Photo: Martha Stewart
Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean Bridget Long has announced the promotion of Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell, an organizational scholar whose work is grounded in institutional theory and focuses on the context of public schools in the United States. Bridwell-Mitchell has been promoted to the rank of full professor with tenure, effective July 1, 2022.
"When people outside of academia ask me to explain what tenure is, I sometimes tell them lightheartedly but also truthfully that it’s a bit like earning a blackbelt in karate," says Bridwell-Mitchell, noting that she spent years in the sport. "It means you’ve mastered many complicated techniques — in this case, related to the conceptual and empirical approaches needed to research a particular area of study. It means you’ve expanded your understanding of who you are and who you are always needing to become. It also means that you’ve done so in a way that has not only helped you become a better version of yourself but ideally has also helped others do so. In this case, doing so through research, teaching, and mentoring that helps people think differently and do things differently to improve schools so every person can realize their full human potential and so our society can realize its highest ideals.
"And, what makes me especially proud," she adds, "is that these are accomplishments set and reached not only as an individual pursuit, but they are accomplishments recognized by my colleagues — here at HGSE, at Harvard, and in the broader field."
Bridwell-Mitchell first joined the HGSE faculy in 2012 as an assistant professor with expertise is in leadership, management, and organizations. Her research focuses on schools as organizations, using an institutional lens to look at education reform. Specifically, she studies the beliefs and practices that guide people working in schools, examining the constraints as well as the opportunities for change. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, presented at numerous professional conferences, and published in high impact academic journals. She works to extend her research and teaching beyond academia by helping leading-edge education organizations provide leadership and management training for schools across the country.
“Ebony has made tremendous contributions as an organizational scholar who studies the beliefs and practices that guide people working in schools. Her work has important implications for education reform as she examines the constraints as well as the opportunities for change in institutions,” says Long. “In addition to her teaching and research, Ebony has been instrumental in the design and launch of the Education Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship (ELOE) Program. She also created the School Leaders of Color Organizational Development Collaborative to support education professionals across the country. I am delighted to welcome Ebony to the senior faculty."
In addition to the development of HGSE's ELOE master's program, Bridwell-Mitchell serves as its faculty co-chair. She teaches courses on institutional change in organizations, systems, and sectors, as well as organizational leadership and management in K–12 settings. She also leads courses on organizational leadership for HGSE Professional Education, including her highly regarded course on school culture. She is a valued colleague and collaborator at HGSE, recently reinventing a faculty colloquium she founded and leads — Walks and Wisdom — aimed at building a professional and intellectual community among faculty.
In the coming years, Bridwell-Mitchell intends to continue to direct her teaching and research toward the larger goal of helping to transform education and school organizations as institutions — and she'll explore transformative possibilities at her own institution, too.
"As someone who studies how institutions work, I’m pretty attuned to how handing things down over time from one group or generation to the next can maintain the current way institutions work, or what I sometimes call the institutional status quo," she says. "This process of socialization — and in the case of careers, professionalization — means many people find themselves conforming to the way things have always been done, even if there might be a better way, or a more meaningful way, or a way that provides more just and equitable opportunities for more people.
"The modern conception of tenure in U.S. higher education is partly about freeing people from the strictest forms and less positive aspects of professionalization. The idea is to provide people with the freedom to do things differently without the kinds of consequences others might experience from going against the institutional status quo. In other words, tenure can be an opportunity not only for individual renewal but also institutional renewal — to pursue uncharted paths, to redefine the destinations one wants to reach, to determine anew all that is possible and to foster more full possibilities for others."