalize the agencies by (i) developing the resources such as money, materials and other resources which were needed to ensure the success of the schools, (ii) undertaking to perform extraordinary services like maneuvering district educational policies to the advantage of the Blacks, introducing new curriculums and other educational activities and instilling the qualities of resiliency, self-reliance, self-respect and racial pride among the Black children and (iii) treating the schools as the center of the community and in the process the Black principals transformed the schools into the cultural symbol of Black community. The agency concept adopted during the period encompassed a range of purposeful strategies. These strategies were designed mainly to instill the sense of self-reliance and empowerment among Black children and to fight for the provision of education to them.

Savage’s account of the eight Black principals who assumed the office of the Black principals for a period of more than 80 years project them as the agents of change. Even though there was difference in their leadership styles, they had a common thing among them in that they all worked towards providing schooling for African American children under hostile conditions. These people had to apply passive and direct resistance to open hostility, which included fighting against discriminatory policies such as lack of funding and facilities for the spreading of Black schools and leading to include major changes in the curriculums covering the addition of academic courses in the place of manual labor programs that were the order of the day. The other activity undertaken by them is to effect improvement in the quality of teachers in the all-Black schools. They could achieve this by recruiting qualified teachers and getting them trained in prestigious Black institutions.

We’ll deliver a high-quality academic paper tailored to your requirements

Significant contributions have been made by African American women also in educating Blacks in the pre-Brown era (Alston & Jones, 2002; Jones, 2003; Perkins 1987; Hine & Thomson 1998). Educated African American women were instrumental in opening a number of schools in South and North. Women served as teachers as well as principals. Jeans Supervisors were women who served as teachers during the period from 1907 until 1967 and “their duties included introducing new teaching methods and curricula, organizing in-service teacher training workshops, and serving as assistants to country superintendents of schools.” (Tillman, 2004)

There were quite a few famous African American female principals, who worked for the cause of education to Blacks. Anna Julia Cooper was one among few AA women to get a degree in the 19th century. She was recruited to teach in the M Street School in Washington DC, which is the only Black school in the city. She was made the principal of the school in 1902 (Tillman, 2004). She could accomplish a number of improvements in the field of Black education during her tenure as the principal. She promoted an agenda for Black education which was the counter to the one proposed by Washington. As was mentioned earlier the education program of Washington consisting of vocational and industrial studies got the approval of the influential Whites as the suitable one for educating the Blacks. Since the Whites in charge of Blacks’ education were convinced of the intellectual inferiority of Blacks, the philosophy of Washington that endured the continuation of the inferior status of Blacks with respect to education was approved as the model for educating Blacks (Tillman, 2004). Cooper tried to build and maintain a curriculum and school culture that prepared the Black students for collegiate education and beyond. Cooper defied her White supervisor to prepare the students of the school to attend prestigious educational institutions like Harvard, Brown, Oberlin and Dartmouth. She could get the M Street School accredited by Harvard. “Her commitment to preparing Black children to attend postsecondary institutions and her refusal to yield to the White power structure and sexist atmosphere in the school and larger community were the factors that led to her dismissal as principal.” (Tillman, 2004) Review of the tenure of Cooper as principal at the M Street School reveals that African American female educators were forced to face many struggles in the form of gender discrimination with respect to their supervisory roles.

According to the historical literature, African American principals assumed roles of importance in segregated schooling and the African American community (Anderson, 1988; Franklin, 1990; Savage, 2001; Siddle Walker, 2000). The AA women served the role of connectors to and liaisons between the school and the community. Serving as principals, they influenced parents to donate resources to schools and helped raising of funds for running the school. AA women principals served as professional role models for other teachers and staff of the respective schools. For instance, in the pre-Brown era AA women principals exhibited their professionalism by attending professional conferences and meetings. AA women principals were mainly instructional leaders and provided vision and direction for the schools. They were instrumental in transmitting the goals and ideals of the school into a philanthropic White power structure (Tillman, 2004).

As liaisons to the White community AA women principals have always acted in the best interests of the schools by requesting funding, resources and other forms of support for all-Black schools. They enjoyed considerable position of authority and autonomy as they always defy the rules and conditions of all-White school board and show their indifference to the White superintendents. Lack of interest on the part of Whites to educate Blacks (as Whites always were keen in getting Blacks trained in manual labor) the Black principals became the ultimate decision-making authority at the school level. Because of the presence of segregated education system, the schools remained primarily as closed systems that were important only to Blacks. This gave unquestioned authority to Black principals to hire and fire teachers, implement new programs of education and raise money for acquiring the needed resources. However, the Black principals did not seem to enjoy any authority or power outside their community. Siddle Walker (2000) remarks they “could consult with the White community, but [they] had little power to make policy decisions” (p 275). Therefore, Black principals were made to act within the existing power dynamics and they acted merely as “middlemen”.

