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The Look of Leadership

As the Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) Program celebrates its 10th cohort, alumni and current students reflect on leadership and the impact of Ed.L.D. on their current work.

Amy LoydAmy Loyd (Cohort 1)
Vice president, JFF (Jobs for the Future)

On education leadership: As education leaders, we must hold a fierce sense of urgency to provide excellent education for our young people, alongside a deep commitment to equity that ensures that all students — especially students of color and students from low-income families and communities — not just have access to powerful learning opportunities but that they are supported and expected to engage in them. In a way, education leadership looks like shaking others out of our silos, forcing ourselves and others to look up, and collectively work together towards the greater end goal of transitioning students from sitting in our classrooms to engaging in and leading our communities. 

  • The Ed.L.D. Program welcomed its first cohort of 25 students in fall 2010.
  • 173 people have graduated with a Doctorate in Education Leadership since the program's inception.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: There’s no doubt that Ed.L.D. made me the leader I am today. The program set me on a path to become a nationally recognized and respected voice in both college and career pathways and in cross-sector systems-building. I sometime joke that I’m still in my residency — seven years later, I’m still leading and learning from the work that first started as my capstone project, and which continues to grow and thrive as the national Pathways to Prosperity Network. I’m honored to have partnered with 28 states and over 70 regions in this work, guiding and supporting system-level leaders to transform how education takes place in order to better prepare young people for their futures. And I’m now responsible for all of JFF’s program units, alongside two other program vice presidents, and I get to tackle even larger systems change efforts across education and workforce and economic development; I’m also leading and organization-wide focus on more deliberately incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion into all that we do — and Ed.L.D. positioned me to take on this ambitious work through its interdisciplinary approach to developing leaders.

Rhoda Mhiripiri-ReedRhoda Mhiripiri-Reed (Cohort 1)
Superintendent, Hopkins Public Schools (Minnesota)

On education leadership: Education leadership is all about moving school systems from mediocre to good, good to great,​ and/or (like we're doing in Hopkins) from great to world class. Education leadership is about disrupting the status quo, interrupting inequitable systems, and rightsizing a system to ensure every student is prepared for a globalized, dynamic world. In Hopkins, we say every student deserves the best.​ The future of employment in our volatile and unpredictable world demands we prepare a different kind of student. Education leadership is about collaborating with multiple stakeholders to articulate a bold innovation vision for the future. This vision should define the key characteristics of the graduates we want to send into the world, a theory of action for school transformation, specific innovation drivers that will help in moving key change levers, and core values that define how educators in the system will show up to work every day, focused on cultivating students for the world. Education leadership is about communicating the urgent need for change, and partnering with multiple stakeholders to ensure that the right kind of change happens for students in the system.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: ​Ed.L.D. helped me understand the education sector as a system. I learned how critical adaptive leadership is to moving the work and people toward a commonly understood bold mission. Ed.L.D. gave me an opportunity to work on myself — to develop the leader that's always been within me, to identify my blind spots so I could close the gap between who I was as a leader, and the quality of leader I want to become. I learned lots of technical content, but mostly I learned about the aspects of leadership dilemmas that are difficult to discern, difficult to massage, and difficult to transform.

Christine DeLeonChristine DeLeon (Cohort 2)
Founder and CEO of Moonshot edVentures

On education leadership: Education Leadership should mirror the students it aims to serve, and when it doesn't, empower those who do to be in strong positions to lead those students toward high-quality learning experiences. Education leadership looks like creating a vision that others can get behind, living in one's strengths, being vulnerable about one's own shortcomings, and the willingness to ask for help when needed.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: The Ed.L.D. Program opened up an immense set of possibilities for me. The variety of the offerings throughout my two years in Cambridge allowed me to form perspectives that very much shape the way my venture, Moonshot edVentures, lives out a set of values and perspectives that I hold deeply. It has reminded me to keep instruction and equity at the center, and to take a systems perspective when thinking about how to make change. The colleagues I've met through Ed.L.D. sit on my board of directors, are local partners to me and my organization, and are friends and a constant inspiration.

