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Leadership Practices of African American Male Leaders — February 2021


Could you provide research on the leadership practices of African American male educational leaders?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on the leadership practices of African American male educational leaders. The sources we searched included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Bass, L. R. (2020). Black male leaders care too: An introduction to Black masculine caring in educational leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly, 56(3), 353–395. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “This study addresses the leadership of African American male leaders and their operationalization of the ethic of care in their practice by analyzing the educational leadership of African American men through an ethic of care lens. Purpose: The purpose of this article is to simultaneously remind readers of the importance of caring in schools, while discussing the caring styles of Black males in leadership. Research Design: This study examined the lived experiences of 10 African American male administrators to understand their perceptions of caring leadership. The phenomenon of interest was investigated using qualitative, exploratory study methodology to facilitate the collection of rich data that tells the stories of the participants. The themes discovered during the focus group were used during the one-on-one interviews to probe deeper into the issues and evaluate the consistency of the themes. Striking similarities that fit logically into themes emerged in the data from the focus group and the individual interviews. Findings: The themes that emerged from this study did not support the stereotype so often set forth regarding Black male leadership. The major emergent themes were: ‘Black male leaders cared and liked being associated with caring,’ ‘they felt they had to mask their caring nature because of societal expectations,’ ‘they view themselves as father figures,’ ‘they strongly identify and connect with a sense of spirituality,’ ‘they believe that action must follow caring,’ and ‘they practice ‘rough love’ as care.’ Conclusion: The core foundational principles of Black Masculine Caring include a framework that acknowledges Black men have the capacity to care, and often care deeply. Black men’s capacity to care depends on their prior experience as Black men. The caring exhibited by Black men is influenced by their culture, and caring demonstrated by Black men is often misunderstood or misinterpreted.”

Bass, L., & Alston, K. (2018). Black masculine caring and the dilemma faced by Black male leaders. Journal of School Leadership, 28(6), 772–787. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “The status of Black males in schools and society continues to be concerning, as Black males appear to fall behind other groups in almost every arena, particularly educationally, socially, and professionally. Yet despite their social standing, Black male administrators are often placed in, and have taken on, the charge to serve in high need schools where they oversee the education of Black males and other disadvantaged students. Therefore, there are many Black male students who have Black male administrators. This places them in a position to make a difference in lives of the Black male students and the other students they serve from less privileged backgrounds. This conceptual article discusses the professional challenges faced by Black male leaders and how they choose to lead schools despite these challenges. Tenants of the Black Masculine Caring (BMC) framework are introduced which illuminate ways in which Black male administrators practice interpersonal and institutional care, and how the way they care for students impacts school culture and climate. This article contributes to the literature on school leadership, as all school leaders, regardless of their race, or the race of their students, are expected to maintain positive school cultures and climates in which students are emotionally supported. Implications for educational administrators are discussed.”

Bass, L. (2016). Black mask-ulinity: A framework for Black Masculine Caring. Peter Lang, Inc., International Academic Publishers. Full text available for a fee from

Book description: “This book is a collection of research, narratives, essays, and conceptual works to lay the foundation for an important emerging theoretical framework: Black Masculine Caring (BMC). This framework facilitates an understanding of the teaching and leading styles of Black males, and seeks to improve the educational experiences of Black male students. This book is significant in that it builds upon feminist ethic of caring frameworks and takes readers on a journey toward understanding the ethic of caring through a masculine lens. Authors explore the experiences of caring school leaders; Black male students in need of care; Black males as caring fathers; Black males as caring spiritual leaders; and Black males as caring institutional leaders. This book is appropriate for students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in classes including the foundations of education, the sociology of education, ethics in educational leadership, teacher preparation, Black studies, and scholars seeking a deeper experience in their study of the ethics of caring.”

Carrier, I. C. (2017). African American male superintendents in urban school districts: National stories of success. ProQuest LLC. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “The purpose of this study is to examine and interpret the life experiences and leadership practices of four African American male superintendents leading urban school districts across the nation. The research approach adopted in this dissertation used semi-structured interviews with four African American male superintendents that consisted of three main issues: (1)African American male superintendent identity, (2) African American male superintendent leadership, and (3) acts of equity leadership related to student outcomes. The findings of this study revealed that participants do not allow themselves to be defined by their positions, and they honor their responsibilities as educational leaders who have devoted their lives to providing a quality education for their students. Each participant acknowledged that certain aspects of their jobs may be affected by their race, yet each expressed the importance of focusing on the work and remaining committed to reaching their goals for thedistrictsthey lead. Thesuperintendentsexpressed importance of collaborative leadership that is inclusive of all stakeholders while they embraced the responsibilities carried by the positions they hold. The thoughts, expressions, and sometimes emotions conveyed by thesuperintendentsprovide a clear view into who they are, how they lead, and what they are about asurbanschooldistrict leaders. This study reveals that superintendents’ top priority is to ensure that every student has access to a quality education. This research recommends further study regarding African American male access to the superintendency, expanded access to opportunities for mentorship, professional development focused on community relations and partnerships, and further study specific to African American male leadership in diverse settings.”

REL West note: Although this is a dissertation with a small sample size, we include it here because of its relevance to the request.