Brown Decision and its Impact on Black Female Principals

AA women who became principals after the reform legislation were made accountable directly to the parents who were younger, poorer and with less understanding of the functioning of the schools or the principles associated with educational systems. Priror to the reforms AA women principals were regarded as well-respected leaders in the local school community. They also commanded considerable respect and authority over school and community related issues (Siddle Walker, 2000).

However, the legislative reforms have significantly changed the context of AA women school leadership. This context has become particularly problematic for the AA women principals who entered the education service during the time when the relationship between AA principals and parents were more harmonious and honorific. AA women assumed principalship at a time when the reformers accused that this authoritarian approach to school leadership is counterproductive for achieving the democratic goals of urban school governance.

Despite the challenges faced by the AA female principals, they assumed the helm of the nation’s toughest urban school administration. However, their plight and unique leadership dilemmas have remained under-researched to reach the knowledge of the scholars and policymakers. An emerging literature on AA female principals suggests that the race and gender statuses of AA female principals distinguish their leadership orientation from AA male principals as well as their White female colleagues (Allen, Jacobson, & Lomotey, 1996; Bloom & Erlandson, 2003). The AA female principals have been made to shoulder an uneven burden of responsibility for providing education and care for poor urban schoolchildren as compared to their White and AA professional counterparts of post-Civil Rights era (Loder, 2002)

While discussing the impact of the reforms on the role and responsibilities of AA female principals, it is important to present the effect of Chicago School Reforms Act, 1988, on AA women representation as principals in Chicago Public Schools. After years of keeping themselves away from the principalship, the Act provided opportunities for more number of AA women to assume leadership roles in Chicago Public Schools. As per the statistics on Chicago Public Schools as of 2000, AA women constituted the largest group of principals at 41% of the total principals (Chicago Public Schools, 2000). However, Loder, (2005) points out

“It is ironic to note, by granting parents and community members the authority to hire and fire principals while simultaneously increasing African American representation in the principalship, the reform legislation laid fertile ground for power struggles between newly appointed African American principals and parents and community members over how to best run urban schools.” (Loder, 2005)

The objective of the ruling by the Supreme Court in the case of Brown v Board of Education was to remedy the inequities in the system of segregated schooling. The decision was expected to provide support for the work of the Black principals ideally in furthering their efforts to educate Black children. However, desegregation prompted by the Court ruling has dramatically changed the traditional excellence in AA school leadership, particularly in the South. While some of the Black Principals could continue in their positions after the historic decision in Brown’ case, the desegregation has had a devastating effect on the closed system of Black education and the lives of many of the Black principals. James (1970) observes that the change from a dual system to a unitary system of education has altered the position of Black principals in the community adversely. Black, principals were the only educated people and remained as the role models for the students they served., Since several of the Black principals were fired and in many cases, and many of them were transferred to positions with no specified authority or responsibility, after the Brown decision, the students were left with no leading personalities to guide them. The fact that Black principals also served to provide training to the Black leaders, their extinction had dramatic implications for Black leadership in the future. The literature on the impact of the Brown decision on Black principals is not found to be prominent as compared to the literature on the Black teachers. Some of the earlier researches conducted on the displacement of Black principals, point out that the years 1954 through 1965 were the most devastating period for the Black principals. It was the belief of the Whites after the Brown decision that the Black principals were ineffective in providing education to the Black children. There was the need for more than 6000 Black principals to arrive at equity and parity in education on the national level. Ethridge, (1979) comments, “thousands of educational positions which would have gone to Black people in the South under a segregated system have been lost for them since desegregation” (p 231). The prevalence of all-Whites in Florida school boards and the control of the schools by White superintendents in many of the school districts in the state were responsible for the demotion and firing of a number of Black principals (Abney, 1980).