Ryan StewartRyan Stewart (Cohort 2)
Secretary of Education, State of New Mexico

On education leadership: Education leadership needs to be service-oriented. Educational leaders need to shift away from the paradigm of demanding more and more from schools and teachers. Instead, leaders need to be clear about what the stakeholders whom we serve should expect of us as leaders, and organize our organizations to deliver on those expectations.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: Ed.L.D. introduced me to an entirely different mindset about what leadership means and how to approach it strategically. Prior to Ed.L.D., I focused my leadership almost entirely on the technical aspects of the work. Ed.L.D. pushed me to dive in to my own leadership above and beyond the technical elements, and introduced me to many strategic frameworks for how to think about leadership in different contexts.

Ventura RodriguezVentura Rodriguez (Cohort 3)
Senior associate commissioner for strategic initiatives, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

On education leadership: There are some components that I believe are foundational for education leaders.The first is a deep commitment to helping improve outcomes for kids. At the end of the day, all of our work in education is so that students have access to opportunities that will support their intellectual, social, and emotional development. It is hard to be an effective education leader if you do not keep students front and center in everything that you do. A second is the ability to confront situations where the answer is not obvious, and to work with teams to figure out solutions. This could be for classroom teachers who have students having a hard time learning a particular math concept. Or a principal who wants to improve the culture of her school. Or a policy leader in a state education agency trying to figure out how to improve outcomes for historically underserved kids. None of these situations have an obvious answer.

The job of the leader is to learn what has been tried before, what the evidence base is for those approaches, develop and implement a plan of action to tackle the challenges in their specific contexts, and then to learn from the results to refine the approach. 

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: The Ed.L.D. Program has impacted my leadership in many ways. Most importantly, it helped me develop the confidence to lead. Through the program’s courses and experiences, I interacted with many current education leaders to understand their own leadership trajectories. Though the issues they tackle are challenging and complex, hearing from leaders directly about their approaches and experiences helped me to believe that I can lead to solve some of our hardest education issues.The program also helped me understand the current education landscape and the ways in which different parts of the sector are interconnected. It developed in me a strong appreciation for the role of research to inform our practices. Finally, the Ed.L.D. Program granted me access to a community of program graduates and participants that I tap consistently to help support my work.

Ansel SandersAnsel Sanders (Cohort 3)
Former president and CEO of Public Education Partners in Greenville, South Carolina

On education leadership: Education leadership, throughout all parts of the sector, must prioritize equity so all kids have access to excellent educational opportunities. Leadership must be both adept in education research, policy, and practice, as well as adaptive to engage an entire community to collectively support all kids. This is courageous work.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: Ed.L.D. equipped me with the mindset and skillset to make a broader and deeper difference for kids. Through my experience with my Ed.L.D. cohort, faculty, and content, I came to know myself and the education sector better and differently. Ed.L.D. cultivated a diversity of thought and systems-level understanding and tools, enabling me to ultimately return to South Carolina and now Virginia — places I love and call home — to serve and lead communities, schools, and kids more deeply, assertively, vulnerably, and passionately. Additionally, to be with and alongside a tightly-knit cohort (shout out to C3!) in such a maturation process was empowering.  I am a better leader, and a better all-around human being, because of Ed.L.D.

Kristen WongKristen Wong Callisto (Cohort 4)
Director of special education, Bellevue School District (Washington)

On education leadership: Strong education leadership is vision setting and values driven — if we want to transform the education system it requires visionary thinkers who can see beyond the past and present to imagine a radically different future. Additionally, when it comes to establishing a vision, I've learned in my work that if you have accurately defined the problem you're tackling and have a solution that makes sense then people will flock to the work even if it's hard. If it's coming from a values based place then you can rally people to persist through uncertainty or challenges. I often tell people worthy work is hard. A related leadership skill to vision setting and leading from values is communication and I mean all sides of communication: the ability to communicate ideas so they translate, operate politically to mobilize, but also the ability to truly listen and the ability to hear criticisms and respond productively.

Leaders often become such because we're doers, but we need to also remember humility and the power of diverse perspectives. I also think strong education leaders never forget that they lead a whole bunch of people whether that's a state you're leading or a school building, so tending to the relational, emotional and human side of the work is important.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: My Ed.L.D. coursework truly gave me the skills, knowledge, network, and also coached up my personal development so that I am a stronger and more strategic leader to take on transformational systemic leadership for equity. I surprised myself with how successful I was able to be in a short period of time.... The Ed.L.D. Program also fostered a kind of courageous curiosity to try things that feel like stretches for me or to seek opportunities to round out my experience. Finally, I can't underscore the impact of the relationships that I've built and continue to nurture through the network. Once I was working with someone we were hoping to contract with and throughout our first informational conversation it was stunning how many degrees of connection I had with various parts of the organization's work (e.g. with members in the organization, with members in one of their grant funders, with districts/states they already were working in, etc).

