HomeLearning CenterWhat ‘Barbie’ Teaches Us About School Leadership

What ‘Barbie’ Teaches Us About School Leadership

Originally published by Shayla Ewing for Education Week

I walked out of the film “Barbie”thinking about, among other things, my high school— just like Barbie’s Dreamland, it was led by women. My principal was a woman, along with the entirety of the district office. A woman led my school assemblies. A woman evaluated my teachers. A woman signed my diploma. In the classroom, gender didn’t dictate the subjects my teachers loved; I had female math and science teachers and even male English and theater teachers.

As a young woman myself, I decided to be like them, so I graduated from high school, wearing pink, and went to college to become someone important—a teacher. Once I entered my teacher education program, I realized what an outlier my high school was. I was shocked that, as Ken would say in “Barbie,” schools were doing patriarchy very well.

My education classes were primarily—sometimes only—women, but at every practicum school, I was greeted by a male principal. I skated through my courses without a whisper that educational leadership degrees, where women could excel, even existed. And, like the world of “Barbie,” I realized that the world of teaching is pink, too—a pink-collar job.

Barbie, in the movie and the box, represents limitless dreams for young girls: astronauts, chefs, doctors, and, yes, even teachers. Barbie’s never-ending professions and interests aren’t just fun; they are purposeful. Mattel, the owner of Barbie, identifies a “dream gap,” where girls as young as 5 begin to develop self-limiting beliefs and think they’re not as smart and capable as boys.”

Unfortunately, not all schools come with a leader Barbie; many come with just Ken. In public schools today, staffs of mostly female teachers are led by a staff of disproportionately male leadership. Seventy-seven percent of public school teachers are women, while only 56 percent of public school principals are female. There is even less pink in America’s district offices; only 28 percent of superintendents are women.

Helping young girls visit more Barbielands than Kendoms starts at schools. At stake is not just the career advancement of teachers but the leadership landscape for all professions. A lack of women in education leadership creates deep dream gaps for future female leaders.

Generations of young people have missed the opportunity to see the world in pink: women leaders … leading. In a 2016 survey by the Rockefeller Foundation, 1 in 4 Americans found it more likely that humans would colonize Mars than that women would lead half of Fortune 500 companies within their lifetimes.

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