Study by Sowell suggests that the leadership issues concerning Black principals during the pre and early post-Brown period were similar in some respects and were different in some other. Leadership in the pre-Brown period was to a significant extent characterized by de jure segregation. Under such circumstance, principals were more concerned in meeting the expectations of a close-knit community. Leadership in the post-Brown period addressed the issues in the changing demographics and dynamics of large urban cities. Strong and effective leadership is the foundation of the effective school movement and the principal as the instructional leader is made responsible for setting the tone for the schools. They are also made responsible for deciding on strategies of instruction and for organizing and distributing school resources.

Separate but Equal Schooling was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in the year 1954. At that point, of the time the African American community was the largest minority living in the country. Therefore, European Americans have been adopting the Separate but Equal policy schooling policy mostly against the African American community being the largest majority. However, such policy had an adverse impact on the other minority communities, which were underrepresented and living in the country. Desegregation created by a blatant inequality in providing education and unequal distribution of the resources was the fundamental reason for the Court to pronounce the ruling in Brown case. The Court considered that such inequality in the schooling and unfair laws and practices have been responsible for the creation of the feelings of “insecurity, low self-esteem and low academic expectations” among the people of the African American community. In addition, the Court considered that such policies and practices led to an attitude of ethnocentrism among the other White communities. The attitude of ethnocentrism developed the feeling among European Americans that the minority communities were lower in status to the established White communities. During this period, particularly in the South, Black principals were managing most of the Black Public Schools; but Whites constituted many of the governing bodies of these schools. Similarly, the presidencies of the many of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were Whites dominated. Many of the Black principals received their training in Black institutions. However, the institutions used old curriculum developed based on the educational systems, which were put into practice earlier.

Edwards, (1999) clearly explains the position of the Black principals and the treatment extended to them after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling. The Black principals were recognized for their commendable service in the areas of education, social and civil disciplines after the desegregation that followed the Brown judgment.

“To this end, their responsibilities included that of school manager, school supervisor, professional development coordinator, physical plant engineer, and curriculum coordinator, thus, increasing the efficiency of school staff, and enabling student adjustment in a changing community.” (Echols, 2006)

The segregated Black schools represented educational institutions that had the capabilities to meet with deeper psychological and sociological needs of the students belonging to Black community (Walker, 1996, 2000, 2003).

According to Irvine & Irvine, (1983):

“Black schools served as the instruments through which professional educators discharged their responsibility to their community. Black educators labored to help students realize their achievement goals. In their roles both principals and teachers were mere, but profound, extensions of the interests of the Black community.” (Irvine & Irvine, 1983, p. 412)

Most of the Black schools were lacking in facilities and funding. However, the segregated environment found in these schools was able to have affective traits, preserve the institutional policies and provide community support at a higher level to the Black children. These capabilities of the schools were helpful to the Black children to meet their educational needs despite the neglect of the White school boards in terms of funding and provision of facilities. Sowell, (1974) observes, these Black schools with their “support, encouragement and rigid standards” were to enhance the self-worth of the students and at the same time increased their aspiration to achieve the higher standards. In the one of his descriptions, Thomas Sowell presents the recollection of the old students of some six best schools. The students describe their teachers as well trained, dedicated, demanding and they took personal care of the students, even by spending their personal money or by working extra time outside the school hours. Thus, the principals took personal interest on the students. Legal segregation and racial discrimination had their adverse impact on all the minority communities including African Americans, before the Court ruled on the Brown case. This had created a bond among all the members of the community. However, in the period after Brown, Blacks belonging to the middle-income groups found it difficult to recognize this bond. Some of the African Americas who reached the middle-income status through a working class route could not possess the same sense of bondage with other members of the community. Therefore, they did not exhibit any sense of obligation and responsibility to the Black community.

Rhymes, (2004) states around 82,000 Black teachers taught more than 2 million Black children in 1954. During the period of eleven years after Brown ruling around 38,000 Black teachers and administrators in 17 states in the South lost their jobs. The closure of all-Black schools during desegregation made this mass firing of Black teachers and administrators easier. The Black teachers and administrators were dismissed despite holding better credentials that their White counterparts. According to the statistical figures of National Education Association during 1954, 85% of the minority teachers were holding college degrees. However, during the same time only 75% of Whites teachers were holding college degrees. The removal of Black teachers and principals from the education system left the Black children without support and care. As a result, tremendous psychological pressures affected the Black children (Rhymes, 2004).

