Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 27

Journal of Educational Administration and History Vol. 42, No.

2, May 2010, 133158

Spiritual weapons: Black female principals and religio-spirituality

Noelle Witherspoon* and Dianne L. Taylor
Department of Educational Theory, Policy, and Practice, College of Education, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA
noelle@lsu.edu Dr. 0 200000May 2010 42 NoelleWitherspoon 2010 OriginalofFrancis 0022-0620 (print)/1478-7431 Journal&Article 10.1080/00220621003701296(online) CJEH_A_470651.sgm Taylor andEducational Administration and History Francis

The historic connection of religion and spirituality to women, education, advocacy, and leadership is prevalent in Black American histories in general and the role of the religion and spirit in promoting education and socialisation. Important in this history is the intersection of spirituality and leadership for Black American women. This research privileges woman and female agency in rearticulating gender and race in ways that are meaningful despite subjectivities. This study, informed by notions of religio-spirituality, is taken from a larger study of the life narratives of four Black female principals. Through narrative analysis, the intersectionality of gender, race, and religio-spirituality highlighted the relationship of past and current religio-spiritual leadership understandings that contest the status quo in US schools. Our study highlights one example in which the historicity and analysis of gender and race contributes to reconceputalising educational administration by emphasising the voices of Black women principals, voices that provide alternative understandings of educational administration, stress the importance of gendered and raced voices in administration, and question formulaic models of leadership and the research that reifies them. Keywords: spirituality; religio-spirituality; race; gender; principalship; women; leadership

Introduction: spiritual weapons In 1982, Carol Gilligan wrote the influential book, In a Different Voice, to provide a counter perspective to the male-dominated field of social psychology. Gilligan proposed that women often ground their decision making on internal sensibilities related to context and relationships.1 Subsequently, feminists such as Nel Noddings extended Gilligans premise by theorising an ethic of care.2 Joan Scott published Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis, to which this issue of the Journal of Educational Administration and History is devoted, to argue that gender is an analytic category historians can and should use.3 We agree with Scott and add that gender as an analytic category is also useful to educational researchers. In this article, we combine gender with race to present the voices of four Black women who, as
*Corresponding author. Email: noelle@lsu.edu 1 Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Womens Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982). 2 Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). 3 Joan W. Scott, Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis, American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (1986): 1066.
ISSN 0022-0620 print/ISSN 1478-7431 online 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/00220621003701296 http://www.informaworld.com


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

principals, based their decision making not only on context and relationships, but on religious and spiritual sensibilities as well. As one part of her definition of gender, Scott described symbols (the Mary, mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, accused of prostitution); normative concepts used to interpret such symbols as binary opposites (virtue and vileness); politics and social institutions (the family) and organisations (schools); and subjective identity (societal role prescriptions and the extent to which individuals fulfil these expectations).4 The second part of her definition is that gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power.5 Scott described the first part of her definition as a process of constructing relationships and acknowledged that the process could be as aptly applied to race.6 Again, we agree and propose that intersectionality is one way to understand race and gender. Before we discuss intersectionality, it seems wise to address first the title of our article, which some may view as provocative. Spiritual WEAPONS is not used as a means to advocate religious violence (or any violence), nor is it used to suggest a contradiction in terms. Rather, WEAPONS is used as both metaphor and acronym. As metaphor, WEAPONS denotes pro-active and defensive strategies used by religiospiritual Black women principals we studied. As advocates for the socially just treatment of students at their respective schools, these principals confronted the necessity of challenging nave, conservative, androcentric, business models of leadership that permeated their districts. As acronym, WEAPONS encompasses Word, Wisdom, and Witness; Ethic of Religio-spirituality; Armour and Activism; Perseverance and Prayer; Ontology and Epistemology; Naming; and Spiritual Fruit.7 The acronym originates in the words and their interpretation as described by these principals as they discussed their professional experiences in their school districts and certain aspects of their personal lives.8 The purpose of our article is two-fold. First, our research gives primacy to lifehistory narratives as a research method that examines educational administration as more than the reductionist practice of recurrent androcentric, managerial frames of leadership. We argue that life history narratives of women offer counter-narratives to the master narratives of the field and disrupt taken-for-granted discourses. Feminist and womanist histories challenge any one right way of doing administration and formulaic models of leadership, address issues of marginalisation and silence, and restore voice to individuals who have been excluded from examinations of the political and policy structures of schooling. During our research, we reflected on Scotts ideas and her vision that investigation of gender would yield a history that provides new perspectives to old questions.9 For these reasons, the second purpose of this article is to outline how we appropriate these ideas in our research as they relate to issues of gender and race and religio-spirituality as social justice in schools. Our contribution, as we see it, for this special issue of the Journal of Educational Administration and History is in (re)appropriating Scotts proposal of gendered
4Ibid., 5Ibid., 6Ibid. 7Noelle

1068. 1969.

Witherspoon, Ordinary Theologies: Spiritual Narratives of Black Female Principals (PhD diss., University of Alabama, 2008). 8Ibid. 9Scott, Gender, 1075.

Journal of Educational Administration and History


framework, explicitly adding the framework of intersectionality (such as race and religion), and presenting the insights these frameworks offer through the lens of everyday histories of leadership based on experiences provided by African American female principals in the USA. Scotts work remains relevant to our research and current study in the field of educational administration. Many feminist and womanist researchers promote the necessity of writing women into history10 by using gender and race as frameworks for analysing history and its place among the contemporary. Kate Rousmaniere11 and others12 reminded us that there is little historical research about the American public school principal, thus leaving very little documentation or understanding about them. Notwithstanding this situation, we assert that life and professional histories of principals can offer significant texts that give insight to educational leadership and administrative practice. Although Rousmaniere stated that certain studies are too specific or overly hagiographic or overly sentimental,13 our research shows the importance of histories to knowledge production, to alternate interpretations of educational leadership, and to understanding acts of social justice as leadership. We also regarded the insights that historical and current leadership histories offer the field of educational leadership and the importance of metaphor to conceptualising the principalship in the USA. In the original research on which this paper is based, current narratives and histories of women in the African American Church served as analytical tools for examining education and leadership as it relates to the gender-raced nature of the principalship in the USA and to current constructions that persist in US schools such as equality, equity, marginalisation, and social injustice.14 Research often silences certain voices regardless of what these voices could teach. Rousmaniere aptly lamented that we know little about the professional life and work challenges, significances, and experiences of American school-building principals or the role of the principal in student achievement and leadership with staff and broader school communities.15 We learned much about these matters, though this learning is delimited to the participants in our study. We present the often intersecting personal, professional, and social activities of Black women and the way their religious beliefs and values reveal[ed] themselves within [their] words, thoughts, and deeds16 as they worked for social justice in their schools. The next section gives a brief description of important concepts (womanism, intersectionality, and social justice) that provided core theoretical understandings for our research. The subsequent sections describe our research methods, the findings regarding WEAPONS, gendered and raced conceptualisations of educational leadership, and finally conclusions concerning new histories and insights that bring us back to Scotts influential work.
D. Gordon, Mari Jo Buhle, and Nance Shrom Dye, in Scott, Gender, 1054. Rousmaniere, School Principals in America: A Review of Three Biographical Studies, Journal of Educational Administration and History 40 (2008): 7580. 12Dianne L. Taylor, Paula A. Cordeiro, and Janet A. Chrispeels, Pedagogy, in Handbook of Research on the Education of School Leaders, ed. Michelle D. Young, Gary Crow, Joseph Murphy, and Rodney Ogawa (London: Routledge, 2009), 31969. 13Rousmaniere, School Principals, 76. 14Witherspoon, Ordinary Theologies. 15Rousmaniere, School Principals, 76. 16Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, Mining the Mother Lode: Methods in Womanist Ethics (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2006), 154.
11Kate 10Ann


