Teaching gaps reveal that students of color, who make up the majority of public school enrollees in the United States, do not receive instruction that provides them with the tools to achieve. Evidence of a link between principals and student achievement in the literature has cultivated an interest in improving principal leadership as a means of reversing persistent teaching gaps (National Association of Secondary School Principals & National Association of Elementary School Principals, 2013). This study provides evidence of the systemic racism permeating public education as experienced by black women principals who are engaged in equity work to close teaching gaps in their schools.

The purpose of this study was to determine the impact and potential benefits of a poetry-themed workshop addressing experiences with race and gender for black women principals in two urban and one rural district in the Midwest. Informed by the field of poetry therapy, which utilizes poetry and other forms of expression--"language, symbol, and story" (Mazza, 2017, p. 139)--for self-development, emotional healing, and other therapeutic and educational aims, the study was comprised of two 90-minute workshop sessions held on two successive weeks, take-home writing assignments, and follow-up interviews.

The study affirmed that the participants perceived the poetry-themed workshop as an impactful experience that brought benefits to their lives and professional practice. The process of coming together to listen to and write poetry about race, discuss issues prompted by related questions from the facilitator, and write poetry about their racial experiences on their own impacted them in four ways by 1) validating their daily experiences with race in their role as principal; 2) increasing their self-awareness; 3) becoming aware of the value of poetry for self-reflection; and 4) initiating new ideas and/or actions for their work in their schools. The related benefits derived from those impacts were 1) feeling comforted and less alienated through the validation that they are not alone in their experiences; 2) deepening their self-reflection on the racist encounters they experience as they lead for equity; 3) finding relief by processing an array of emotions that arise from racist encounters and that are often repressed; 4) and enriching their leadership practice with new actions and insights.


Melissa Krull

Committee Member

Shannon Miller

Committee Member

Geraldine Chavis

Date of Degree




Document Type



Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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