Why Public School Principals Should Care About Social Justice Issues

As school leaders, principals are responsible for cultivating a safe and supportive environment for all students. The attitudes among faculty are often a reflection of that leadership, which further underscores the importance of a principal’s knowledge and demeanor.

The Master of Education (M.Ed.) – Educational Leadership Principal Certificate online program from Eastern Washington University provides students with a thorough examination of the importance of a principal’s role. Additionally, graduates will possess an understanding of quantitative and qualitative methods and strategies in educational research and how to use them, as well as a deep knowledge of school law and power structures.

Social justice issues have increasingly become a regular part of the public dialogue in the United States, with equity in schools a critical element of that conversation. As Nilka Avilés, Ed.D., writes for the Intercultural Development Research Association, using social justice as a lens to view education helps to strengthen social and cultural capital among students, in part by deepening their learning experiences to allow them to build their own understanding of social inequities.

When school principals support social justice, it also allows teachers the space to be responsive to the needs of a diverse student body. “Successful leaders support educators to reflect on current practices and urgently improve those that do not work,” writes Dr. Avilés.

Systemic Biases

When it comes to learning in the classroom, social justice issues can manifest in a variety of ways. Fortunately, there are also measures that principals can take to counteract these issues.

Systemic biases are inequities built into existing social systems and power structures that favor one group over another. These biases are typically extensions of those from the people who create the systems, whether intentional or otherwise.

In a 2020 Heliyon journal research article titled “Principals Navigating Discipline Decisions for Social Justice: An informed grounded theory study,” authors Gina Laura Gullo and Floyd D. Beachum note that the more principals can be aware of potential bias in policy- and decision-making, the better they’ll be able to create environments to mitigate those effects:

“If a principal is working with a mindful consideration of implicit bias remediation in their decisions, then reflection and continued experience may help to work against the perpetuation of inequities.”

Accessibility Issues

Despite the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it’s common for classrooms, facilities and learning materials to be inaccessible for students with various disabilities. These issues present themselves on different scales, from a lack of wheelchair ramps to the absence of special audio and visual materials for students with vision or hearing disabilities.

By learning more about the challenges presented to all students and consulting experts, principals can more keenly assess the level of accessibility in their schools. Remedying these inequities helps to create a more inclusive learning environment for all students. Moreover, accessible infrastructure and facilities have been shown to promote a more efficient and ergonomic experience for all persons.

Language Barriers

Similar to a lack of accessible materials, language differences can create needless barriers to communication. Students thrive in constructive environments where teachers communicate effectively and provide them with learning materials that they can understand. Principals can help foster hiring practices that ensure diverse staffing and learning material provisions in different languages.


Adults and children can harbor prejudices and negative stereotypes that they use to justify harmful behavior toward others. Left unchecked in the school setting, bullying can cause untold harm to students. When principals understand bullying interactions, they can better appreciate the nuances and set school policies to enable all staff to respond appropriately.

Cultural Differences

Sometimes social justice action can be as simple as recognizing and adapting to the needs of all students. Members of marginalized communities, such as non-white, non-heterosexual and lower income individuals, are faced with barriers to equitable learning, which makes it harder for them to excel in academics. As an article for the International Journal of Educational Reform notes, “Inequalities exist in most contemporary schools in the Western world, where non-White, gay, lesbian, poor, and differently abled students tend to become lower achievers and drop out of school in greater numbers.”

Principals can start to address these inequalities by promoting an asset-based atmosphere that accommodates the needs of every student. An advanced certificate program can equip education professionals with the knowledge and tools they need to foster socially just school environments.

Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online M.Ed. – Educational Leadership Principal Certificate program.

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