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

Womanist theory, intersectionality, and social justice Not wanting our analysis to merely focus on description rather than theory,17 our research drew heavily from what writer Alice Walker termed womanist theory in her book, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose. Walker described the standpoint and experiences of women of colour who wanted to know more and in greater depth.18 Walkers four-part definition of womanism formed a critical and methodological framework for various disciplines exploring the lives of Black women, including theology. Womanism entered the theological arena as a gender-based movement in the 1980s.19 Womanist theologians appropriated Walkers definition to examine Biblical scholarship, Christology, ecumenics, and Christian practice.20 In addition, womanist theologians have applied womanist hermeneutics to challenge oppressive societal traditions, patriarchy, notions of sexuality, and other marginalising constructions in society.21 In concert with womanist theory, womanist theology offers a way (1) to examine womens religious meanings and epistemologies, (2) to learn how women strived to contest and eradicate oppression, and (3) to inform social justice in US society and education past, present, and future. Both womanist theory and womanist theology build on feminist insights into the relationship between power, and the construction of social roles, as well as the unseen, largely invisible collection of patterns and habits that make up patriarchy and other types of domination.22 Womanist thought critically engages traditional hierarchies associated with race and class.23 In this way, womanist theory makes salient the values of Black people, particularly Black women, and provides a lucid illustration of education and leadership born out of protest and social justice. Womanist theology offers a way to consider how the Divine became and becomes manifested in the everyday experience of women women who are and have been left out of societys discourses.24 The concept of intersectionality suggests that there are interlinking, overlapping connections among various forms of oppression and gender, race, class, sexual preference, religion, and disability.25 Intersectionality can be used to think though all social institutions, organizational structures, patterns of social interaction and other social practices on all levels.26 Single category frameworks, such as race-only or gender-only frameworks, can be rather sterile; however, these discrete categories can
Gender, 1055. Walker, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983). 19Dolores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-talk (New York: Orbis Books, 1993). 20Stephanie Y. Mitchem, Womanist Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002). 21See Ibid.; Cheryl T. Gilkes, The Loves and Troubles of African-American Womens Bodies, in Troubling in My Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Evil and Suffering, ed. E.M. Townes (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993). 22Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 5. 23Walker, Our Mothers Gardens. 24Floyd-Thomas, Mining the Mother Lode, 8. 25See Kimberle W. Crenshaw, Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity, Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color, Stanford Law Review 43 (1991): 124199. 26Patricia H. Collins, Fighting Words: Black Women and the Search for Justice (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 205.
18Alice 17Scott,

Journal of Educational Administration and History


be de-sterilised and unified through the lens of intersectionality. Doing so permitted us to derive a deeper understanding of the interplay between the experiences of religio-spiritual Black female principals and the larger historical, socio-cultural, religious, and institutional contexts in which they lived. Studied in this way, the collective experiences of these women were not essentialised as the gendered and raced standpoint of the mythical universal Black female. Rather, intersectionality allowed us to study the individual and the group without losing the uniqueness of either. Our use of intersectionality links strongly to William Tates assertion that scholars of education should look to moral and spiritual texts to interrogate the workings of gender, race, and other forms of marginalisation in schools.27 While Tate did not describe ways in which this moral and spiritual grounding is made manifest, the women in our study located themselves within a religio-spiritual worldview through which they sought social justice in schools. Rather than attempting to find broad agreements, we carefully interpret what a religious or spiritual tradition meant to and what its import was for these women. This interpretation includes critiquing religion from the inside by those who hold these views, exploring tensions of faith, and examining resources that an individuals religio-spirituality can offer to education and leadership. In our study, the concept of social justice became important and was a central strand in our findings. A desire to eradicate school realities of injustice were interwoven into the narrative of each woman we interviewed. As the educational leadership literature moves toward a social justice framework, administrative practices focus on an analysis of how administrators actually engage in the process of social justice. For our participants, spirituality was not neutral in matters of social justice and leadership in schools. Our analysis revealed that social justice and the spiritual were closely related and often intertwined. For the participants, to be spiritual was to be socially just. The Black Church, women, and education Historical examinations can serve to enlarge the scope of modern-day protest and to re-appropriate the potential found therein.28 However, any attempt to discern the meaning of African American womens faith and action would be incomplete without reflection upon The Black Church.29 While there is no single body of doctrine that defines the religious identity of Black people in the USA, there is a common religious experience that stems from the formation of the Black Church. Williams explained this experience, noting that the Black Church is the heart of hope in the Black communitys experience of oppression, survival struggle and historic efforts toward complete liberation.30 Although symbolic, the Black Church refers to the social and religious collective realities that African Americans experience. From this hermeneutical and epistemological reference, one can study Black spirituality without apology.
27William Tate, Ethics, Engineering, and the Challenge of Race Reform, Race, Ethnicity and Education 8 (2005): 1217. 28Carolyn C. Denard, Retrieving and Reappropriating the Values of Black Church Tradition, in The Stones that Builders Rejected: The Development of Ethical Leadership from the Black Church Tradition, ed. Walter E. Fluker (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, 1998). 29Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 204. 30Ibid., 205.


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

The Church remains a pillar in the Black community and represents more than a place of worship. Lincoln explained that to understand the power of the Black Church, it must first be understood that there is no distinction between the Black Church and the Black community. The Church is the spiritual face of the Black subculture.31 Historically, the Black Church was a place of political, religious, social, educational, and cultural activity.32 It remains so today. In her book, If It Wasnt for the Women, Gilkes discussed the historic role Black women have played in their church and community.33 Work within the Church often centred on poor women and children and included mothering activities such as providing food, clothing, child care, and housing.34 Included as well were Biblical instruction, meeting community needs, and support and promotion of education. The role organised religion plays in cultural, racial, ethical, moral, and philosophical understandings, politics, and activism cannot be trivialised. Churches in the Black community have been central to the project of seeking change.35 For the historic Black Church, social justice [and] religion seemed inseparable.36 From its beginnings, the Black Church symbolised to Black people that they could manage the structures of civil society despite their exclusion from the dominant White culture in the USA.37 Opportunities for leadership, not available elsewhere in society because of deeply entrenched racist beliefs which were so culturally pervasive that they were embodied in law, were available in the Black Church. There, emerging leaders found not only opportunity but also affirmation for service and the demonstration of ability. After the US Civil War in the mid-1800s, women played an important role in building Black denominations. Like men, women were recognised as elocutionists, lecturers, field secretaries for the Womens Conventions, missionary workers, teachers, writers, school directors, and orators.38 Church women were active in practicing their religious lives, yet at the same time expanded their concern for their moral development to their families, and ultimately [took] their concerns to the larger society through reform activities.39 Black womens overtly religio-spiritual enactments reflected a historical posture of the Black Church: education as mission and ministry. If any one ministry could be identified as central it would be
Eric Lincoln, Race, Religion, and the Continuing American Dilemma (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999), 96. 32See Katie G. Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1988). 33See Cheryl T. Gilkes, It if Wasnt for the Women (Maryknoll, NJ: Orbis Books, 2001). 34See Donald Warran, American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work (New York: Macmillan, 1989). 35Mary R. Sawyer, The Black Church and Black Politics, in Down by the Riverside: Readings in African American Religion, ed. Larry G. Murphy (New York: New York University Press, 2000). 36Albert J. Raboteau, In Search of the Promised Land, in Down by the Riverside: Readings in African American Religion, ed. Larry G. Murphy (New York: New York University Press, 2000). 37See Ed Murphy, Handbook for Spiritual Warfare, revised ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996). 38Delores C. Carpenter, Black Women in Religious Institutions, in Down by the Riverside: Readings in African American Religion, ed. Larry G. Murphy (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 101. 39Emilie M. Townes, Womanist Justice, Womanist Hope (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1993), 812.

