John West-Burnham

Educational Leadership Development

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Leadership for diversity and inclusion

In many ways these principles provide a powerful and practical expression of the basis for any strategy to secure diversity

The heart of the school as a moral community is its covenant of shared values. This covenant provides the basis for determining its morality. …the virtuous school subscribes to and uses these moralities as a basis for deciding what its values are and how they will be pursued. (Sergiovanni 1992:108)


This has fundamental implications for effective leadership, in essence it about moving beyond the historical boundaries of the school as an autonomous institution into recognition of a far wider, moral, responsibility.

The hardest part of sustainable leadership is the part that provokes us to think beyond our own schools and ourselves. It is the part that calls us to serve the public good of all people’s children within and beyond our community and not only the private interests of those who subscribe to our own institution. …Sustainable leadership is socially just leadership. (Hargreaves and Fink 2005)


All of this implies leaders who are very clear and have high confidence about what they believe and see as their role the translation of principle into practice. If inclusion and diversity are to be embedded into a school’s culture and working practices in a consistent and sustainable way then leadership has to focus on the creation of a moral consensus.


This in turn implies that leaders have a deep and authentic commitment to diversity and inclusion as moral principles. This has to be more than a policy to be implemented; this is fundamental to the integrity of leadership.


Figure 3 Developing moral confidence

Effective leadership emerges from a model similar in principle to figure 3. Leadership has to be deeply rooted in an ethical code, a clear set of principles that provide the foundations for personal and professional life. However most ethical codes and philosophies are historical and generic and they need to be applied to a particular time and place i.e. contextualized into a personal values system. The effective leader thus takes a generic principle and translates it into a personal value that they can live by and one that will inform their leadership decision taking. However values have to operate in the real world and so they have to be translated into moral principles that inform day-to-day living. So a school leader who is committed to social justice (ethical principle) translates that into a belief that a school has to respect diversity and be inclusive (personal and professional values) which is then reflected in school policies and practice in a systematic and consistent manner (moral practice).


The moral role of the school leaders might thus include:

  • The explicit articulation of moral precepts and principles;
  • The interpretation and application of those principles in specific situations;
  • Ensuring that every individual in the school understands the principles and is able to make them personally meaningful’
  • Working to create a consensus around the principles and to ensure their consistent application;
  • Monitoring the life of the school to ensure that aspirations are being translated into actual experience (e.g. carrying out an ethical ‘audit’ of the school);
  • Affirming appropriate behaviour and challenging, with sanctions, inappropriate behaviour;
  • Investing time in monitoring, reviewing and renewing the personal and organizational value systems.


It is not enough for leaders to argue for certain principles, they have to embody them in their own lives and practice, in other words they have to be authentic.


Figure 4 Personal authenticity.

In this model authenticity is the result of the interaction of personal and professional values, the language adopted and the behaviours employed. Authenticity is the product of the consistency of beliefs, language and behaviour- “walking the talk”.

. . . authentic educational leadership must promote and support the core values of schooling. Authentic educational leaders challenge others to participate in the visionary activity of identifying in curriculum, in teaching and in learning what is worthwhile, what is worth doing and preferred ways of doing and acting together. (Duignan 2006 P 128)


In practical terms this means that leaders adopt most of the following behaviours and strategies:

  • Dialogue and engagement – leaders develop a shared language and vocabulary so that there is consistent usage of key concepts and shared understanding of the underpinning values. Leaders tell stories of the preferred future of the school and develop scenarios to help all staff understand their contribution to the creation of the school as a moral community
  • Leaders as models – leaders lead by example and are highly visible in demonstrating the practical implications of the schools core values
  • Schools as communities- the school works as an inclusive community that embodies diversity in its day-today working. It works as a highly interdependent and interconnected network
  • Personalizing learning – in order to ensure that diversity and inclusion are directly expressed in the actual experience of students the design of the curriculum and teaching and learning strategies are designed around the needs of the student – the approach is A la Carte – not Table d’hôte.
  • Student voice and leadership – it is not enough to assume that policies to respect diversity and enhance inclusion are working. There has to be systematic intelligence gathering to ensure that services are being provided on the client’s terms. This means students and other clients having a clear voice about the quality of their experience and deliberately and systematically involving them in every aspect of planning for the provision of their services. In the final analysis inclusion will only be working if the students perceive themselves to be included
  • From ‘find and fix’ to ‘predict and prevent’ – prevention is better than cure is a well-known adage Leadership for diversity and inclusion has to work from the premise of preventing discrimination and securing inclusion rather than reacting to the lack of respect for diversity and failure to be inclusive
  • Restorative justice – respecting diversity and securing inclusion are not just policy issues, they are deeply personal with highly emotional connotations. Restorative justice is a strategy that ensures that a victim feels safe in challenging inappropriate behaviour and language and is able to work to develop strategies that minimize the possibility of similar behaviour in the future
  • Restorative justice depends on empathy and in many ways leadership for diversity and inclusion also requires empathy as the key emotional response. Authentic leaders will recognise that recognising and respecting diversity and securing inclusion are, in the final analysis, matters of personal judgement and while policies are essential so is the creation of highly sophisticated and emotionally intelligent schools.


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