Instructional Leadership in Action

A Decade Dedicated to Closing the Gap

by Stephen Fink on Mar 9, 2012

Stephen_FinkTen years ago, the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership embarked on a journey to support school and teacher leaders in the challenging work of eliminating the achievement gap – a gap that continues to divide our nation’s children along lines of race, class, language, and disability.  When we began this ambitious journey, high-school seniors in the current 2012 graduating class  were in second grade. 

Over the course of those ten years, CEL’s leadership experts have worked with thousands of teachers, principals, and central office leaders across America. This work has been guided by an unwavering belief that student learning will not increase until the quality of teaching improves,  and that the quality of teaching will not improve until our school leaders develop a clear vision, understanding, and common language for high-quality teaching and learning. Only by developing leadership expertise can they support teachers in the daily improvement of their craft.

Our University of Washington CEL faculty and coaches have worked closely with teachers to improve the quality of their practice, with principals to improve the quality of their instructional leadership, and with central office leaders to create the systems-level structures and practices necessary to improve teaching and learning for all students.  We have celebrated their many successes.  We have been humbled by the daunting challenges they face every day in their quest to provide quality learning for all students.  Through our collective struggles and successes, we have all learned much along the way.

We stand in awe of educators who wake up every day striving to improve the lives of students in their care.  And we are realistic in our understanding that long-standing academic achievement gaps are not eliminated overnight.  Yet we remain steadfast in our belief that a quality public education for all students is the great equalizer. Improving teaching and learning is an issue of equity, and it is an issue of social justice.  

We are somber in our acknowledgement that too many of the students who were in second grade in the fall of 2001 will not be graduating with their class of 2012. They are not alone:  nearly 1.2 million students across the country still fail to earn a high school diploma.  At the same time we are heartened to know that many of 2012’s graduates have been impacted positively by our work over the last ten years.  Students from a diversity of backgrounds have developed a much greater sense of agency and empowerment over their own learning as a result of improved teaching and school leadership.  More students have met rigorous academic standards, and gaps in academic achievement have narrowed in many schools.

The faces of those students – those who struggle, as well as those who have experienced extraordinary success – will continue to fuel our commitment to continue this important work for the next ten years.


Dr. Stephen Fink is the executive director of the Center for Educational Leadership. He is the co-author of Leading for Instructional Improvement: How Successful Leaders Develop Teaching and Learning Expertise.

Topics: School Leadership, District Leadership, Teaching Effectiveness

About the author: Stephen Fink

Dr. Stephen Fink is affiliate professor of educational leadership and policy studies in the University of Washington College of Education. He served as the founding executive director of the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership (CEL) from 2001 to 2018. Dr. Fink is co-author of Leading for Instructional Improvement: How Successful Leaders Develop Teaching and Learning Expertise.

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