Case study: Diversity-Engaged Leadership
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Case Study: Diversity-Engaged Leadership

Introduction: Diversity-Engaged School Leadership in Switzerland

Switzerland, like many countries in Europe and around the world, is experiencing high migration – of immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers – which peaked in 2015-2016.  New arrival children and their parents find schools to be one of the first “host institutions” they encounter, and schools, for their part, are finding themselves encountering the “other” – some for the first time.  This case study highlights the role of educational leadership in this context of changing demographics owing to migration.  It questions how a school leader should, can and does adapt his/her school to new demographic conditions.  It explores how schools, teachers, and “host” students and families prepare for change.  It also examines how leaders (proactively or retroactively) address the needs and champion the assets of migrant students.  As an overall guiding question, this case study asks:  to what extent are school leaders diversity-engaged?

This question, and the term “diversity-engaged” coined here, emerge from literature on culturally-responsive pedagogy and culturally-responsive leadership, which posits four essential pillars: political context, pedagogical approach, personal journey and professional duty (Norberg, 2017).  Evidence and the discussion of these can be found across the case study documents which include policies, interview transcripts and scholarly articles.

How to learn from this case study?

Critical thinking questions:

1. When thinking about the purposes of education in the age of unprecedented migration, is integration one purpose of education?

2. Is the responsibility of a school leader to make change or to maintain stability (for both host and newcomer students and families)? Why?

3. How would a school leader’s behavior differ when using an equality approach to education and migration/diversity (“colorblind”) or an equity approach (seeing differences)?

4. How can school leaders prepare themselves and their staff for schools that are increasingly diverse owing to migration (in terms of language, culture, race, ethnicity, religion, etc.)

Class activities:

1. Create criteria/an entry “intake” for newcomer students to your school. Consider the requirements they are supposed to meet and the special requests/needs/interests they might have and how these can be combined and assessed. These might be academic or non-academic. Discuss and compare your criteria or entry intake with those of other students and critically reflect on them.

2. In the interviews, the two school principals emphasize language as an important requirement to take part actively in school life, to follow classes, to take exams, to communicate with fellow students and teachers. Can you think of solutions as to how the language barrier could be reduced? Is there such a language barrier in schools in your country context as well? How is it handled?

3. Teacher-parent meetings are important events for exchanging information about students/children. These can be fairly difficult encounters for newcomer parents who are not familiar with the culture, habits or language. In small groups, role play one such meeting. The roles to be acted out are: principal(s), one class teacher (responsible for parent relations, excursions, administrative tasks, problems), several subject teachers, the parent(s), possibly the student, and possibly an interpreter if you think that there should be one present. Try to bring out the possible stereotypes, conflicts, problems, hopes, dreams and desires of each party. Discuss and reflect on them afterward.

Self-study activities:

1. Look at the two transcripts and find 1-2 advantages and disadvantages to their approaches to welcoming refugees and migrants. Are there aspects which you would like to adopt in your own (current or prospective) practice? Do you have suggestions as to how they could do it differently?

2. Reflect on what integration means to you and write down a definition. Compare your definition with other definitions you can find in education policies as well as the (impromptu) definitions given by the two interviewed school leaders. How are they different? Can you think of (concrete) examples of what it means to integrate someone and be integrated?

3. Schools often debate the difference between integration and inclusion. Where do you see the biggest difference? To what extent is it relevant to make distinction in schools? Can you provide 3-5 examples how integration and inclusion are implemented in schools in your country? Can you think of other examples which are not yet implemented?

For more detailed information on migration in Switzerland see the following:

Policy Documents

Declaration on facilitated naturalization of children and adolescents with a migration background (in French)
Declaration on the principles of sustainable integration into the labor market and society of late arriving adolescents and young adults late in Switzerland (in French)
Integration agenda of the canton Solothurn (in German)
Integration program for the canton Solothurn 2018 – 2021 (in German)
Migrant integration in the canton Solothurn (in German)
Promotion of migrant integration and prevention of racism in the canton of Fribourg (in French)

Grey Literature

OPC Register: Culturally Responsive Leadership
SPLC: Diversity Responsive Schools
Preliminary study on the conceptualization of a cantonal integration policy (in French)
NAESP: The Principal’s Guide to Building Culturally Responsive Schools

Scholarly Articles

School leadership, social justice and immigration

Brooks et al.(2017) – School leadership, social justice and immigration

Culturally Responsive School Leadership: A Synthesis of the Literature

Culturally Responsive School Leadership: A Synthesis of the Literature 2016, Khalifa, Gooden and Davis

Migration and Education

Dustmann, Glitz – Migration and Education

Migration, language and integration (in German)

Migration, language and integration (in German)

How can intercultural school development succeed?

How can intercultural school development succeed? The perspective of teachers and teacher educators

Language acquisition in migrant children’s first and second languages (in German)

Language acquisition in migrant children’s first and second languages (in German)

Perspectives from Switzerland: New leaders in Zürich: Evidence of an ‘accountability’ revolution?

Magno, C. (2013). Perspectives from Switzerland: New leaders in Zürich: Evidence of an ‘accountability’ revolution? In Comparative perspectives on international school leadership: Policy, preparation and practice. New York: Routledge, Inc.

Swiss Case Studies