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  • Dr. Ericka Johnson-Allen

Bring Sexy Back to School Leadership

Why did you become a teacher? Isn’t that the question that every educator has been asked time and time again? As I reflect on that question I am reminded of a staff meeting during my 1st year of teaching. My principal made a statement that I have never forgotten, “You are responsible for all failures and successes in your classroom because you are “the boss”. Not only was I motivated to lead the success journey of my students. I felt the influence she had on my mindset and the ability to lead a school was appealing and exciting, being “the boss” was sexy.



While it is alluring to be “the boss”, school leadership is not as appealing. Yet a school leader is “the boss”. Young educators view school leadership as they view the school experience, lame, boring, and a lack of innovation. When was the last time a school leader’s day was boring or lame? I think we would all say never. School leadership and boredom don’t dwell in the same realm. What about innovation? While there is never a dull moment when leading a school, seasoned leaders often lack innovation. Our lack of innovation in schools may be one of the primary reasons why black leaders are less likely to be found in education.


School leadership should be one of the most appealing jobs for future career seekers. However, the negative connotation associated with being an educator has a detrimental impact on the future of education for black leadership. A black school leader is a rare commodity, but there is no shortage of black school students. There is a demographic mismatch between students and leaders in schools.


The facts:

  • Although more than half of U.S. students are racial minorities, about 78 percent of public school principals are white, according to 2017-18 survey data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics

  • In charter schools, 66.5 percent of principals were white, while 12.3 percent were Hispanic and 16.3 percent were black, according to the NCES numbers.

  • Schools that changed from a white to a black principal saw an average increase in black teachers of about 3 percentage points because black teachers were more likely to be hired and to stay in their positions.

(https://www.the74million.org/as-schools-diversify-principals-remain-mostly-white-and-5-other-things-we-learned-this-summer-about-americas-school-leaders/)


So what’s the problem? Simply put, we have subpar recruitment and retention strategies when it comes to black administrators in schools. Systemic issues and bureaucratic hurdles limit the advancement of black school leaders. Poor recruitment efforts impact the students we serve. You can’t be what you don’t see. What better way to make an impact on social injustices than to reach back and educate?


There was a time when education had a sexy demeanor. Students wanted to be teachers because there was power in the position. Not these days. The good news is we can bring sexy back to school leadership. We can encourage our youth to become the change they want to see. Seasoned educators have to take a step back and accept the new generation by becoming mentors, sharing leadership opportunities and experiences, and by modeling excellence in education. Bring sexy back.


Stop discouraging children to become educators and start encouraging them to be school leaders. I know I have been guilty of telling my child, “don’t be a teacher”, for one reason or another. No more, instead, let’s create high school teacher pipelines to plant the seed of our future in education. A teacher leadership pipeline has the potential to tap into the great black leaders of tomorrow. The lives of our children depend on it. I have a strong message to our seasoned school leaders: help create a leader who will be better than you and pass the baton. Be great! Great leaders pass the torch to the leaders of tomorrow. But this can’t happen if black teachers are not recruited and retained.


Create systemic change by improving recruitment practices. Schools and districts have an opportunity to partner with minority educational organizations to recruit, inform and impact leadership change in public education. Funds should be directed at the district level to retain high-quality leaders of all races in education but ensuring that diversity is evident and prevalent in school leadership at every school. I am also convinced that our leadership development programs should incorporate principles of mentorship and coaching to recruit and develop diverse leaders of color.

A great leader is always training their replacement. One question: Who will replace you? Who are you training? Are you planning for the future of education? Young talented teachers have the skill and will to provide great learning opportunities for children. They taught through COVID, virtual learning, and racial unrest. These are the new leaders of school leadership. They are innovative, impactful, and loyal. Embrace what they have to offer and let them lead.


One major responsibility of black school leaders is to find the gifts and talents of those she leads. There is a strategic way to find talents at your school, identify the needs of the school, keep your ear to the ground, ask questions, and ask talented staff for help to fill those needs. These individuals become your lead teachers and committee chairs. Everyone has at least one talent to offer. The most innovative, impactful, and powerful action a school leader can take is to empower a teacher by sharing the leadership experience. Tap into their talents. Empowerment is sexy.


Coach young educators. Coaches aren’t just for athletes, everyone needs a coach. Great leaders find young educators with leadership potential and mentor them through their journey. Great leaders are usually great coaches. I encourage current school leaders to mentor upcoming stars by doing 3 simple things, model, share experiences and celebrate continuous improvement. Most black leaders in education would not be where they are today if someone had not seen something in them that they did not see in themselves. It is our job to seek greatness in those coming behind us, just as someone did for us. It is on us to celebrate their success and encourage them to be great. It is also on us to give them consistent constructive feedback. It is on us to facilitate their continuous improvement. It is on us.


Don’t let our future leaders sink, by not embracing the talents they bring or refusing to be innovative or willing to listen to new ideas. Instead, help them swim. Save our teachers, these are our education leaders of the future. Seasoned leaders...I encourage you to find your protege and model excellence while showing empathy. Move with a sense of urgency, share with others the potential of these young leaders and help them, they need you. #imaginethat



Dr. Ericka Johnson-Allen is renowned for her unparalleled work in leadership and school transformation. Known for her Imagine That School Transformation Model she consistently produces double-digit student growth in 1 year. Dr. EJA currently serves as a superintendent for ResponsiveEd where she oversees nearly 20 schools throughout Texas, and CEO and Founder of Imagine That Consulting. She is co-host of Vulnerable Voices, a weekly podcast where she has real conversations with real leaders, about issues in the Black community.



Comments or Questions? Want to share your educational experience with COVID? I cordially invite you to reach out! All respectful, on-topic comments are welcome.


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