Jeff CarlsonJeff Carlson (Cohort 4)
Senior director for strategy, operations, and rural engagement, College Board

On education leadership: Trying to move the needle for the average student while remembering and fighting for those who most need the needle moved.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: The Ed.L.D. has broadened the network that I can work within, has given me tools and experiences that allow me to tackle new challenges with greater confidence, and it's made me more humble as I'm constantly reminding myself that there's always more to learn.

Christine OrtizChristine Ortiz (Cohort 5)
Founder, Equity Meets Design

On education leadership: Wherever you are, you need to know what your locus of control is, and know what things (designs) you have the ability to influence or responsibility over, and take an intentional equity-centered design approach to (re)designing those things (they can be anything from interactions to interventions to institutions).

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: The equityXdesign framework was the product of my Ed.L.D. experience — both technically (the first draft came from a final paper for a course) and adaptively (It took a lot of personal work and growth, supported by the program and my cohort, to get me to a place where this was the thing that made the most sense for me to tackle).

Miho KubagawaMiho Kubagawa (Cohort 6)
Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund

On education leadership: [It] requires leaders to know how to ask the right questions (rather than have the "right" answers), to challenge relentlessly our own assumptions and potential blindspots (at the individual, team, and organizational levels), to lead vulnerably and courageously in partnership with others ("if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together"), and to get as promixate to the problem as possible (where solutions are designed "with" communities and not being done "to" communities). At the end of the day, I hope that the future of education leadership is much more diverse, more collaborative and more reflective of the communities that we intend to serve.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: As I tell anyone who is willing to listen, the Ed.L.D. Program changed my life. It gave me the space and time to commit to the intense learning and exploration I desired at that point of my career. In no way did I expect for the program to stretch me as much as it did, professionally and personally! As a result, the program has given me lifelong friends, a network of advisers and lifelines, a deeper understanding of how I want to lead and impact the sector, and the energy boost I needed to commit to this marathon of fighting for educational equity. In my current role at NewSchools Venture Fund, I get to learn directly from our CEO Stacey Childress, an early supporter of the Ed.L.D. Program, and support a talented group of Ed.L.D. alumni across the sector who are reimagining education as entrepreneurs. I have not had a week at work yet where I have not engaged with at least one alumnus from the program. We're everywhere (!) and it gives me hope for our ability to impact the system collectively.

Christine DahnkeChristine Dahnke (Cohort: 7)
Senior director of research, accountability, and grants, Orange County Public Schools (Florida)

On education leadership: I firmly believe in leadership that is authentic, collaborative, brave, bold, strategic, and representative of the community it serves.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: Because of the superb guidance and mentorship of top-notch professors, along with the access and practical application of cutting-edge research, which is embedded in all coursework, I have honed my leadership skills.  For this opportunity to lean in to being a lifelong learner, I am deeply grateful to HGSE and to the Ed.L.D. Program. Today, I have a sharpened set of skills which facilitates a strategic and panoramic vision of a school system. I am now better equipped to formulate critical questions aimed at diagnosing situations and emerging with opportunities for improvement. Because of the Ed.L.D. cohort experience, I am readily prepared to consider, and if appropriate accept, diverse perspectives. I also learned to fully and fairly address competing priorities. As a result, I feel more prepared to address organizational culture in the change efforts I lead. As an Ed.L.D. graduate I am more committed than ever to creating the supporting conditions for us collectively to have the greatest impact for all the students we serve, especially those students who need us most.

Melanie TavaresMelanie S. Tavares (Cohort 7)
Director of nonprofit support, The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving; board member, Big Picture Learning; board member, Education Reimagined

On education leadership: Education does not begin and end in a classroom. Education leadership considers all the ways we, as both individuals and as a society, can contribute to our personal and collective growth and development over a lifetime. This perspective requires a broader lens, one that the Ed.L.D. Program embraces.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: My experience in the E.d.L.D. Program set the tone for a career championing nonprofit support and youth development as levers for systemic change in education. The Ed.L.D. Program encouraged me to think about my identity as a woman of color, and my lived experiences as a teen parent and high school dropout as assets to my leadership in education. From the beginning, the program highlighted the importance of tapping into my personal story and values as a way to illuminate the challenges that students, families, and communities face in education. At the same time, the program encouraged me to draw on my experiences in youth development, community organizing, nonprofit leadership, organizaanseltional development, and program design as levers for change.  