Journal of Educational Administration and History


education Black people defined education as a central task of the Christian mission.40 African Americans have long been proponents of formal education. Education was of chief importance in the moral and social advancement of the Black community. The tradition of the Black Church, womanism, womanist theology, and historiographic texts are tools used in this study to explain the intersection of Black women and educational leadership. Educational research has not studied historical texts to understand how religion and spirituality shape the leadership of Black women in actively resisting the status quo in schools. Such an omission is puzzling given that, historically, Black spirituality has been located in resistance.41 Many historians, archivists, and womanist and feminist scholars cite the inherent political importance of religion and spirituality to the life and work of females. Sociological studies of the history of the African American woman in religion highlight their leadership and personal, institutional, and structural creation and transformation. In theorising history, researchers have explored over-feminisations in the Church, home, and community, challenged the essential Black churchwoman, examined the role of religio-spirituality in naming oppression and seeking its abolition, and critiqued the erotic/exoticisation of the female religious experience.42 Reading women in history: the need for narrative Robert Starratt stated, Administration is autobiography We write our history in our work.43 The premise of our research rests in the application of a womanist theoretical and methodological approach grounded in the experience of African American women, culture, and narrative. Research seems to need what the autobiographical nature of narrative has to offer: an ability to name oneself in narrative while applying theoretical and identity frameworks that allow African American women to become a part of the greater religious, spiritual, professional, political, and other socio-cultural narratives of society. Our goal of studying Black womens spiritual narratives is to offer one way to understand how religion and spirituality are read into lifes private and public stories, through an intersecting (gender, race) hermeneutic. Our research claims the importance of privileging the sense-making processes of women, our participants leadership processes and identity claims, the ways they used spirituality for social
40Jualynne E. Dodson and Cheryl T. Gilkes, Something Within: Social Change and Collective Endurance in the Sacred World of Black Christian Women, in vol. 3 of Women and Religion in America: 19001968, ed. Rosemary R. Ruether and Rosemary S. Keller (San Francisco: Harper and Rowe, 1987), 84. 41Cornel West and Eddie S. Glaude, eds., African American Religious Thought (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2003). 42See Mitchem, Womanist Theology; Jocelyn Moody, Sentimental Confessions: Spiritual Narratives of Nineteenth-century African American Women (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003); Karen Sanchez-Eppler, Bodily Bonds: The Intersecting Rhetorics of Feminism and Abolition, in The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender, and Sentimentality in Nineteenth Century America, ed. Shirley Samuels (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1992); Audrey Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984); and Hazel Carby, The Multicultural Wars, in Black Popular Culture: A Project by Michelle Wallace, ed. Gina Dent (New York: New Press, 1998). 43See Robert J. Starratt, Leaders with Vision: The Quest for School Renewal (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 1995).


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

justice, and how spirituality was (re)appropriated and restorative work in their educational leadership practice. Using data from Witherspoons44 study, we demonstrate the prominent connection between religion and spirituality in the lives and professional practice of Black women who were public school principals. Sampling Four Black women who held or had held principalships were selected through purposive, intensity sampling.45 These principals lived and worked in various regions of a US southern state, were at different career stages, led schools at the elementary and secondary organisational levels, and held either bachelors, masters, or doctoral degrees in education. Three criteria were established for participant inclusion in the study. First, because religion and spirituality are considered by some to be private, participants had to be willing to discuss their religious and spiritual beliefs and the influence of each on their practice as principals.46 Second, participants had to be willing to discuss the marginalisation experiences they had encountered in their respective principalships. Finally, participants had to be willing to discuss the alternate ways they interpreted and implemented policy in their schools, whether or not their interpretation and/or implementation were consistent with district intentions. To maintain anonymity participants were given pseudonyms. Collectively, they had 75 years experience as educators and 14 years experience as school administrators. Bobbie was in her 32nd year in education. Her career was unique in that she had been an assistant principal for three years, a principal for two, and had transitioned back in to an assistant principal position. Pattie was in her 16th year in education and in her sixth year as a school principal. Toni was in her 13th year in education and in her first year as a principal. Her school was an elementary magnet school (a school with a specific curriculum that enrolls students from throughout the district). Avery was in her 14th year in education and was a second-year principal. Two participants, Bobbie and Pattie, were in the same district. Toni and Avery worked in other districts.

School contexts All of the principals worked in schools classified as urban schools with a majority of students who were poor and of colour. Because Toni led a magnet school, students at her school who were poor were approximately the same in number as those who were not. Pattie, Bobbie, and Avery each indicated that students at their schools had low standardised test scores, with the majority of those scores belonging to students of colour and students classified at the poverty level. While students at Tonis school were considered average to high-performing, students of colour comprised the largest percentage of the student body.

44Witherspoon, 45Michael

Ordinary Theologies. Q. Patton, Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods (London: Sage, 2002). 46See Elizabeth V. Lei and Bonnie L. Kyburz, Negotiation Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005).

Journal of Educational Administration and History


Data collection and analysis Multiple open-ended, in-depth interviews47 were conducted over the course of one academic year. Because of geographic proximity, one of the interviews was conducted jointly with Bobbie and Pattie. All interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed and ranged from a minimum of three hours to a maximum of seven hours. In addition to interviews, data were collected through journaling by the first author to document anything that transpires and to permit reflection on the research process.48 Data analysis was ongoing, open-ended, deductive, and included multiple strategies.49 After transcription, the data were analysed to uncover broad themes. Through womanist theological and theoretical lenses, ways in which religion and spirituality were salient in the lives and work of the participants and the ways in which they promoted social justice and initiated social activism in their schools were discovered. These lenses were subsequently used as a means to interrogate marginality as it emerged from the data. The womanist method of theming served as an important analytic technique for this study.50 African Americans often use topic associative stories to bear witness to their experience, so special attention was paid to those stories.51 What resulted from the interviews was the creation of spiritual narratives that demonstrated how religious and spiritual values and beliefs influenced the experiences of these principals. The larger study upon which this paper is based provides an analysis of each principals individual narrative. In that study, key life events and professional and personal narratives were analysed to unpack any relationships among age and spirituality, leadership training and socialisation, spirituality, and the impact of family and religio-spirituality and other intersections with religio-spirituality and leadership. This manuscript represents another wave of analysis that highlights metaphors of leadership, positioning analysis, and stories of identity.52 Positioning analysis and stories of identity focus on the identities people construct for themselves as they engage in narratives. That is, in storytelling, individuals often highlight ways in which they behave that are counter to pre-established selves or behaviours. In this re-analysis, we isolated large narrative units in the transcripts to identify themes that emphasise ways in which the participants constructed themselves as religio-spiritual, Black female principals, while countering and resisting status quo articulations of leadership. WEAPONS: interrogating and contesting the status quo The historicity of religious belief and practice is not merely idiomatic to Black religious experiences, but also underscores social praxis. The findings presented speak
McCracken, The Long Interview (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1988). Frances White, Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001), 117. 49Catherine K. Riessman, Narrative Analysis (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1993). 50See Floyd-Thomas, Mining the Mother Lode. 51See Sarah Michaels, Sharing Time: Childrens Narrative Styles and Differential Access to Literacy, Language and Society 10 (1981): 42342. 52Michael Baumberg, Positioning with Davie Hogan Stories, Tellings, and Identities, in Narrative Analysis: Studying the Development of Individuals in Society, ed. Colette Daiute and Cynthia Lightfoot (London: Sage, 2003) and William Labov, Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972).
48E. 47Grant


