Crafting one’s brand to fit: an exploration of Black female principals’ construction and navigation of their leadership identities

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Kimberly Curtis Robertson (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Carol Mullen

Abstract: African American female school leaders have a great responsibility and complex task before them. Not only are they charged with managing and improving schools, leading and empowering staff, and ensuring that the students under their care find academic success, they must also do this while managing their identity and navigating through various gender and race related social constructions. School leaders have multiple selves such as the identities they use when dealing with parents, district personnel, colleagues, students, etc. Effectively managing these selves is imperative to their successfulness as a school leader. This study examines how African American female principals construct and craft their leadership identities. Using the theoretical framework of critical race theory and black feminist thought, it discusses in depth the challenges Black females face based on their race and gender. This study also details their need to prove themselves and to change perceptions related to the stereotypes that plague women of color. It provides insight about how these women navigate and shift their identities in order to find and maintain success in their work spaces. This study recognizes that African American women are doubly marginalized; however, it appreciates their efforts to succeed despite the hurdles they face. The stories and voices of these women are seldom heard in the context of educational leadership and this study attempts to fill that void. Six women were selected and interviewed for this qualitative study which sought to answer the following questions: How do African American female principals construct and navigate their leadership identities? How do Black female administrators describe their experiences with identity navigation and shifting in terms of personality, behavior, and physical appearance? How do they use identity navigation and shifting to fit their work spaces? Also, this study uses autoethnographic data obtained from the author's own interview data, a daily log of events, excerpts from a reflective journal, relevant emails, and memories coupled with interview data from the six administrators to create a composite portrait illustrating a week in the life of a Black female school principal. In order to follow the tenets of critical race theory, the author's and the participants' authentic voice was honored through the use of powerful narratives and a composite counter-story. Themes that emerged related to the need for African American women to prove themselves professionally and to portray an image and identity that dispelled myths and negative perceptions related to their gender and/or race. Shifting strategies that are used such as changing communication styles, appearance, and behaviors are discussed. Concluding thoughts, implications for future research, and recommendations for educational practitioners are also presented.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Barriers, Black feminist theory, Critical race theory, Fit, Race, Shifting
African American women school principals $x Research $z United States
Educational leadership $x Research $z United States
Identity (Philosophical concept)

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