Critical Race Theory

Works by Cornel West (1991) and Delgado, (1995) provide a comprehensive understanding of Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT emanated from an earlier legal movement known as Critical Legal Studies (CLS). CLS theorists question the dominant liberal practices with a view to disclose “inconsistencies, incohereness, silences and blindness of legal formalities.” Cornel West, 1991) asserts that “critical legal studies is more a concerted attack and assault on the legitimacy and authority of pedagogical strategies in law school than a comprehensive announcement of what a credible and realizable new society and legal system would look like” (p 196).

Features of Critical Race Theory

CRT is based on the notion that racism is normal to be practiced in American society. The ways, in which racism is mingled with the US social order, it is considered as normal for the citizens of America. Since racism is considered as a permanent fixture of American way of life, those who want to fight for racial social justice, take serious efforts to expose racism prevalent in all its dimensions.

Secondly, CRT is a departure from the mainstream legal scholarship. It integrates experiential knowledge from a shared history of other races with an idea to transform a world, which is in the process of deterioration due to racial aberrations. Thus, the experiences of oppression based on racist and sexist encounters form the basic elements for the development of a CRT concept (Crenshaw, 1988).

Criticizing liberalism is the third important feature of CRT. Scholars criticize the liberal perspective based on the argument that it fails to understand the limits of the current legal systems and therefore does not lead to a social change as liberalism emphasizes on incrementalism (Crenshaw, 1988). According to CRT while racism leads to sweeping changes, liberal legal practices are enmeshed with a painstakingly slow process of putting forth legal precedents to gain civil rights for the colored people of the society.

The fourth feature of CRT is that it argues that, civil rights legislation have been drafted in a way to benefit the Whites primarily. For instance the policy of affirmative action is criticized based on its character of being beneficial predominantly to the Whites. Guy-Sheftall, (1993) argues that a review of the affirmative action hiring policies would reveal that such policies have primarily benefited White women, which will be evident from the number of appointments made. This argument is based on the logic that the income earned by these White women supports the households in which other White men, women and children and therefore the benefits of getting employment by White women under the affirmative action policy ultimately reach to the Whites in general.

Although no consensus has been evolved in arriving at the definition of CRT covering its methodologies and doctrines, the scholars have presented a unified view in which two common interests are recognized. First, is the creation of an understanding of a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color and second is the changing of the bond that is found to exist between the legal realm and racial power.

Taylor, (2004) states CRT is concerned with “issues of race, class and gender are inextricably bound by economic, social and political hegemonic power structures” (p 35). CRT thus is a means of communication available to the colored people to narrate their experiences and realities in the form of storytelling. Consequently, CRT examines the racial issues within the context of workplace environment in a critical perspective.

Use of CRT with respect to AA women leaders in general and AA women principals specifically underpins their encounters with race, gender and social class as the central focus. Such encounters represent a shift from the traditional leadership perspective of looking at masculine and feminine leadership from different angles. CRT makes use of the real life stories and experiences of AA women principals, which challenge the discourse and belief of dominant viewpoints of White supremacy especially in the provision of education to Black community. Recognition of the societal struggles of AA women principals against the predominant White organizations and school boards as they enter to lead can be considered as one of the dimensions of CRT. Bernier & Rocco, (2003) states that power, white privilege, racial and sexual oppressions are the disempowering elements to the leadership qualities of AA women principals.

Factors affecting the Success of Educational Leaders in the United States

A number of factors influence the success of educational administrators in the United States largely. One of the important factors is the changing demographic features. This is evident from the fact Latino, Asian Americans, American Indians and African Americans constitute more than fifty percent of the student population in the major states of California, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Mississippi, New York and Texas (US Department). In most of the largest cities of the country White students are less in number making up not even twenty five percent of the student population. However, different demographic features characterize the teaching population in the Country. Eighty four percent of the teachers are Whites and females represent 75 percent of the teaching population. On the national level, in the P-12 schools, 82 percent of the principals in public schools are White, while 11 percent are black and 5 percent represents Hispanic population. Less than 3 percent of the teachers belong to Asian and Native American (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004).

The following are some of the facts, which explain the challenges faced by school principals in general in the United States. (i) In the public schools in the United States, there is a drastic increase in the number of children joining the school; (ii) most of the principals are elevated to the positions from the teaching ranks. In addition, only fewer Blacks choose to enter the teaching profession, (iii) according to 1999-2000 survey results from the U S Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, there are more than 3 million public school teachers and only less than 2 percent of this populations are represented by Black males, (iv) Census statistics indicate that 42 percent of the all male students have failed a grade at least by once within the time they reach the high school level (Lewis, 2000). Report from Schott Foundation for Public Education states 60 percent of the male students does not pursue graduation courses when they continue their education after 9th grade, since most of them fail at that point.