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

to educational leadership and capture the themes of spiritual WEAPONS inherent in the participants experiences such that their religio-spirituality, which was foundational to their social justice enterprise for both students and themselves, is highlighted. Each principal intersected religio-spirituality and leadership in their descriptions of their leadership practices and administrative roles. Even more telling was the intersection of race and gender in their professional storytelling and the interrelatedness of race/gender with religio-spirituality, leadership, and social justice. This research exposed how they experienced their principalships in a gendered and raced way that is important for understanding the principalship. Moreover, the participants narratives opened a window on their conceptions of their responsibilities toward students, especially Black students, which intersected with their own experiences of race, gender, and class oppression. Religio-spirituality as culture Because religio-spirituality is central to our study, it is necessary to explain how the participants identified this for themselves. For these women, religio-spirituality was also religio-cultural. Each woman made reference to her faith as being family- and community-centred, but rooted in race, culture, and gender. This was prominent in the intersection of religio-spirituality and their discussions of the Civil Rights movement, experience with racism and sexism, and other forms of oppression. Marginalising experiences are especially important to African American people and the African American culture writ large. Exposing unjust practices and fighting against them in a society that both created and continues to support such practices is, for African American women, what White called Black counterdiscourses. White stated that these counterdiscourses
Expose the ways that race, gender, sexuality, and class categories intertwine and transform each other. Categories such as race and gender are created to help the world make sense to us. These categories do not exist out there in the world. Rather, they are analytical categories that are always structured hierarchically and that have real consequences for real people.53

Each participant had a strong connection to her church. The Church was vital to how each woman viewed religio-spirituality and to how each saw herself culturally. Just as their religio-spirituality was a mixture of influences, their identities were just as complex. Their womanhood was inseparably related to both their race and religiospirituality. Indeed, these women did not separate their Black experience from the larger Black Christian experience; rather, they described parallels between their own struggles and those of Black people historically and currently. In a horrific example, Avery and Toni discussed in detail their experiences of the murders of their mothers due to domestic violence. In recounting these events, Avery discussed the prevalence of domestic violence in the Black community and the silence of the Black community on this issue. Often oppressed people internalise and comport with the views and behaviours of the oppressor. Instances of White violence against Black people are common in the USA. The Rodney King beating by White Los Angeles police officers several years ago and the subsequent acquittal of the officers

Dark Continent, 15.

Journal of Educational Administration and History


who beat him is a case in point. Pattie and her husband considered themselves students of African American history and often referenced domestic violence in Black families during conversations. Involvement in their current church, Pattie believed, enabled them to do what God wants them to do. They believed strongly that part of Gods will for them specifically involved ministering to the Black community. Similarly, Bobbie frequently referred to the Civil Rights movement and saw her life and work as a continuation of that struggle. All of the women discussed specific instances of racism encountered by themselves, their family, friends, and students. Inherent in their belief system was the obligation to fight against racism on behalf of themselves, their communities and workplaces, and for Black people as a whole. One of our most interesting findings was the unique way in which the participants constructed themselves as individuals. Their narratives spoke to multiple identities and roles in a way that provided a view on how they identified themselves. Their roles included being Black women, principals, mothers, Christians, daughters, Church members, friends, wives, employees, and so on. However, the unifying identities for each were being a Christian and a Black woman in that order. When asked how they viewed themselves, they used terms such as believer, child of God, Christian, and saved. They repeatedly spoke of their religio-spirituality as a holistic frame of reference for their identities, their lives, and how they viewed and portrayed themselves. On more than one occasion, their religio-spiritual view of themselves was linked to their Blackness and their predominately Black churches. Each woman was acutely aware of being Black, which was a unifier for some of the understandings they held of their religio-spirituality. When they spoke of being Black women, interestingly, this identity was a single characterisation. That is, in discussions of identity, they did not separate their race from their gender. Rather than holding a fragmented sense of self, the principals integrated their private faith and public practice in much the same way that they saw their Blackness and their womanhood as one. Patti described this integration of self.
Its not just that I have belief. My belief is who I am. I have no choice but to have my faith show up in school. To me, its the same as being Black and a woman. Cant do nothin bout that either.

Impact of the church The Church offered deliverance, but it also buttressed practices that could be interpreted as patriarchal and oppressive. For instance, all of the participants admitted to willingly following traditional gender roles promoted by the Church. Each woman held leadership positions in her church, and each also followed the doctrine of the Church that women not be the head of the man or hold the position of pastor in the Church. Because of the importance of the Church in their lives, two principals openly proselytised students, which is illegal in the USA. The mitigating circumstances they asserted were that proselytisation occurred in relationship to the community in which the students lived or with individual students and that their placement at their particular schools was because they were Black spiritual women. They rationalised that the challenges faced by students in their school called for a special person to be at our type of schools (Toni). Also enabling these principals to promote religious beliefs at school was that they enjoyed a camaraderie with the large number of African American female administrators in their districts.


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

While these religio-spiritual undertakings can be viewed as troubling, they are consistent with historical themes of protest, deliverance, and freedom inherent in Black religio-spirituality.54 These issues notwithstanding, our aim is not to focus these practices or to identify what institutionalised religion meant to the participants or how they acquiesced to what many would view as oppressive practices of the Church. Rather, this article explores the participants re-framing of their spiritual practices as professional tool kits of strategies for action. The participants standpoints offer counternarratives to traditional ideations of the Black, religio-spiritual woman as simply a servant leader or mother figure. In telling parts of their stories, we illuminate how these activist principals used cultural and epistemological tools to achieve antioppressive outcomes for themselves and their students. Like other activists, these participants acts have been transgressive of parameters set by others.55 Word, wisdom, and witness For the participants, Word represented the Bible. It was the first word and the last word when difficulties arose; it was the source of wisdom for them, and in the African American religious tradition, was a critical tool in making decisions in or related to their schools.56 By their own declaration, their school districts were set up as masculinist, policy-driven, and often oppressive to certain students and principals. Implementing stringent, inflexible policies that adversely affected students were not considered appropriate witness for these principals; their personal beliefs determined how they handled policy. While policy is usually interpreted as corporatist, rational, and modernist, the behaviours of these principals reflected a post-masculinist response to leadership and leadership diversity. Obediently implementing policy was not what these women believed to be most important to effective leadership. Patti said,
Real leadership wisdom lies in the Word. It is the basis of my decisions. We keep being told to follow policy, follow policy. Since when did policy create what is best for students? If policy had its way, I probably wouldnt be the principal!

Witnessing involved maintaining what they believed were religio-spiritual and just behaviours. Some of these behaviours included being consistent with what they viewed as the mission of the principalship. While it is rare to find individuals who, when interviewed separately, use the same term to describe a particular phenomenon, each participant used the word mission or the phrase mission field in describing her principalship. What exactly was their mission? When asked, the participants found it hard to give specifics, but each one was passionate about the overall need to make things better for the students that they served. Their mission was closely tied to their idea of social justice. In their words:

54Cornel West, Prophecy, Deliverance! (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982). 55Jill Blackmore, Social Justice and the Study and Practice of Leadership in Education: A Feminist History, Journal of Educational Administration and History 38, no. 2 (2006): 185 200. 56Gilkes, If it Wasnt for the Women, 127.

Journal of Educational Administration and History


Social justice is making sure my kids have everything that everyone else has. Sometimes it may mean giving my kids more than you give other people who already have. It may not be fair, but life hasnt been fair to my kids. (Avery) Every child deserves the best that we can give them. (Toni) I understand that we cant do everything for children, but I am tired of seeing White folks be the only one with a chance. (Pattie)

Thus, while these principals did not call social justice by name until specifically asked, their understandings about schooling and the principalship encompassed what they believed were fairness, equality, and equity. Ethic of religio-spirituality For our participants, morality and ethics were not seen as separate. Likewise, religion and spirituality were not separate from ethics and morality. Their views have some consistency with the profound effect ethics and spirituality are having on the field of educational leadership.57 Hence, another contribution our study makes is to accentuate an ethic of spirituality. As Pattie noted,
So much of who I am as a Black woman means living with integrity. God values integrity. I try to live my personal life with integrity. I definitely try to run my school with integrity.

