Independent schools are facing equity changes that had long been avoided, consequently, schools are now faced with adopting equity practices designed to produce equitable outcomes. Equity practices adopted have not been realized without corresponding leadership behaviors necessary to change cultural norms as well as overcoming associative barriers. This study explored how Heads of school in Southern California described the school-wide equity practices they utilized, barriers encountered, and the leadership behaviors that were necessary for achieving diversity, inclusion, and cultural competence at their school. This study used a phenomenographic design and included 11 Heads of school identified as having exemplary school-wide equity practices. Data was gathered through a semi-structured interview protocol consisting of 11 interview questions with associative follow-up questions to probe further detail. Each interview was recorded, transcribed, and analyzed through a thematic coding process. Analysis of the participants’ transcripts produced seven themes relating to the study’s three research questions. The four themes relating to the first research question were: (a) structural institutional alignment of school-wide equity practices; (b) engagement and education; (c) mindful strategic reflection; and (d) an interpersonal and interconnected culture. The theme relating to the second question was barriers to equity practices. The two themes relating to the third question were: (a) necessary leadership behaviors; and (b) changing a culture. Upon further analysis, this study yielded five conclusions. First, independent equity change started with the Head of school. Second, acknowledging that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) took time, innovation, and problem solving. Third, Heads focused on learning for everyone in the community. Fourth, Heads viewed equity barriers as opportunities. Lastly, transformational leadership was necessary for school-wide equity practice adoption. For independent school leaders this study recommends beginning the transformation within self, prior to expecting institutional transformation, and to adopt a distributive leadership model immediately to promptly realize the institutional transformation desired. School leaders need to understand DEI is human transformation and adopt appropriate organizational change management practices that include continuous improvement cycles for their school-wide equity practices leading to systematic formalization. Lastly, practitioners could consider developing effective quantitative measures to help bolster their qualitative evidence.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Private schools; Equality; Educational leadership -- Social aspects

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Molly McCabe