In my final year of the Ed.L.D. Program, I spent my residency working with the leadership of two national education-focused nonprofits, both of which embraced a youth development approach to student-centered education. As a result, I wrestled with the role of nonprofits in supporting education and realized that without strong and vibrant nonprofit leadership, many essential services, supports, and innovative solutions would be lost. That experience heavily influenced my new role at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, where I lead work in the area of nonprofit capacity building and co-lead a team developing strategic approaches to education investments.

Charisse TaylorCharisse Taylor (Cohort 8)
Third-year Ed.L.D. student; resident at the Rhode Island Department of Education, supporting the takeover of Providence Public Schools

On education leadership: In my opinion, education leadership looks like working in service of those charged with educating our nation's children. It looks like working to remove barriers that impede school leaders and teachers from offering high quality instruction and a caring, culturally affirming environment.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: Ed.L.D. has greatly expanded my view of the education sector. The program has sharpened my ability to collaborate with other leaders from differing perspectives, working in concert towards the ambitious goal of dismantling longstanding inequities in school systems and replace them with school systems that enable all young people to thrive.

Eric BecerraEric Becerra (Cohort 9)
Second-year Ed.L.D. student

On education leadership: Education leadership should truly focus on the needs of the youth and communities we serve. All too often the focus centers around policy, procedures, politics, and resources. While all are vital to the work of education, we must be careful not to ignore student voices in the process. Education leaders should look to disrupt and innovate. The truth is that our current educational system was designed to perpetuate an unofficial caste system to ensure a healthy economy. As education leaders, it is our role to bring the voice of the often silenced to the table, to ensure that every student has access the what I call the “Teyaotlani Way EVERI  day” (Engaged, Validated, Empowered, Related, Inspired).  

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: Through the Ed.L.D. I have learned to look at education form a much broader view, to get on the balcony if you will. Although we explore the current state of public education, innovation, and the need for systemic change, it is the focus on adult development and personal mastery that has been most impactful. Better understanding my identity, positionality, privilege, response to conflict, leadership style, and personality type have allowed me to better understand not only how I navigate the world, but how the world responds to me as well. There is a stark difference between leadership and management. Leadership is impossible without the ability to communicate and demonstrate strong values, build relationships, and catalyze a culture of learning for youth and adults alike.

Eyal BergmanEyal Bergman (Cohort 9)
Second-year Ed.L.D. student

On education leadership: I believe that leaders in education should strive to be uplifting. Those with authority have a responsibility to create welcoming environments where all students, employees, families and community partners are eager to join in the collective responsibility of raising their community’s children. The challenge for leaders is in setting an inviting culture that also ensures rigorous expectations and accountability, and where a high value is placed on organizational learning and improvement. To me, the complex work of driving positive change in schools lies at the intersection of these factors.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: I used to think that if I just focused on collaborating with colleagues that already embraced my vision that I could build enough momentum to drive the change I wanted to see in my district. Now I think that the work of building a broader movement that leads to system change relies on building allies outside of my natural affinity group, and that the key to doing so rests inside of me.

Omolara FatiregunOmolara Fatiregun (Cohort 10)
First-year Ed.L.D. student

On education leadership: I believe that educational leadership is empathetic, inclusive, propelled by innovation, and nurtured in spaces that embrace collective impact. In my opinion, sustainable systems level change in the education sector will only come to fruition through deliberate and persistent engagement of many stakeholders in: communities and families across the country, business, philanthropy, and other public systems that serve young people. An empathetic and inclusive educational leader will be able to expertly navigate competing priorities and points of view among stakeholders to identify, cultivate, and collaboratively implement innovative ideas that will ultimately improve the sector.

On Ed.L.D.’s Impact: I am passionate about leading the American PreK-12 education system to incubate and scale scientifically tested, evidence-based programs so all students have an optimal chance to succeed. To that end, I have worked in the education space as a funder, evaluator, and thought partner but never as an educator. At this point in my career, I am eager to learn first-hand from educators about the challenges and opportunities before PreK-12 systems leaders. I am confident that the close-knit nature of the Ed.L.D cohort model alongside faculty mentorship will nurture my learning and support my professional journey.

For more about the Ed.L.D. Program: Preparing Leaders to the Drive the Big Changes Education Needs