As researchers, we wondered what it meant to run a school with integrity. Toni elaborated, saying, It means not standing by and watching the wrong things get done. Much like a pastor, these women not only believed in ensuring the academic wellbeing of their students, but also in providing holistic care of mind, body, and spirit. The care these principals engaged in sought to address interlocking systems of material realities, community realities, and spiritual realities. The depth of their caring comes through in their words.
It was a good thing that I was there, you know, for the children, because they needed someone who was compassionate and who cared about them. (Bobbie) At the end of the day, there is not a person in this building or outside this building who can say I dont care about these kids. You can say whatever you want, but at the end of the day, there is not a person here who could question my passion and my desire to help these kids. (Toni) Some of these parents dont take care of these babies. When they are here, they are my babies, and I gotta make sure they have what they need. They need some Jesus, too, and I do the best I can without getting fired. (Pattie) Ive got kids whose parents are on drugs. Ninety-eight per cent of them live in poverty. Some are under that care of DHR [Department of Human Resources] because they are neglected. I honestly dont believe we can do it without God. (Avery)


Shields, Liberating Discourses: Spirituality and Educational Leadership, Journal of School Leadership 15 (2005): 60823.


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

The participants saw themselves as a part of Gods active care for the disposed.58 In each of their narratives, there was an expressed belief that they were an extension of Gods care for their students. God was seen as actively involved in the affairs of the school and the lives of its students. It this relationship, or lack of it, that spiritual historians believe would have the greatest impact on the lives of students. It was this relationship that these women sought to introduce or nurture in the lives of their students. Armour and activism Another theme that emerged from the narratives was that of armour and protection. The phrase putting on the armour of God comes from Ephesians 6: 14. These principals viewed the principalship as a harsh occupation and their schools as harsh environments. In both circumstances, they expressed a need to guard themselves. Bobbie felt that
You have to be on guard. You know, the Lord tells us the same thing. There are definitely wolves out there. They have their own agendas. It felt like I had to guard myself from everyone parents, teachers, folks at central office.

Bobbies words made clear that parents, district and state administrators, teachers, and community members were sometimes individuals against whom they had to guard themselves. Because schools were viewed as harsh environments, maintaining their religiospirituality by engaging in acts of social justice were cast as subversive by the wolves out there. Although their discussion of social justice was not exhaustive, these principals believed that schooling should teach students about opportunities for material realities and provide the material realities that students may not have. The majority of students at each principals schools were considered impoverished. As principals, these women wanted to diminish the effects of poverty on their students.
I want my students to have everything that everyone else has. The school cant do everything but it can do something. School is a ministry within itself. (Avery). I am always on the side of the kid. They should have opportunities. (Toni) Some of my kids dont have shoes. I need to be worried about that just like everything else. (Pattie) I was always fighting to get things in school that the kids did not have at home. Like computers. None of my kids had these at home. I fought for a lab at school. My school needed it more than the rich school they were trying to give it to. (Bobbie)

Bobbies comments exemplify ways these principals religio-spirituality undergirded their enactments of social justice and active resistance to district decisions that kept their students at the margins of school district largesse. Recognising the often detrimental effects of school policies on the lives and educational opportunities of children, the principals engaged in acts of creative
Larry G. Murphy, All Things to All People, in Down by the Riverside: Readings in African American Religion, ed. L. G. Murphy (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 133137.

Journal of Educational Administration and History


insubordination to obstruct these detrimental effects and to insure the well-being of their students. Pattie stated,
I dont have to say anything necessarily to get something done. I simply do what I do. I actually get more done by not getting in someones face every five minutes. That just puts you on the radar. You dont say anything; you cant get accused of anything. I accomplish plenty for my kids by doing what I do.

As Patti conveyed, acts of social justice sometimes took the form of tweaking policies or procedures and at other times reinterpreting them to the benefit of the students. Examples of creative insubordination principals cited were interpreting retention policies, curriculum mandates, and suspension policies in ways that provided opportunities for children to succeed. The African American female principals described in this paper employed alternative practices considered as transgressive and subversive.59 Perseverance and prayer For all of the participants, perseverance was related to what they called the daily stressors of the principalship. Among the stressors were lack of autonomy in managing their schools, large amounts of paperwork, increasing pressure to raise student achievement scores, lack of resources, student poverty and underachievement, and the emotional and physical energy required to accomplish the job. According to Avery,
This job is hard, but I will stay until He tells me to do something else. He never promised us this life would not be hard. I knew this job was deep when I took it. So did He. If He saw fit to give me the position, then He thinks I can handle it. He doesnt give us more than we can handle.

Job-related stressors were also encountered at a personal level. Each woman told of overcoming encounters with racism and sexism. As Toni summarised,
I have been discriminated against in every sense of the word and yet I am still here. I would have quit a long time ago if I did not pray and have God.

As can be inferred, prayer was an essential part of each principals professional life. Prayer for these women was among the rituals employed at the beginning of the decision-making process, especially when decisions were major or difficult. Prayer also served as a reflective process at the end. Avery explained the significance of prayer for her.
Every morning as Im coming to work I say a prayer, God help me to make good decisions and do whats best for these kids. At night, I often think about all that I have done that day and make sure that I have done all I can do.

The women often cited being in prayer daily about their schools. They indicated that prayer had the power to truly effect change by moving God to act in their lives and in their schools.

bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge, 1994).


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

Underlying each womans philosophy was the experience of racism. Eradicating racial injustice was interwoven into each narrative. Each principal stated a belief that the biggest problems she had to overcome were inequities rooted in race or racism. In discussing issues affecting schooling, such as test scores, poverty or wealth, community tensions, or students households, race or racism was integral. It was clear from the participants responses that race and class issues were entwined with one another and called for social justice. Although the participants saw some inequities in schools as rooted in other socio-cultural issues, they also saw them as spiritual issues that needed to be overcome.
My belief is that all of this stuff is rooted in the devil. Besides, God still runs this this world, I mean. At the end of day, I dont take this stuff home with me because He is still the one in control. I have to do my part with that. (Pattie) Prayer is the thing. You cant fight something as big as this with flesh and blood. You are in a spiritual battle for these kids. (Bobbie) I take some of my students home with me. I take care of them. That is the Christian thing to do. I know that this is a part of educating them. This thing is spiritual. (Avery) Sometimes I am just plain tired. I deal with issues all week. But I keep coming back to my faith. (Toni)

For these women it was clear that their religio-spirituality was what informed their educational and leadership philosophies and that these formed a mission of social justice. In each narrative, social justice and spirituality overlapped in a significant way. Ontology and epistemology One of the reasons why religio-spirituality presents epistemological challenges is that it is inseparable from ontological positions. In other words, how we come to know is embedded in who we are and how we choose to live our lives.60 Each woman applied her specialised way of knowing in the decision-making process and daily practice of the principalship. For each, in the synapse between problem and solution, idea and decision, the transmitters were religion, spirituality, and experience. Prayer and communing with God, consulting the Bible or other religious resources, reflecting upon past experiences, and using their religio-spiritual views influenced what they considered as knowledge and how they applied that knowledge to the principalship. We believe that the women in our study, through their unique religio-spiritual way of leading, problematise knowledge claims and the prescriptive roles and behaviours that dominant claims prescribe. This study adds to the field through our ability to value all ways of knowing and ways of being in every sphere of life, particularly those of religio-spiritual African American women. This study ascribed value to the broad spectrum of knowledge (historical, theological, spiritual, professional, personal, collective, and individual). Regardless from whence the knowledge emerged, what mattered was the way it worked and impacted the individuals life. The collective struggle of Black female principals to work toward social justice is deeply embedded

Shields, Liberating Discourses, 609.

