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What to do when leading alone – 10 Tips

The work of culturally responsive leadership can be unforgiving and lonely. It takes a psychological toll on you and can be overwhelming. However, there are 10 things you CAN do to get the ball rolling, and build your team.


First things first. You are not leading alone. Trust me. It may seem that way. But your allies are there. They just haven’t felt safe enough yet to make come out the woodwork. Give them time. It can often feel that way, but your squad is there.

Personal Reflections

I been there. When I first started at my current school, it felt like I had no allies. I was younger than a handful of teachers, I was a person of color, and I wasn’t even selected by the schools’ hiring committee. And I was a social justice wolf in professional clothing.

I could see early that the war was waging and I felt like I was fighting alone. Walking around, I observing practices and interactions between students. No happy. Sure there were some great things happening, but It did not feel right.

Naturally, I wanted to jump right in, talk to this person and that person. Write some memos or manifestos. But it wasn’t the right time. Even, if an opportunity seemed perfect, I needed to wait. Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t, but I always should have. I needed to pace myself and be more intentional.

Here’s a list of a few things Culturally Responsive Leaders can do during your first year, or during this year to make some headway.

10 Things you CAN do

  1. Turn your 1 year plan into a 3-5 year plan.
  2. Focus on what is within your sphere of control, in your first year. Put them on a list and keep coming back to them all year
  3. Look for the bright spots and micropolitic with these beacons of change
  4. Build one equity mindset such as Discourse 1 vs. 2, definitions of equity, ethnic studies terms, or courageous conversations
  5. Don’t go straight to instruction, as urgent as you feel. Address the foundation-level Maslow issues of safety, materials, and systems.
  6. Get key people off-site, to a training, retreat, or conference.
  7. Get super clear about your vision, purpose, and start to develop a multi-year strategic plan.
  8. Acquire resources that you will need for the following year
  9. Pick one process or structure that you can improve.
  10. Get a leadership coach, connect with your colleagues at other sites, and share best practices.

Dealing with Resistance

People make you feel like you are an insane person, because technically, you are. Your school has been normed by your previous leaders or from a lack of culturally responsive leadership. Or worse it’s been normed by white supremacy culture, and bias.

Reality is localized, like different strengths gravity of gravity on different planets. Even if you are bringing great, new ideas the resistance is thicker than a snicker.

We must remember that the system has been designed for status quo oppression, and like agents in the Matrix, the system is self-preserving, self-correcting. People don’t even know they are the agents, or in the Matrix, until it’s shown to them. That takes a long time. It takes using this framework for dealing with staff division.

But that is a part of your long-term work. To make the invisible visible. To call out the destructive practices that have become commonplace. For the time being though, start small and pick 2 from this list and start engineering for equity.

Remember. You are not alone. You just need to tap into culturally responsive leadership.