What does it take to create an environment in which principled political actors in education can operate? That is the primary question that brought Stephanie Myers to the Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) Program this fall.
Myers’ concept of a “principled political actor” – someone she would describe as “leading with a moral compass” – came out of her experience working for two high-visibility leaders in Washington, D.C: Michelle Rhee and Randi Weingarten.
Myers was among the first master educators for D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) under chancellor Rhee and contributed to the design of the district’s groundbreaking human capital system. Later, she served as assistant director of educational issues for American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Weingarten.
For Myers, a former star math teacher in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who had committed her career to helping other teachers improve, the crash course in the politics of education reform she received from watching Rhee and Weingarten operate was revelatory.
“It was fascinating seeing these two leaders with whom I’d worked closely in the media as Waiting for ‘Superman’ was released and the debate around it unfolded,” Myers says. “What I learned was the tremendous value of holding on to one’s principles when the sands are shifting.”
However, Myers found that too often the politics of public debates polarized the exact groups who needed to come together to negotiate solutions. For Myers, the issue that demanded the most attention was how teachers, who were being evaluated based on new metrics, could receive the specific, effective supports they required to increase student learning.
“In the heat of the debate, what was being lost was the space to have that conversation,” she says.
Now a member of the Ed.L.D. Program’s third cohort, Myers plans to spend her time at the Ed School considering new models for sustained collaboration among education leaders. She believes that by beginning with the shared acknowledgement that the United States is not the world’s model for educational excellence anymore, leaders can begin to develop a common vision for reform.
“Real education reform for the new century will require a national commitment to the shared responsibility of educating future generations,” Myers says. “We need to move away from blame-laying and toward solution-building.”
Myers aspires to help create a framework for a national forum for hosting such conversations. In order to do this, she will study group leadership, learning organizations, and change leadership models at HGSE, other Harvard schools, and MIT.
Choosing the Ed.L.D. Program at this point in her career was something that Myers carefully considered. She found that the program offered her a unique opportunity to incubate her “big idea” alongside peers who will help her refine her thinking.
“I’ve had some fantastic experiences doing work that cuts across the education sector,” Myers says. “Coming to the Ed.L.D. offers me the chance to connect these dots and find real solutions in education.”