Journal of Educational Administration and History


in a set of cultural practices and lived experiences that privilege epistemic and ontological claims of spirituality as a guiding force. What they know and how they know and who they perceive themselves to be informed their practice. Through the participants narratives, this research gives primacy to Black womens religio-spiritual experience in matters of educational leadership. Rather than wholly relying upon policy, other administrators, dictates of stakeholders, or formal leadership training to inform their decision-making, the participants relied on how they defined themselves and interpreted their own experience and knowledge to guide their actions. As Pattie noted,
I think about all the courses I took in college to get to where I am today. Some things I use, but I just dont think a classroom prepares you for what you really have to do when you become a principal. You have many demands for everyone around you, and believe me, a whole list of rules that people tell you to follow. But more often than not, you have to go with what you know.

Brummet stated, Spiritualities are systems of explanation Spirituality undergirds a system of knowledge and tells people how to draw conclusions and truths from certain experiences.61 Undeniably, the participants interpretation of situations and decisions in school were drawn from their religio-spiritual belief. The whole of their identity as religio-spiritual, Black women expressed itself in their principalship practices. Naming The participants frequently engaged in behaviour that was not considered traditional leadership behaviour. They had the courage to name and rename traditional conceptualisations of leadership behaviour by the practice in which they engaged. For instance, Pattie said,
The nice thing about this job is that I have found a way to lead that fits for me. Sure there is a lot of oversight all the time, but I have found a way that is best for me and the folks in my school.

The womens narratives noticeably revealed that practising their religio-spirituality did not mean that one disregards the organizational context in which they were embedded.62 Much like their historic foremothers, the participants took the unique positionality, experience, and practice of African American religio-spiritual women and critically applied them as normal institutional practice. In the USA, leaders often de-legitimise religio-spiritual practice and overemphasise technocratic, managerial, and policy-driven skills. These principals beliefs and actions moved religion and spirituality from the margins and made it central to their practice. Refusing to couch spirituality as a secularised endeavour to make it more acceptable, our participants named spirituality as religion and made clear the ways
61Barry Brummett, Rhetorical Epistemology and Rhetorical Spirituality, in The Academy and

Possibility of Belief: Essays on Intellectual and Spiritual Life, ed. Mary L. Buley-Meissner, Mary M. Thompson and Elizabeth B. Tan (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2000), 123. 62Robert J. Starratt, Prologue, in Inspiring Practice: Spirituality and Educational Leadership, ed. Carolyn M. Shields, Mark Edwards and Anish Sayani (Lancaster, PA: Pro-Active Publications, 2005), 70.


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

that it informed their practice through working for social justice. By identifying and naming their educational practice as religio-spiritual in quality, their performance of the principalship became de-normed. The principals narratives also highlighted how their lives and practice named, confrontationally or non-confrontationally, acts of injustice in schools and ways in which they attempted to do justly63 in schools and society. Bobbie clarified,
I work with a lot of people who dont say anything about what they see wrong in schools. I think if you have been given this job, then you have no choice. I think that God gave me my job, and part of my job is get mad at the same things He gets mad at. You have call things out for what they are.

The willingness to name, to call things out for what they are, are inherent in the theoretical perspective that considers the experiences of Black women as normal and not as a deviation or variation.64 Spiritual fruit The participants constantly reiterated being compelled toward right behaviour in the principalship. The difficulty this involved needed to produce results to sustain the effort required. Avery wanted to see the fruits of her labour.
I want to bear fruit. How hard I work should bear fruit. God tells us that we will be known by the fruit we bear. I mean, if I am running around barking at people all the time, that wont bear fruit. I might fruit my way on outta here! But the things I work towards should help not hurt.

While their actions varied, their leadership behaviours were ones of partnering with God as their leader, and they, in turn, provided leadership to their schools. Often their discussion centred on their principalship practice as social justice and for that practice to bear fruit. Spiritual fruit is one way that spiritual historians represent social justice in schools. For the principals in our study, creating a just environment for students was rooted in their religio-spiritual mission to provide equitable fruit for their students. In some instances, this fruit seemed mundane, but nonetheless important, such as assuring improvements to and maintenance of the physical plant. But the fruit also included substantive things such as securing resources received by schools with wealthier student bodies, closing the achievement gap for their students, and rejecting the deficit model when it was applied to their schools. At Tonis school, a magnet, more students were achieving at acceptable levels than were students at the other three schools. Bobbie and Pattie were principals of lowperforming schools that were placed in school improvement by the state, a categorisation that signifies a school is doing poorly in educating its students. Averys school had been in school improvement, but at the time of the interview, had been released from this category. Still, Avery explained that

6: 8. Beauboeuf-Lafontant, A Movement Against and Beyond Boundaries: Politically Relevant Teaching Among African American Teachers, Teachers College Record 100 (1999): 70223.


Journal of Educational Administration and History


My kids may never be top achievers by somebody elses scale. And I do believe that education is key. But without that exposure to a different life, they are not going to understand it. These kids are trying to survive. Its like, you want so badly for them to somehow see that there is something else out there, outside of these walls and what they see everyday out there. (Avery) These kids are smart. I am tired of people worrying about what the kids dont have and think about what they bring to the table. They cant help who their parents are. (Pattie) When I stopped focusing so much on achievement at my school, our test scores increased by 19%. The purpose of school is not just about scores. I realised that. (Toni)

These poignant words of the participants demonstrate not only their desire for their work to bear fruit for the students, but also the genuine care each felt for the students at their schools. In addition to the other things the principals did to achieve results for their students, each also shared an intense belief that fulfilling the schools mission required garnering community support. In their own ways, each set about nurturing that support.
I tried to become a part of the life that they lived. I even stopped going to my beautician and I got a beautician on the west side, and I still go there now. I dont think I will ever leave her because back there in that beauty parlour, the kids came back through there; the parents come through there. They got to see me; they got to know me. They go to talk to me and they go to see Im just like yall. (Bobbie; yall is a colloquialism for you all) A lot of my students in my school are a part of my community and even attend my church. (Toni) Youve got to know your community to serve it. (Pattie) I understand this community and they trust me. I couldnt do what I do if the community wasnt behind me. Not every parent agrees with me, but for the most part they do. (Avery)

Presence, availability, and trust were essential in the view of these principals to secuing community support. Gender-racing leadership Gender-roles and expectations influenced the moral, ethical, social, and psychological development of the participants. The women shared a distinctive worldview encompassing strong spiritual influences and a clear identification of what it means to be African American and female. They knew, as Claudia Tate stated in Domestic Allegories of Political Desire, that In a racist and sexist society, the concept of a Black woman empowered by God is doubly radical.65 The participants in our study represent many intersections; spirituality, leadership, race, and gender are but a few. In the telling of their histories and experiences as principals of schools attended by low-income, African American children, it became clear that their leadership and spir65Claudia

Tate, Domestic Allegories of Political Desire: The Black Heroines Text at the Turn of the Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 152.


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

ituality was gender-raced. Being African American and women was central to the ways they experienced their spirituality, their personal and professional roles and identities, and their activism in schools. The structure of school itself was foundational to ways our participants perceived gender and race as race-ing their professional experiences. This structure created tensions between schooling and spiritual leadership enacted as social justice, tensions that further marginalised the principals as they advocated on behalf of their children. One participant commented,
I know what they call strong, Black women behind their backs. I have been called a bitch and I have seen other people get promoted over me when I was the first of few to obtain a doctorate degree. Every time I speak up about my school, everyone gets this, Oh no, here she goes again, look on their faces.

