Instructional Leadership in Action

Celebrating Growth and Courage

by UWCEL on Jun 3, 2021

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As the year-end approaches, we're sharing stories of the growth we observed in our partners — even as they grappled with intense day-to-day demands on their time and energy. This post is the second in a series of three stories.

 

Michele Mason joined CEL in 2019 as the director of instructional leadership. She was excited to coach and empower educational leaders for changes at the system level. Then came 2020.

Despite the sudden need to collaborate virtually full-time — and numerous other strains that the pandemic introduced to her work — Michele felt uplifted as she engaged with school and district leaders across the United States.

 

When no one is looking, and no one is pushing, you’re still fighting to change a system and practices that you know are racist and wrong for students. That was really inspiring to me.

 

We spoke to Michele about how she, and the leaders she collaborated with, grew and what inspired her during a difficult school year.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

 

When did you see a partner take the “next step” in their leadership growth this year?

For four years CEL has worked with a district in South Carolina, and I continued that work this year. This area, like many areas across the country, is encountering a racial reckoning. They're surfacing deep-rooted issues that people don’t want to talk about and aren't ready to talk about when it comes to race and equity.

This year, I saw a shift: they not only wanted to improve as leaders; they wanted to improve as equity-driven leaders.

 

Two white leaders, an assistant principal and a coach, said this to their district leaders: “We have systemic practices that don’t support our students of color — particularly Black boys."

 

I was at a coaching session led by a Black principal who created space for his administrators to share their perspectives about equity-driven leadership. Two white leaders, an assistant principal and a coach, said this to their district leaders:

“We have systemic practices that don’t support our students of color — particularly Black boys — and our grading practices are antiquated and are not designed for students to be successful.”

The leaders then articulated their plan for building capacity within their leadership team, and with their teachers, to take agency and ownership of the problem. 

Of course, there’s still a significant amount of growth left and more to do, but the fact that these two young leaders felt comfortable saying what they did in front of the senior leadership — in an area where marginalized voices are not amplified — signaled major growth for the district. That's something I encouraged them to celebrate and to build upon.

 

Did you find that school and district leaders were excited about working with CEL to foster that growth?

It’s hard work trying to shift mindsets and getting community leaders on board with a district’s equity journey. Determining how to challenge the beliefs and mindsets of teachers and leaders that may have been unsuccessful for years in supporting marginalized students — and accepting that there are deeply reflective and challenging practices that we must do to change outcomes for kids — can put anyone on the defensive.

I get how hard it is to put the mirror on yourself and ask what you should do differently — and how hard it is to examine and live into who we are and who we want to be. 

When I’m speaking with leaders, I give them my version of the Hair Club for Men line — I’m not just a CEL leader; I’m also a client! — because, before I worked at CEL, I worked with CEL as a district administrator. CEL provided me with a vision of what I aspire to be as a central office leader. I hope I’m providing that for the leaders that I'm privileged to partner with.

 

I get how hard it is to put the mirror on yourself and ask what you should do differently — and how hard it is to examine and live into who we are and who we want to be. 

 

If we can inspire them with our vision, they become aligned to the vision we’re enacting, and we can transform outcomes for kids.

 

How have you been inspired by partners this past year?

We have significant and impactful partnerships in Vermont, and when I travel there, I’m often the only Black person everywhere I go.

One particular district in Vermont we work with has been trying to change offensive, racist school mascots and emblems — in a community that’s not clamoring for this change. The leaders told the community, “This is not acceptable for any of our students nor is it representative of our district.”

When no one is looking, and no one is pushing, you’re still fighting to change something you know are racist and wrong for students. That was really inspiring to me.

We can all do what we know we must do to become the school and district leaders we must be for our students. As equity-driven leaders, we must determine how we can build a coalition of courageous leaders who are committed to transforming outcomes for every student.

 

More moments of major growth:

"During the AASA National Principal Supervisor Academy session in April, Sandy Austin made space and time to acknowledge the Derek Chauvin verdict. Participants stepped forward to share its impact on them personally and in our school communities. This framed the work differently."

-Lisa Rooney

"This feedback from a participant after one of our sessions in the Central Washington Equity Leadership Network really stuck with me: ‘After today, I realize I have a lot to learn and understand about my own self. I know that I have biases that most likely create inequities. I now feel like I know the next steps and have a direction.’”

– Greg Sommers

 

EXPLORE PROFESSIONAL LEARNING FOR THE COMING YEAR

 

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Topics: School Leadership, Instructional Leadership, Educational Leadership, Professional Learning

About the author: UWCEL

At the Center for Educational Leadership we partner with courageous leaders in classrooms, schools and the systems that support them to eliminate educational inequities by creating cultures of rigorous teaching, learning and leading. Our vision is transformed schools empowering all students regardless of background to create limitless futures for themselves, their families, their communities, and the world.

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