Investigating the Use of Social Justice Principles to Inform Culturally Responsive Leadership in Two Catholic Secondary Schools

Oliver, Verna-Lee
Boyask, Ruth
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Master of Educational Leadership
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Auckland University of Technology

The aim of the research study was to investigate the use of social justice principles to inform culturally responsive leadership in two Catholic secondary schools. The study examines the experiences, perceptions and understandings of leaders of cultural responsiveness, Heads of Departments and senior Religious Education teachers, in two Catholic secondary schools in Auckland, who are members of the cultural responsive school teams, lead social justice programmes and initiate the school strategies regarding this topic. The rationale for this investigation was influenced by my personal experiences as a South African Catholic mixed-race woman, my passion for teaching young people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and my interest in the educational publications about cultural responsiveness and social justice. Although research has been carried out on culturally responsive leadership and social justice, not nearly enough research has looked at social justice from a Catholic education position and using principles of social justice to inform culturally responsive leadership in Catholic schools. Owing to financial difficulties in the private Catholic school system, Catholic schools in New Zealand were integrated into the state education system. This makes it even more challenging for educational leaders in Catholic schools, as they navigate between Catholic education requirements and professional requirements from the Ministry of Education. With regards to culturally responsive leadership, it was my personal perspective that because Catholic education values are derived from gospel values, leaders should inevitably be culturally responsive. My reasoning is twofold, firstly, Catholic schools teach social justice in Religious Education classes, and social justice forms part of the school values, and secondly, Jesus, who is our example, was socially just and culturally responsive. I wanted to investigate why Catholic schools were still having to run professional development sessions for leaders and staff around cultural responsiveness, were still endeavouring to form culturally responsive leadership teams and were finding it challenging to get all staff working together to become culturally responsive leaders. This is when I looked at social justice at the Catholic secondary school where I teach and began to investigate the principles of social justice and whether they could inform culturally responsive leadership. A qualitative methodology was used for this study. Mini focus group discussions were held with eight leaders from two different Catholic secondary schools in Auckland. The findings were examined and presented by themes in relation to the principles of social justice that could inform culturally responsive leadership. The data revealed that there is a knowledge deficiency around social justice principles, as social justice in these schools was focussed on the act of charity, which connects to goodness, and not to utilising the principles to inform culturally responsive leadership. The data also accentuated the significance of authentic relationships with teachers, students and the wider school community. Recommendations that came out of this investigation, shows that the principles of social justice, namely; redistribution, recognition and participation, and the capability approach, if understood by all, could be a possible approach to culturally responsive leadership in these Catholic schools. It is also recommended that this will need to be a whole school initiative if it is to succeed, and must incorporate all staff, leaders, students and the multicultural community the school serves. Not only must leaders and staff know their students, they must also understand their own personal lens, created through their personal experiences, beliefs, values and cultures.

Social justice Principles , Culturally Responsive Leadership , Catholic , Secondary School
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