Apart from these demographic factors, there are other socio-economic issues, which affect the success of the principals in the United States. For instance by the year 2020 principals may have to lead schools having a student composition of 49 percent Whites, 26 percent of them living in poverty, and 8 percent speaking a language other than English (Natriello, McDill, & Pallas, 1990). These demographic issues act as a limiting factor on the success of the principals in general and the success of the African American female principals more specifically.

Preparation of Principals for Professional Service

Another problem faced by the African American principals was the manner in which the principals received their training. Bloom & Krovetz, (2001) observe that traditionally most of the principals were elevated to the position of the principal after serving in the position of assistant principal or resource teacher for a number of years. The service in these lower positions enabled the principals to gather the appropriate mental disposition, good mentoring and a solid graduate program before they become principals. With the service in these positions, they were able to amass many of the skills and knowledge required to perform successfully as a principal. However, in the present context, the shortage of principals has made the assistant principals and resource teachers to spend shorter periods in the respective positions, which reduce their capabilities to act as successful principals. This makes them to lose the necessary strategies and leadership skills while taking up the positions of principals.

Hart, (1993) points out that the first few years of the principalship would influence the administrative leadership practices critically. It is normal that during the induction period the principals would try to exert their leadership qualities and functions based on the personal values and mentor experiences possessed by them. Such elements also affect their professional training during this period. During the same period, they are also subjected to the pressures from various stakeholders like subordinates, superiors, and the community. These interest groups expect the principals to act in tune with their expectations. The success of the principals is ensured only when they are able to align their desire towards effectiveness with the transformational leadership qualities.

Principals and Leadership Qualities

“Transformational leadership is the ability to articulate a vision and inspire futuristic and high cognitive thinking among diverse people for an overall strong school culture.” (Echols, 2006) Being an appropriate model, stimulating the followers intellectually, evaluating, re-evaluating and promoting reflections are also the essential qualities of effective leadership (Leithwood, 1993; Hoyle & Steffy, 1998; Dembowski & Ekstrom, 1999). According to Leithwood, (1993) only transformational leadership can bring about effective school changes. However, the present day principalship has adopted instructional leadership as the predominant operational model, which cannot be considered adequate any longer because of the varied expectations of the stakeholders from the principals. The present day models do not exhibit the characters of care, nurture and constituent engagement. Without practicing the qualities of care, nurture and good principals to augment these qualities, schools cannot work to the betterment of the children. Perhaps this is the reason that many of the poor socio-economic schools do not function properly.

Leithwood remarks that the instructional model of leadership practiced by the traditional AA women leaders is dated and will not serve the purpose in the present context. The instructional model underlined the ability of a principal to carry out several responsibilities subject however, to the fact that none of them related mainly to the student empowerment. For instance, the instructional duties may include “maintenance, finance, human resources and public relations.” (Echols, 2006)

“In other words, the instructional model embraces the ability to make adjustments within the existing structure thereby restoring balance that is non-transformational and without new learning.” (Echols, 2006)

On the other hand, a more effective form of leadership is required to aim for bringing about the second order changes. This leadership must take serious efforts for building of the organization and enhance its values over the time. There is also the necessity for the leadership to develop a shared vision and to create work culture, which is productive. The leaders should also develop new ways of looking at things for improving the efficiency of the organization. Ability to improve student achievement in an area of accountability may be viewed as a classic example of second order changes that the leadership should endeavor to bring in the school settings. Proponents of second order changes insist on the principals to gain knowledge on what is essential apart from knowing what is important. In this context, the following section reviews the specific leadership qualities that AA women principals possessed traditionally.

A review of the leadership qualities of African American (AA) women principals assessed through past works in this field suggest that AA women principals attach motherhood and its interconnected values of nurturing, caretaking and helping the children to develop as the necessary qualities for the performance of their roles as principals (Case). However, the literature has evoked a mixed evaluation of the maternal leadership approaches for the effectiveness of school principals. While some researchers contend that, the maternal leadership qualities may be problematic, others perceive them as distinctively culturally relevant qualities as compared to the approaches of White male principals (See Leithwood, 1993). According to Bryk, Sebring, Kerbow, Rollow, & Easton, (1998) both the maternal and paternal approaches of the AA principals to the urban schools do not provide for the accomplishment of the goals of collaborative leadership. The approaches work more towards making the power concentrated in the hands of the principals. Payne (1997) observe even though the members of local school committees and urban schools that are well run may consider the maternal and paternal approaches as legitimate, the staff and students often express the view that such approaches are more autocratic in nature showing more of the harsher side of the principals rather than the softer sides.