For two of the participants, their unique perspective of leadership was viewed as ammunition to be used against them, since they dont want Black women at the top anyway (Bobbie). For the other two participants, their spirituality resulted in an increase in cultural capital and voice in their positions as principals. Nevertheless, each participant experienced being excluded from certain conversations and district decisions because they were African American female principals. For example, the district in which one participant worked allocated additional funding to most elementary schools over several years, but excluded her school on each occasion. Each time she inquired about the unequal treatment, district administrators would remind her that she had all those churches in her neighbourhood and she could ask them. Paradoxically, the role of religio-spirituality was regarded by district administrators as an asset for schools in African American communities to tap into, yet the personal faiths of these principals was often seen as exotic or emotional by the same administrators. Disparate treatment from district administrators did not diminish the belief each principal had in her headship at her school. All four participants spoke about feeling singularly responsible for their schools, declared their authority, and made clear that they had the last word over every facet of the school. Each principal set up the organisational structure of the school, placing herself at the top of the organisational chart. Not surprisingly, each one encountered challenges to her authority. When challenges came, the participants attributed them either to resistance to a Black woman leader or to the lack of shared vision with those making the challenge. Consistent with their common belief that they were solely responsible for their schools, each principal willingly risked stakeholder dissatisfaction to make decisions she believed were in the best interest of the students. As noted, important decisions were not made capriciously, but rather with the guidance that came through their religio-spirituality and prayer. One participant explained,
My school is my responsibility, and dont get me wrong, I have folks that dont want to take orders from a Black woman. Even though Id like to have everyones support, I go on despite it. I believe that this is my calling. When all is said and done, I have to answer to the school board and to God!

Although each woman experienced gender-racing leadership in their principalships, each one also experienced it outside school and district settings. They accepted traditional female roles in their families and churches. In their homes, three of the women said they believed in the convention of the man as head of the household. Similarly,

Journal of Educational Administration and History


all four women actively supported both the traditional roles of women in the Church and the male hierarchy of Church leadership. All four served in one or more roles traditionally held by women in the Church, such as a Sunday school teacher, deaconess, head of a Christian Education department, or member or chair of Church committees such as the hospitality or benevolence committees. Likewise, these women believed that a man should be pastor of the Church. Although these compliant demeanors seem inconsistent with the assertive behaviours the women enacted at the school, this coin has another side. Often males from the participants families served in leadership roles in the Church and therefore were perceived as holding high position in the Church hierarchy and were recipients of the prestige associated with the position. The conflicted nature of our participants responses concerning gendered roles in professional and private spaces provides valuable insight into why womens leadership has become a focus of research and scholarship. Nonetheless, much remains to be done to incorporate African American and spiritual perspectives into the dialogue. This research moves the field in that direction. It is not intended to offer a formula for becoming a spiritual leader nor is it intended to generalise what it means to be a Black female school principal. There is a danger in essentialising notions of feminist leadership. In fact, an unexpected outcome of this research was the discovery of a disconnect between our participants metaphors concerning leadership and traditional ones often applied to Black female leaders. Traditional metaphors such as other mothers and servant leaders contrast with the findings of our study and demonstrate the burden these other metaphors create through their accompanying role and behaviour expectations. Burden emerged from this study as a new metaphor that calls into question the other oft-assumed roles of the Black female principal. In this regard, one participant confessed,
I feel sometimes that I should be doing more, especially for the Black kids. But it feels like that is always what I am supposed to do. I feel sorry for some of these kids and really want to help them, but I am burned out. I guess I feel like God understands.

These women eschewed gendered and raced norms ascribe to being a Black female principal and their narratives revealed these norms as too simplistic. Through the gender-raced womanist theoretical framework, this research explored spirituality as a way to enlarge histories of educational leadership to include Black spiritual womens experiences and to recognise, create, and explain that which is meaningful for them in the principalship. Although these principals experienced their spirituality as gender-raced, we do not attempt to derive another prescriptive, normative ethic66 for women in leadership. Too often, research concerning women in educational leadership has been uncomfortable with the ambiguity and situational nature of the principalship. To gain female perspectives, researchers must avoid becoming too narrow in understanding of womens ways of leading or too quick to apply labels. This study does not promote the participants as brave social activists (as literary historians do) or as exemplary nurturing Christians (as womanist theo-ethicists do). Rather, the study gives voice to the participants as religio-spiritual leaders. When a Black woman declares herself as spiritual or grounded in her own way of knowing, the dangers of reduction to sentimentality and dismissive labelling as overly

Black Womanist Ethics, 5.


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

subjective and emotional and as acting too feminine should be named and avoided by researchers and practitioners alike. New narratives: writing Black females into educational leadership history The masculine enterprise of leadership shunts women into prescribed roles associated with femininity whether as school leaders or as other professionals.67 According to Blackmore, leadership is treated as a set of generic competencies rather than holistically; the social [and] ethical dimensions of leadership are leached out.68 Mining the histories of the leadership of African American women through our research foregrounded these concerns as we sought to deconstruct normative epistemologies, descriptors, and enactments of leadership and administration. The research on females leading in education is slim, and our knowledge of women of colour leading is even thinner. The voices of administrators of colour are silenced in educational leadership history. It is in this silence that that our research and the narratives of the participants are situated. Emerging literature on leaders of colour teaches us that their ways of leading may be as diverse as their gendered and cultural heritages but all rise from their own complex social and cultural histories.69 Past and current research regularly identifies leadership or administration as male in spite of evidence that women often use different leadership styles than men70 and do so effectively.
When the annals of Eurocentric history generally define leaders as male and of nonAfrican descent, and when the annals of history focus mostly on white women leaders, what are we to make of the (in)adequacy of scholarship, research, and instruction devoted to Black women leaders in society? And what are the methodological implications for traditional categories of constructed leadership behaviors to be assessed in light of complex nature of Black womens lives and history?71

New paradigmatic research must be undertaken that challenges the current descriptive criteria, conceptual categories, and taxonomies and advances counter-narratives (i.e. gendered, contextual, political, social, etc.) that make our understanding of educational leadership more authentic. In our case, gender and intersectionality give profound meaning to organisational and educational leadership and should be engaged in future scholarship. Research that mines historical texts and narratives can yield a
67Jill Blackmore, In the Shadow of Men: The Historical Construction of Administration as a Masculinist Enterprise, in Gender Matters in Educational Administration and Policy: A Feminist Introduction, ed. J. Blackmore and J. Kenway (Bristol, PA: Falmer Press, 1993). 68Jill Blackmore, Troubling Women: Feminism, Leadership, and Educational Change (Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 1999). 69Manette K. Ah Nee-Benham and Joanne E. Cooper, Let My Spirit Soar! Narratives of Diverse Women in School Leadership (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 1998), 40. 70Blackmore, Troubling Women and Carol Shakeshaft, Organizational Theory and Women: Where Are We? (paper presented at an annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington, DC, April, 1987). 71Clarice J. Martin, Normative Biblical Motifs in African-American Women Leaders Moral Discourse: Maria Stewarts Autobiography as a Resource for Nurturing Leadership from the Black Church Tradition, in The Stone that the Builders Rejected: the Development of Ethical Leadership from the Black Church Tradition, ed. Walter E. Fluker (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1998), 56.

Journal of Educational Administration and History


richness that is currently missing and can add historically marginalised and silenced voices to the body of educational leadership knowledge. The development and critical analysis of histories of and with those who have been silenced and denied access in education and in society represent ways of wrestling with new questions, resisting, contesting inequities, and propounding change.72 Such developments will yield new perspectives on how women leaders view their life circumstances and connect to both organisational life and the world at-large, and they will allow for critical examination of these interpretations. By so doing, we are enabled to understand in fundamentally new ways both ourselves and those who, historically, have been treated as invisible.73 There is no right way to do administration; hence we must be sceptical of formulaic models of leadership and research that reifies them. In this article, we presented research that challenges such models by examining ways in which our participants enact, think about and interpret leadership differently from traditional models.74 Our research contributes to the importance of understanding religio-spiritual influences on Black women who practise educational leadership as social justice. We hope our study gives increased importance to examining historic and contemporary texts and metaphors to give greater depth to the study and practice of educational administration. Among the questions the field of educational administration must answer is: What metaphors do women use to describe and enact their leadership and administration? Well over a decade ago, Thomas Sergiovanni protested that The basic theories and root metaphors of the field currently center on organization, whose assumptions include legitimacy, hierarchy, and self-interest.75 Our study and others like it provide alternate metaphors that illustrate Black women principals as transgressing certain masculine and feminine conceptions of leadership. Our participants resisted androcentric ideals of the principalship by being intensely student-focused, subverting hierarchical expectations when they deemed it necessary, and employing an educational worldview that embodied care and social justice. These women contested the socially constructed Black feminine ideal that exalts servanthood but ignores the difficult enactments of socially just leadership, especially in racist, sexist environments. These women and their foremothers demonstrated a situational response to social justice tied to the specific realities they encountered. The metaphors that emerged from our participants narratives concerned meaning-making and enactments of administration based more on their educational philosophies, religio-spiritual grounding, and personal experiences than on organisational theory or the content of educational administration courses. Thus, their stories expose the myth that educational administration is a set of objective competencies that one puts on, and propounds instead that educational administration is an inner processing of personal ideals, values, and beliefs that come out. Through this research, a perspective on the dilemma of attracting and retaining female administrators, especially Black females, emerges. With an increasing number of studies pointing out the overwhelming duties associated with the principalship,

