Leaders must navigate political hot topics like racism, equity, and transphobia while addressing the needs of the active stakeholders. As school and district leaders, how do we make decisions while considering the political fallout when those decisions interfere with the general beliefs of the community we represent? This question plagues school and district leaders alike. Why does it feel like a professional sacrifice when making decisions that are right for students? Why must it be a choice?
District and school leaders are serving in a very unforgiving political climate; each role serves at the pleasure of the ruling entity above them. They are aware that they serve their constituents and must ensure that they fulfill their obligations and duties. This is where the role of courageous leadership enters the picture. Courageous leadership requires individuals to bring important issues to the forefront even when the conversations are difficult. They must be able to guide stakeholders through a conversation that often can become contentious. Yielding to politics does not mean you are subservient.
Transgender students present with a unique set of needs, which often pertain to a healthy school climate. All students should be able to exist in a school setting that is nurturing and accepting of difference. Superintendents are charged with the task of providing the vision to create such a world. While the overtones of school climate and social and emotional safety are currently at the forefront of most school districts’ agenda, district leaders often ponder how much is “too much” when creating supports for all children, especially marginalized students. Providing supports to some marginalized students becomes a politicized event. Courageous superintendents who have begun conversations about policies for transgender students have experienced much criticism from community stakeholders.
One superintendent who implemented policy within his school district described his experience as most challenging. He shared stories of his peers questioning his character and morals because he strongly believed that he had a moral and professional obligation to ensure the social and emotional safety of transgender students. His conviction to serve all students came at a political and emotional cost. He, in this context, was courageous enough to challenge the status quo and simultaneously set a precedent for how his school district would truly serve all students.
A superintendent’s intention to provide opportunity and access for all students, irrespective of their differences, should not be an anomaly. If equity is a constant, everyone (not just the superintendent) should be working to create additional supports for transgender students. When the conversation begins and ends without action, they have failed to navigate the difficult space between doing what’s right and doing what’s accepted.
More than 50% of transgender students experience harassment within school on a daily basis (Kosciw, Greytak, Bartkiewicz, Boesen, Palmer, 2014). This overwhelming data means we cannot ignore their plight. Doing the right thing comes with risks; if a superintendent opens up a dialogue about the needs of transgender students, he/she may be risking their professional and political capital. The reality is that if the community is not ready to have the conversation or the superintendent isn’t prepared with a solid communication plan, it could potentially cost them their superintendency. But by not initiating the conversation, they have not served all students.
Courageous leadership is finding a way to create a space for conversation that leads to action that protects transgender students’ right to access public education freely and safely.
Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2014). The
2013 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.