Some of the scholars are of the view that the maternal approaches of AA women to school leadership are to be viewed within the context of race, gender and culture. Eugene, (1989) expresses the view that motherhood is a manifestation of care and authority within the experiences and emotions of African American women. This view is endorsed by Allen, (1997) who points out that some of the African American women are not prepared mentally to accept the term ‘leader’. This is so because they associate leadership with ideas of dominating and controlling other people. AA women are comfortable in identifying them by themselves as well as within their community by cultural terms like ‘othermothers’. Collins, (2000) defines this term to include women “who work on behalf of the Black community by expressing ethics of caring and personal accountability, which embrace conceptions of transformative power and mutuality” P 132). There are number of examples of African American principals who adopted the role of community othermothers that are found in the case studies of Case, (1997) and Dillard, (1995).

The maternal approaches of AA woman principals to their urban school leadership were intertwined with their traditional relationship with the AA community (Perkins, 1999). Teaching and leading constituted a form of social activism during the 19th century and early and mid 20th centuries. In performing their functions, teachers and principals were expected to provide leadership to the community. During this time, apart from imparting education, the AA women principals and administrators engaged themselves in different social programs involving provision of food and clothing to the poorer section of the community. They also took up childcare for working mothers and housing for orphans (Perkins, 1989). In addition, the AA woman educators also took efforts for promoting the positive images of AA Women to act against the existing negative images. Many of the AA women principals and teachers considered imparting education and working for social causes as their religions and spiritual mission (Turner & Bagley, 2000).

Role of AA Women Principals in Contemporary Urban School Leadership

Whether AA women are able to extend their role beyond the school leadership to bring changes in the broader community level in the context of contemporary urban school leadership is a question that has received a negative response from the scholars. There are varied reasons for this situation. Some of the scholars are of the view that the long-term effect of desegregation has made the AA women principals and teachers to move away from the close association with AA students and their families (Walker, 2003). The desegregation has also led to the drain of a large number of efficient and talented AA woman principals and teachers from engaging themselves in teaching in the public schools. Franklin, (1990) argues that AA women principals have not continued their traditional involvement in the social activism, which has been the case a century ago. However, some recent scholarly works on the role and functions of AA women principals indicate that many of the AA women principals view their efforts to bring changes in their local school communities as one of their missions.

Suggestions for Enhancing the Role of AA Women Principals

Transformational leadership may contribute more to effective educational leadership. However, effective leadership can be achieved through collaborative and strategic planning aided more by a facilitative leadership. Facilitative leadership enables first and second order changes in the school environment. A facilitative leadership is considered more appropriate for Black principals. Facilitative leadership model incorporates behaviors, which are capable of embracing the collective ability of the school principals. This model enables them to adapt themselves to arrive at appropriate solutions to the problems and to improve performance of the educators. Facilitative leadership adopts behavior which enable the schools achieve shared goals (Murphy & Louis, 1994).

The introduction of academies, which promotes the richness of teaching profession, may be introduced in the middle and high school years so that the students may develop a special interest in the profession. The principals under training may be guided to evolve methods of solving different issues based on cultural ways. The principals will be able to understand better ways of solving the problems from the experiences of other cultural groups. The knowledge will enable the principals to prepare themselves to exhibit an effective organizational leadership the steers them towards efficient decision-making.

Educational managers for school districts may incorporate supportive resource systems in the academic stream. These systems aim at encouraging the Black principals to participate in professional organizations, which have members from different cultural backgrounds. “School districts should ensure that principals are trained through principal institutes, forums, seminars, and professional development hours.”(Echols, 2006)

It is essential that the principals be provided mentoring and training to ensure that they develop effective leadership skills. The cultural setting at the school level is formed by the school leaders and such efforts of the principals are facilitated by the nature and quality of the people that surround them. This is done by communicating a sense of purpose of the organization, and by reinforcing appropriate behavior. The success of principals as school leaders is influenced by the ways in which the principals and educators mingle with the members of the community. With the lack of support for the principals the success and effectiveness of them as school leaders is greatly affected.

