Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Kathryn Swetnam


A number of kindergarten through Grade 12 (K–12) administrators face challenges promoting culturally responsive learning environments. The purpose of this basic qualitative study was to explore K–12 administrators’ perceptions of the challenges faced in using leadership practices and strategies that promote culturally responsive learning environments in an urban school district. The conceptual framework was informed by the tenets of culturally responsive school leadership. Data were collected through semistructured interviews with seven middle school administrators in a southeastern U.S. school district. Participants were principals or assistant principals with at least 1 year of administrator experience working at a school where more than 50% of the student population belongs to a non-White demographic group. A combination of a priori and open coding within Yin’s five-phase cycle was used to analyze the collected data. Participants indicated modeling and demonstrating culturally sensitive and empathetic behaviors and building community using open communication and establishing meaningful relationships with all stakeholders were key to culturally responsive learning environments. The insufficient understanding of cultural responsiveness, the lack of culturally inclusive materials and related teaching strategies and resources, and personal biases and resistance to change were challenges the participants faced. School leaders interviewed recommended ongoing professional development for all school and district staff to help develop culturally responsive learning environments. Implications for positive social change include appropriate learning environments promoting educational equity and academic success for the diverse populations of students.