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Empowering All Students: Brian Radley, SLP'19

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for School Leadership reflects on his time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Brian Radley
Photo by Jill Anderson

The Intellectual Contribution Award is an honor that recognizes 13 Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. The award will be presented at Convocation on May 29.

Access to quality early learning programs is often an indicator of future academic success, but access to such programs is not distributed equitably. Brian Radley came to HGSE to help address that disparity — with a goal of ensuring that all students and families, especially those most marginalized and vulnerable, are empowered to experience and demand educational excellence.

“Initially, I wanted to gain technical knowledge and a base [of] research-based practices to do so,” Radley says. He enrolled in the School Leadership Program (SLP), where he not only felt affirmed in his goal of fostering equitable access and quality early learning programs, but also watched his goals evolve. “I’d say now my goals are centered around learning how to cultivate trust and care throughout the building; how to thoughtfully engage community members as learners and solution-seekers (and be particularly attuned to those that, historically, have been left out of the conversation); and how to harness their unique experiences, voices, and strengths to catalyze ongoing improvements,” Radley says.

Radley’s thoughtfulness about the issues in early learning and his willingness to take risks and learn from them was valued by his colleagues in the SLP program, who have recognized him with this year’s Intellectual Contribution Award.

“Kind and humble, brave, honest and caring, Brian has an amazing analytical mind, is very thoughtful in the way he approaches the toughest questions, elevates the quality of class conversations and connections, creates safe spaces for shared learning and intellectual growth, and models true and inspiring leadership,” says Senior Lecturer Mary Grassa-O’Neill, faculty director of SLP.

Here, Radley reflects on his year at HGSE and thinks about his plans following graduation:

What are your post-HGSE plans? My work, and my heart, lies in schools. Someday (not sure when!), I hope to lead a path-changing early elementary school that empowers all students and families to experience educational excellence in the early grades and to expect and demand educational excellence for the rest of their academic careers.

What was your greatest fear before attending HGSE? Although I wasn’t proud to admit it, my greatest fear before attending HGSE was making mistakes. I was terrified of making “wrong” decisions that would negatively impact kids and families. I wanted answers and solutions to avoid making more mistakes. Being back in graduate school quickly helped me release that fear! I’ve made many mistakes this year. Thanks to rigorous and frequent feedback from professors and peers, I’ve been able to experiment with new ideas and approaches; I’ve been able to be vulnerable; and I’ve rediscovered a side of me that is willing to take risks and fail, as part of the improvement process.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?  Monica Higgins completely changed the way I think about effecting change in schools. The cases and frameworks we studied allowed us to grapple with complicated leadership decisions. She also he helped me reflect upon, and refine, my own personal theory of leadership.

Drew Echelson taught me the importance of modeling and mentorship in supporting the professional growth of educators from diverse backgrounds and experiences. (He has been both a model and mentor for me at a moment in my career where I really needed both.)

Tim McCarthy affirmed for me the power of narrative as a way to connect with and inspire others. He also helped me reconnect with my own educational story in a truly empowering way.

All of my professors have given my classmates and me opportunities to interrogate how our own identities, power, and privilege impact our teaching and leadership. This ongoing commitment to learning about ourselves and the “system,” I believe, is vital for us all.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? My two-year-old son, James, kept me inspired and motivated throughout the year. I kept asking myself, what do I need to do now to be the principal that James and his future teachers need me to be?

Despite your busy schedule, you always make time for … Ice cream and Netflix on the couch with my partner, Christina. I could not have survived this year without her, and I love her so much. Plus, ice cream is a great way to reward yourself after a busy day at your internship and a long night of studying.

The number one, biggest surprise of the last year was … The connections you’ll form with faculty are extraordinary. Given the caliber of thinkers and practitioners to which we have access, I was surprised, and touched, by how available and supportive the faculty is. They truly view our growth and development as part of their mission.

Read about the other recipients of the Intellectual Contribution Award and learn more about HGSE Commencement 2019.


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