Many studies have pinpointed mentoring as one of the most effective ways of preparing and supporting principals (Rooney, 2000; Moir & Bloom, 2003). Mentoring is an ongoing process in which one of the members of the organization provides guidance and support to the other members of the organization to enable them achieves the organizational goals. Mentors have wide experience and extensive knowledge to share with others. There are a number of programs organized by different states to recruit ethnic minorities, aspiring principals and mentor principals to share their experience and knowledge with the aspiring people. “Mentoring is characterized as an active, engaged, and intentional relationship between two individuals (mentor and protégé) based upon mutual understanding to serve primarily the professional needs of the protégé.” (Echols, 2006)


This review addressed the evolution of AA women leadership and the contribution of AA educational principals for the empowerment of the children belonging to Black community through the imparting of quality education to them. The review analyzed the impact of the endeavors of AA female principals in educating Black children and instilling in them senses of self-reliance and self-confidence amidst their struggles in promoting their own ideas in the education system fighting against the all-Whites boards and supervisors. It has been found that the education history is abound with instances of self-less services AA principals have lent to the development of education among the Blacks. A review of the Critical Race Theory (CRT) and its application to the AA women leaders and principals also formed part of the review. The objective of analyzing the salience of CRT is to establish the conceptual base of the theory with the Black education movements undertaken by the AA women principals in the history of the Unites States. The leadership qualities of AA women principals and the cultural orientation of the leadership qualities were discussed as a part of this review. From a theoretical perspective, the applicability of instructional leadership and the advantages of change in the approach to transformational leadership have also been reviewed in the current study. The study also offered few suggestions for the improvement in the effectiveness of AA women principals in discharging their functions towards their goal of elevating the societal status of Black people by empowering them through education.


Allen, B. L. (1997). A re-articulation of Black Female Community Leadership: Processes, Networks and a Culture of Resistence. Web.

Allen, K., Jacobson, S., & Lomotey, K. (1996). African American Woemn in Educational Administration: The Importance of Mentors and Sponsors. Journal of Negro Education , 64 (4), 409-422.

Bell, D. (1992). Faces at the bottom of the well: The permanence of racism.. New York: Basic Books.

Bernier, J. D., & Rocco, T. S. (2003). Working in the margins of Critical Race Theory and HRD 2003 Midwest Research to Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education. Columbus OH: Ohio State University.

Bloom, C. M., & Erlandson, D. A. (2003). African American Woemn Principals in Urban Schools; Realities (Re)constructions and Resolutions. Educational Administrative Quarterly , 39 (3), 339-369.

Bloom, G., & Krovetz, M. (2001). A Step into the Principalship. Leadership , 12-13.

Bryk, A. S., Sebring, P. B., Kerbow, D., Rollow, S., & Easton, J. Q. (1998). Charting Chicago Scholl Reform: Democratic Localism as a Lever for Change. Boulder CO: Westview.

Case, K. I. (1997). African Americans Othermothering in the Urban Elementary School. Urban Review , 29 (1), 25-39.

Collins, P. H. (2000). Black Feminist Thought (2nd ed). New York: Routledge.

Crenshaw, K. (1988). Race, Reform and rentrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation n Anti-discrimination Law. Harvard Law Review , 101 (7), 1331-1387.

Delgado, R. (1995). Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge. Philadephia PA: Temple University Press.

Dembowski, F., & Ekstrom, C. D. (1999). Effective School District Management: A Self-review Instrument and Guide. Arlington VA: American Association of School Administrators.

Dillard, C. B. (1995). Leading with her Life: An African American Feminist (re)interpretation of Leadership for an Urban High School Principalship. Educational Administrative Quarterly , 31 (4), 339-563.

Echols, C. (2006). Challenges Facing Black American Principals: A Conversation about Coping. Web.

Edwards, A. (1999). Favorite Quotations That Inspired Excellence: The Black High School Prinicpals of Booker T Washington High School,. Knoxville Tennessee: The Southern History of Education Society Annual Meeting March 12th and 13th 1999.

Ethridge, S. B. (1979). Impact of the 1954 Brown V Topeka Board of Education Decision on Black Educators. Negro Educational Review , 31 (1), 217-232.

Eugene, T. M. (1989). Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child: The Call and Response for a Liberational Ethic of Care by Black Femisnists. In M Brabeck (Ed) Who cares?: Theory, Research and Educational Implications of the Ethic of Care (pp 45-62). New York: Praeger.

