Layers of leadership challenges: an examination of U.S. Islamic school leaders’ perspectives on balancing character formation and Muslim identity
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Leaders in U.S. faith-based schools are tasked with meeting a variety of expectations concerning student growth, including academic achievement, religious identity, and more general character formation. This qualitative study examines the perspectives of administrative leaders in several independent Islamic schools across the United States in pursuit of these goals and the strategies they use to address the challenges of balancing academic excellence, a nurturing Islamic environment that cultivates Muslim identity in students, and preparation for navigating American society and culture. As Islamic schools face increasing skepticism and scrutiny amid domestic and global tensions in a context of rising religious extremism, the roles of these school leaders have never been more layered and essential to the success of their schools and to our understanding of school leadership more broadly. The purpose of this study is to provide a more precise understanding of the challenges, successes, and strategies these leaders face and implement. This study’s findings confirm that, while the academic and social tensions are complex, intentional and thoughtful leadership can help create a culture of clear expectations that permeates the school community. By embracing the community that surrounds them, including students, alumni, families, staff, and outside organizations, U.S. Islamic school leaders foster cultural alignment and coherence that greatly assist in meeting their multifaceted school missions.