Fields, M. R., III, Jones, D., & Korelich, K. (2019). Experiences of African American superintendents in Texas. Research in Higher Education Journal, 37. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The topic of African American superintendents has been largely neglected in society. Research studies revealed that an under-representation of African American superintendents exists. This ethnic disparity is a valid concern. This study was based on the premise that additional research studies are needed to understand the climate, culture and leadership experiences of African American superintendents in Texas. Although African American men and women are pursuing careers in the superintendency, there is still a shortage of available research data that explores their experiences. This basic interpretive qualitative research study explored the overall experiences and perceptions of six African American superintendents in Texas. In-depth, semi-structured interviews provided rich, thick descriptions, feelings and an interpretive perspective of this purposive and snowball sampling. The researcher served as the instrument to data collection. The method of triangulation was employed to ensure trustworthiness, credibility and member checking where the participants confirmed that the data were interpreted correctly by the researcher to improve the quality of the research. This study contributed new knowledge from an African American perspective. Social Cognitive Theory was the theoretical framework for this qualitative study (Bandura, 1986; Bussey & Bandura, 1999). The results of this investigation reflected the personal experiences, views and perceptions of six African American superintendents as they obtained their desired positions. The findings revealed there were some barriers and challenges facing aspiring African American superintendents: (a) lack of networking, (b) lack of mentors, (c) lack of school district pool of potential African American candidates and (d) lack of professional educational and equity associations. Recommendations that resulted from this investigation included that as aspiring African American superintendents, they must learn to develop professional and personal network of contacts. As aspiring African American superintendents seek superintendent positions, they need to research the demographics, culture and needs of the district, stakeholders and board members. Finally, professional educational associations need to be inclusive and expand their membership pool to include underrepresented African American educators.”

Gooden, M. A. (2012). What does racism have to do with leadership? Countering the idea of color-blind leadership: A reflection on race and the growing pressures of the urban principalship. Educational Foundations, 26(1–2), 67–84. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Much of the history and study of leadership in general has omitted ‘other’ perspectives in the literature. The same is true in educational leadership in general, and the principalship in particular. The discourse of the history of African Americans and their struggle to achieve equity in education has been enhanced by the work of noted scholars. However, this story is not complete without a discussion of the lives of African-American leaders, especially principals. It is also important that these histories are reported from perspectives of African-American scholars who do not present them from a deficit perspective. The purpose of this article is to disrupt the broader societal narrative of effective African-American principals of urban schools as portrayed in movies and media. The author is using critical race theory (CRT) as an analytical framework and relying on its themes to construct a counternarrative that challenges general societal assumptions about African Americans in general and urban African-American principals specifically. He briefly describes its hallmark themes. Next, he summarizes and then examines two films about African-American principals, ‘Lean on Me’ (1989) and ‘Heart of Stone’ (2009), using CRT. In the last part of the article, the author presents some recommendations for practice. He intends to start a line of inquiry that will expand the ideas and/or issues that may inadvertently support the idea of the hero leader. He concludes with a call for more research into this important area.”

Henderson, G. (2015). Leadership experiences of African American male secondary urban principals: The impact of beliefs, values, and experiences on school leadership practices. Journal of African American Males in Education, 6(2), 38–54. Full text available from

From the abstract: “This qualitative study examined African American male secondary principals’ beliefs, values, and leadership practices that contribute to successful urban schools. Narrative inquiry was used to investigate the factors that influenced the leadership practices—and related education environment success—of six African American male public school principals from six different secondary urban schools in Ohio. Findings related to participant input led to three primary conclusions: (a) effective African American male principals address broad social and systemic issues that affect student education and performance; (b) effective African American male principals employ an integrated leadership style; and (c) effective African American male principals embrace the dualism of bureaucrat-administrator and ethno-humanist roles. These findings highlight several implications for consideration: (a) social and systemic issues severely distract African American male urban school leaders from their educational focus; (b) attention needs to be given to the critical dual role of African American male principals; and (c) focus needs to be directed toward developing and then hiring qualified African American male principals.”

Henfield, M. S., Washington, A. R., De La Rue, L., & Byrd, J. A. (2017). Black male school counselor educator contextual explorations in leadership. Professional School Counseling, 21(1b), 1–10. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The counseling profession has seen an increase in research exploring counselor educators’ professional identity development. Leadership skills are noted in the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs standards as an important part of a school counselor’s identity, but scholars have paid less attention to leadership identity development for counselor educators. This lack of emphasis in the literature is even more evident when considering the leadership development of racial and ethnic minority counselor educators in school counseling programs. This article explores and critiques noted leadership approaches and provides firsthand accounts of two Black male counselor educators’ experiences leading school counseling programs.”

REL West note: Although this study has a small sample size, we include it here because of its relevance to the request.

Smith, P. A. (2019). Leading while Black and male: A phenomenology of Black male school leadership. ProQuest LLC. Full text available from

From the abstract: “This study explored the ways in which the racial identities and lived experiences of Black male K–12 public and independent school leaders inform their professional lives and leadership. Through a qualitative phenomenological study, use of online descriptive survey, and in-depth semi-structured interviews, including the use of visual elicitation methods, with 14 Black male school leaders from across the United States, this research study provided structural and textural descriptions as well as a synthesis of meanings and essence of the experience and phenomenon of Black male K–12 school building-level leadership. This can be summarized as: (a) growing up as a Black boy; (b) leadership as ministry; (c) when a Black man is in the principal’s office; and (d) safeguarding the village. The research expands understanding of paradigms of critical race leadership and disrupts the normative educational leadership axiology. These leaders developed a range of strategies that enabled them to navigate the multidimensional aspects of their racial identity within a dominant White-racialized education system. Additionally, their articulation of action-oriented social justice leadership was influenced by their personal lived experiences, values, and sense of community.”

REL West note: Although this is a dissertation, we include it here because of its relevance to the request.


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(“African American” OR “African-American” OR Black) AND (male OR man OR men) AND (“educational leadership” OR “leadership practices”)]

[(“African American” OR “African-American” OR Black) AND male AND (“educational leader” OR “school leader” OR principal OR superintendent) AND practices]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2006 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.