Franklin, V. P. (1990). They rose and fell together: African American Educators and Community Leadership 1795-1954. Journal of Education , 72, 39-64.

Guy-Sheftall, B. (1993). Black Feminist Perspective on the Academy. Atlanta: Paper presented at the meeting of he American Educational Research Association.

Hart, A. (1993). Principal Succession: Establishing Leadership in Schools. Albany NY: University of New York Press.

Hoyle, J. R., & Steffy, F. W. (1998). Skills for Successful 21st Century School Leaders: Standards for Peak Performers. Arlington VA: American Association of School Administrators.

Irvine, R., & Irvine, J. (1983). The Impact of the Desegregation Process on the Education of Black Students: Key Variables. The Journal of Negro Education , 52 (4), 410-422.

Leithwood, K. (1993). Contributions of transformational leadership to school Restructuring. Houston Tx: An Invited Address to the Annual Meeting of the University Council for Educational Administration.

Lewis, M. (2000). Supply and Demand of Teachers of Color. New York: Eric Digest.

Loder, T. (2005). African American Women Principals’ Reflections on Social Change,

Community Othermothering Chicago Public School Reform. Urban Education , 40, 298.

Lomotey, K. (1989). Cultural diversity in the school: Implications for principals. NASSP Bulletin , 73 (521), 81-88.

McCray, C. R. (2003). Alabama Secondary School Principals? Perceptions of Multicultural Education. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University.

Murphy, J., & Louis, K. (1994). Ten propositions on facilitative leadership. Chapter in Reshaping the Principalship: Insights from Transformational Reform Efforts,. Newbury Park CA: Sage.

NatioonalCenterforEducationStatistics. (2004). Schools and Staffing Survey. Web.

Natriello, G., McDill, E. L., & Pallas, A. M. (1990). Schooling Disadvantaged Children. New York: Teachers College.

Ortiz, F. I. (1982). Career Patterns in Education: Women, Men and Minorities in Public School Administration. South Hadley, Mass: J. F. Bergin Publishers, Inc.

Patterson, J. T. (2001). Brown v Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and its Troubled Legacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Perkins, L. M. (1989). The History of Blacks in Teaching: In D Warren (Ed) American Teachers: Histories of a Profession Work. New York : Macmillan.

Rhymes, E. (2004). The Black Commentator. Web.

SiddleWalker. (2000). Valued Segregated Schools for African American Children in the South, 1935-1969: A Review of Common Themes and Characteristics. Review of Educational Research , 70, 253-285.

Sowell, T. (1974). Patterns of Black Excellence 31,47, 51 Found in Walker V S (1996) Their Highest Potential: An African American Community in the Segregated South. North Carolina: North Carolina Press.

Taylor, C. R. (2004). An inquiry into the experiences of the African American women principal: Critical race theory and black feminist perspectives. Proquest Dissertations.

Taylor, E. (2000). Critical race theory in the backlash against affirmative action. Teachers College Record , 539-560.

Tillman, L. (2004). Chapter 4: African American Principals and the Legacy of Brown. Review of Research in Education , 28, 101-146.

Turner, S. L., & Bagley, C. A. (2000). The Role of the Black Church and Religion: IN N J Burgess & E Brown (Eds) African American Women: An Ecological Perspective. New York: Falmer.

Walker, V. S. (2003). The Architects of Black Schooling in the Segregated South: The Case of one Principla Leader. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision , 19 (1), 54-72.

Wesson, L. H. (1998). Exploring dilemmas of leadership: Voices from the field. Web.

West, C. (1991). The Struggle for America’s Soul. New York: Times Book Review.

African American Female Principals’ Challenges
The following paper on African American Female Principals’ Challenges was written by a student and can be used for your research or references. Make sure to cite it accordingly if you wish to use it.
Removal Request
The copyright owner of this paper can request its removal from this website if they don’t want it published anymore.
Request Removal

Cite this paper

Select a referencing style


YourDissertation. (2021, November 21). African American Female Principals' Challenges. Retrieved from

Work Cited

"African American Female Principals' Challenges." YourDissertation, 21 Nov. 2021,

1. YourDissertation. "African American Female Principals' Challenges." November 21, 2021.


YourDissertation. "African American Female Principals' Challenges." November 21, 2021.


YourDissertation. 2021. "African American Female Principals' Challenges." November 21, 2021.


YourDissertation. (2021) 'African American Female Principals' Challenges'. 21 November.

Click to copy