Systemic advocacy leadership : a multiple case study exploring systemic change through perceptions of school leaders and teachers.


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Too many individual instances of educator advocacy in schools never lead to systemic change. Educators see the plight of students who experience marginalization, but with the demands of high-stakes testing and funding, they may have limited capacity to prioritize advocacy work. Further, advocacy work is highly politicized and often a risky endeavor to undertake. Systemic barriers, limited capacity, and high risk are demotivators that weaken educators’ resolve to influence change through advocacy work.

This study illustrates how educators reflect upon systemic advocacy leadership. Dreier et al.’s (2019) Elements of Systems Leadership served as the study’s theoretical framework. The three elements included the individual’s collaborative leadership skills, the community’s coalition-building tactics, and an understanding of the complex systems shaping the specific problem of marginalization. In this multiple case study, I interviewed four school leaders, held focus group discussions with 14 teachers, and collected artifacts from three elementary schools in a large school district in north Texas. Each elementary school served as a case; school leaders and teachers were two embedded units of analysis within each case (Yin, 2018). A cross-case analysis of data indicated three key themes, which were the significant findings in the study. First, educator-advocates value trust-building as a skill to promote collaboration across the school system to serve students who experience marginalization at Eagle’s Nest School District. Second, educator advocates employ data as a tactic to build community coalitions and partnerships with parents to mobilize systemic change in service of students who experience marginalization at Eagle’s Nest School District. Third, educator-advocates need to work closely with the district leaders to constantly evaluate complex systems to serve students who experience marginalization at Eagle’s Nest School District.

Implications of this study may influence three key stakeholders. First, frequent on-campus visits by district personnel involving observations and communication could lead to timely and positive systemic change. Second, formal and informal school leaders could organize virtual or in-person gatherings with open dialogues about context-specific systemic issues of marginalization. Finally, university faculty in teacher leadership programs could strengthen their support of future school leaders by developing new courses in systemic advocacy leadership.