McLaughlin, Coda, in Naming Silenced Lives: Personal Narratives and the Process of Change, ed. Dani McLaughlin and William G. Tierney (New York: Routledge, 1993), 238. 74Adrianna Kezar, Pluralistic Leadership, Journal of Higher Education 71 (2000): 723. 75Thomas J. Sergiovanni, Organizations or Community? Changing the Metaphor Changes the Theory, Educational Administration Quarterly 30 (1994): 214.



N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

retention of effective principals is not an issue to be scoffed at. At the same time, the scant research on African American female educational leadership has not received its due recognition. However, various intersections of religion, spirituality, race, gender, and leadership are frequent themes in this research.76 Additional research exploring these intersectionalities will contribute a much needed knowledge base for investigating and privileging the historicity of religion, spirituality, and women in educational administration. While Blackmore reminded us that Feminist histories illustrate the messiness of the categories of race and gender and certainly gendered analyses in education admit no easy solution,77 these histories point out the multiplicity of knowledges that constitute womens ways of knowing and leading that can yield fruit for educational administration. Embedded in the challenges that Scott78 proposed was that investigation of gender and its intersections could yield new, more accurate, more deeply elaborated accounts of history from which we could learn, and by learning, improve current ways of thinking and acting. Exploring the history of Black women and the African American Church are legitimate ways to conceptualise and frame leadership. Carolyn Shields posits spirituality as a valid epistemology to be considered in educational leadership79 along with other epistemological stances such as womens ways of knowing, indigenous perspectives, and the host of endarkened epistemologies of people of colour.80 Rather than treating spiritual or religious epistemologies as ways of not knowing, we treat them as powerful counter-narratives to traditional knowledges in educational leadership, schools, and society. The experiences of the participants consistently served as a foundation for social justice in schools, appeared as a source of resiliency and protest amidst sexism and racism, and added new narratives to the field of leadership. We found that their beliefs about faith and their spiritual discourses afforded both shelter from and a foundation for advocacy in often hostile environments. Their stories countered male hegemonic ideals by demonstrating that there are no viable fixed, unitary ideas in performance, research, or agency within the field of educational leadership. It is difficult to separate social justice from religio-spirituality for these principals; one stemmed from the other. And, while the principals, themselves, had no particular definition of either term, they all engaged in the work of social justice, equating it with their religiospirituality sensibilities. Ultimately, their goal was to emulate Christ whose work is widely considered the work of justice.

76Sharyn N. Jones, The Praxis of Black Female of Black Female Educational Leadership from a Systems Thinking Perspective (PhD diss., Bowling Green State University, OH, 2003); Khuala Murtada and Daud M. Watts, Linking the Struggle for Education and Social Justice: Historical Perspectives of African American Leadership in Schools, Educational Administration Quarterly 41 (2005): 591608. 77Blackmore, Troubling Women, 5. 78Scott, Gender, 79Shields, Liberating Discourses. 80Cynthia B. Dillard, The Substance of Things Hoped for, the Evidence of Things not Seen: Examining an Endarkened Feminist Epistemology in Educational Research and Leadership, Qualitative Studies in Education 13 (2000): 66181; Mary F. Belenky, Blythe Clincy, Nancy Goldberger, and Jill Tarule, Womens Ways of Knowing (New York: Basic Books, 1986); Linda T. Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (London: Zed, 1999).

Journal of Educational Administration and History


Importantly, religio-spirituality became a nexus of inspiration, motivation, and meaning-making in the lives of these women.81 They spoke of the difficulties of the principalship, but their religio-spirituality was not a source of strength to which they turned only in times of stress. Religio-spirituality narrated their lives, both personally and professionally. It established and stimulated their sense of equity and composed their notions of calling, mission, and purpose. They participated in areas of administration that were harmonious with their religio-spiritual views but, when necessary, were creatively insubordinate in interpreting policy to promote social justice.82 Their religio-spiritual belief systems enabled them to pursue living authentically, unifying their identities, making congruent their personal and professional character, and bringing all they knew to bear upon their lives. While there is no one way to enact or define social justice, womanist theology demands no single definition; rather it inspects and critiques multiple ways justice is lived in the ordinary lives of women. For these principals, it was simply righting wrongs. There is reason to write about Black womens religious spirituality. It intersects with and broadens the scholarship, scope, and understandings of educational leadership theory and is a valuable lens through which to interpret educational administration. Noted scholar Nellie McKay makes a strong argument for including black womens spiritual writings to scholarly activity by stating that these writings were a way to express female identity pride self-respect and control.83 Tate stated, In a racist and sexist society, the concept of a woman empowered by God is doubly radical.84 In the case of our research, we are reminded that professional histories often subsume and consume the religious and neuters and fragments professional and spiritual sensibilities and in the process dismisses what is significant to women about their own lives. Fixed notions of religious spirituality and educational leadership snub the importance of reframing leadership narratives to include religion, spirituality, and enacting social justice in school and society. While there has been research on the silencing of Black women in education, educational research has not examined how religion and spirituality have influenced Black women in actively resisting the status quo in schools despite the fact that, historically, Black spirituality has been central to resistance to oppression.85 Scott reminds us that theories of patriarchy and oppression (such as those often present in educational administration) structure all other inequalities and therefore must be examined. Educational administration research must continue to build on Scotts important work and continue to unpack and interrogate how gender works in society and how gendered and raced constructs give or erase meaning in organisations and institutions. Because of the intersection of contexts, identities, and the master narratives
81Michael E. Dantley, Critical Spirituality: Enhancing Transformative Leadership Through Critical Theory and African American Prophetic Spirituality, International Journal of Leadership in Education 6 (2003): 317. 82Kofi Lomotey, African-American Principals: School Leadership and Success (New York: Greenwood Press, 1989). 83Nellie McKay, Nineteenth-century Black Womens Spiritual Autobiographies: Religious Faith and Self-empowerment, in Interpreting Womens Lives: Feminist Theory and Personal Narratives, ed. The Personal Narratives Group (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 152. 84Tate, Domestic Allegories of Political Desire, 24. 85West and Glaude, African American Religious Thought.


N. Witherspoon and D.L. Taylor

of society, it is important for the future of educational leadership to explore the intersection of these socio-cultural narratives and multilayered meaning systems (gender, religion, race, educational leadership, social justice, and schooling) through the lens of the spiritual narratives of Black female principals. Doing so would be a useful response to Scotts proposition that gender is a useful category of analysis.86 Notes on contributors
Noelle Witherspoon, PhD, is an assistant professor of Education Leadership in Department of Educational Theory, Policy, and Practice at Louisiana State University. Dianne L. Taylor, PhD, is an associate professor of Educational Leadership in the Department of Educational Theory, Policy, and Practice at Louisiana State University.


Gender, 1053.

Copyright of Journal of Educational Administration & History is the property of Routledge and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.