Answering the Question: Why the Ed.L.D.?
Why a new degree focused on education leadership? When the Ed School initially started talking about the possibility of adding a new degree, they knew it was time. Major changes had been happening in the education world during the past few decades. As Professor Robert Schwartz, C.A.S.'68, noted, "Old boundaries and definitions of the school district are changing." And so the Ed School would change, too. A second doctorate would be added. But this one would be different, the-first-of-its-kind-in-the-nation kind of different.
Now in its second year, this new degree, the Doctor of Education Leadership, or Ed.L.D., is steeped in practice like a J.D. or M.D. It includes a brand new, innovative curriculum that is grounded in education, but also includes much-needed policy and management training. During their third and final year, students are in a residency onsite with partner organizations pushing the boundary in education reform. This two-way pipeline culminates not in a formal dissertation, but in the creation of a professional reform project for the partner.
And the main idea behind the degree? Long before the first cohort of 25 students left their full-time jobs and arrived on campus, the idea was ambitious and clear: The Ed School was not going to develop leaders for the education system as it currently exists. It was going to develop leaders who will define the education system of the future.
"Throughout the years, our goal at the Harvard Graduate School of Education has been to prepare leaders with the skill sets, habits of mind, and dispositions to act in order to transform the education sector," says Dean Kathleen McCartney. "With the introduction of the Ed.L.D. to our suite of degree programs, we are now poised to do much more. Transforming the sector is an ambitious goal, but through the work of our alumni, as well as our partners, we will succeed."
To make this happen, those involved in the planning of the degree knew that the entire program needed to be different, that they had to think outside the box when it came to what was taught, who was accepted, and how it would be funded (the program is 100 percent free for accepted students). For starters, a critical and intentional decision was made to connect the rigorous academics that you would expect from a doctoral program to the world of practice — not something previously integrated into a program at this level. As a result, the curriculum is concentrated in three basic areas: leadership and management (focused on real behavior that goes on in organizations), teaching and learning (focused on how successful learning and teaching happens and how to recreate it), and understanding and transforming the sector (focused on the history and politics that surround the sector). A fourth area, called Workplace Lab, includes personal executive-coaching sessions for students and intensive, team-based projects using case studies, simulations, and field-based work.
One of the most innovative pieces of the program is the interdisciplinary teaching model. However, "interdisciplinary" in the Ed.L.D. Program doesn't mean students simply take courses at other schools. Instead, recognizing that education leaders can't limit their expertise to just education, the Ed.L.D. fully incorporates faculty from the Business School and the Kennedy School in the first-year core curriculum. Early on, these faculty also helped develop the curriculum and continue to collaboratively teach classes.
The students, who all come with amazing credentials, also get that this new program is, first and foremost, a human capital initiative. That's why when they arrive on campus, they are energized, ready to push themselves. They come willing to question assumptions — their own, each other's, and the sector's — as Executive Director Liz City, Ed.M.'04. Ed.D.'07, points out. The hope is that the students, clustered in small groups of only 25 each year, will build a cohort for life, a close network of leaders who are ready and equipped to transform the education sector as superintendents, chief academic officers, chiefs of staff, commissioners, executive directors, and more.
So why a new degree focused intensely on leadership? We asked a small handful of the many people involved with the program to help fill in the answer.
What is the most innovative component of the curriculum and why?
We start from what leaders in education need to know, not what we know how to teach. That's unusual in higher education. Typically, faculty have the set things they're expert in and the set ways they teach those things, and they start from there in constructing a course. We have a draft set of competencies, and we design learning experiences to help students develop those ways of knowing, doing, and being. We're always in improving mode. We made some adjustments to the curriculum midway through the first year, more at the end of the first year, more midway through the second year, and we're already working on refinements for the third year.
Dean McCartney tells a story about when the faculty were developing the curriculum before the first cohort of students arrived. She periodically asked us how things were going, and one day we said to her, "Going great. We're not going to have courses." "No courses?" she said, in an inquiring way. "No!" we said. "We're going to have curricular units of all different shapes and sizes and not be constrained by a four-course-per-semester model." "Okay," she said. It seemed so natural to us, but in hindsight I realize just how much she trusted us.
Within the core curriculum, one of the most innovative components is personal leadership development. Students tell us that it's also one of the most powerful parts of the curriculum. The first thing students do before they arrive on campus to begin the program is a series of leadership assessments, including 360-degree feedback from their most recent job. When they arrive, each of them is assigned an executive coach. The coach reviews the assessment results with them, and the student sets leadership development goals. The coach and student meet periodically throughout the year to work on those goals and to help students become even more effective leaders.
We also provide opportunities for students to practice leadership. They are in assigned five-person teams for the year. One of the competencies in the program is leading and being a member of an effective team. We put the teams in high-pressure situations with performance tasks. Each student leads the team for one of those tasks in a unit we call Workplace Lab. The idea is that students need an opportunity to integrate and apply what they're learning in the core curriculum combined with their prior experience. In the Ed.L.D. Program, we say that if you want to transform the sector, you have to transform yourself first. That's what the personal leadership development work is about.
What impact will this degree program have on entrepreneurship in the sector?
To a large extent, the work of improving education right now is redesigning classrooms, schools, processes, tools, and incentives so that learning can be responsive to the individual needs of all students. This kind of design work is a contact sport — it demands intensive collaboration between educators, administrators, nonprofits, funders, and curriculum and tool developers.
It is challenging work for people in these different areas to develop a common language and to find each other's common goals and values; too often, promising projects crumble in the face of mutual distrust and misunderstanding. Since the Ed.L.D. Program brings students with ambitions in all of these areas, my great hope is that the interactions within our cohorts help model this process, and create tight, trusting networks of professionals in all of these areas who can work together to improve the K–12 experience.
In addition to this bonding between different types of educational innovators, there are a few specific things that the Ed.L.D. Program has the opportunity to accomplish in the near term:
First, Ed.L.D. students who intend to pursue managerial leadership of districts, state education departments, or policymaking agencies will be able to think more boldly and systematically about their work in a way that fosters new approaches, thoughtful initiatives, and gives them the ability to engage and manage entrepreneurs in their work.
Second, Ed.L.D. students who wish to pursue an entrepreneurial career, whether nonprofit or for-profit, by providing important tools and services to schools and districts, will develop a much deeper understanding of the systems and processes that exist in K–12 education that they want to improve or replace, and are better at finding points of leverage that will make a big difference for educators and students.
Third, Ed.L.D. students who wish to build and operate new schools will have a richer tool set for designing highly effective educational environments and will able to take advantage of the best techniques that are being developed in the field.rough all of these efforts, I'm confident that the Ed.L.D. Program — and more importantly, its graduating cohorts — can help turn entrepreneurship in this sector into a powerful, integrated force that makes concrete, steady progress in improving the learning experiences of children everywhere.
Why is it important for faculty from other Harvard schools to participate in this program?
I'm not sure I can speak for all faculty in other parts of Harvard, but for me, personally, making a substantial commitment to work with this program has been a very important professional experience — comparable in many ways to the early days of creating the Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School.
What attracted me was the idea that a group of faculty members would join together to invent an integrated curriculum and pedagogy that would prepare talented, committed individuals to become effective public leaders. Of particular interest to those interested in professional education was the decision to require a one-year residency doing the work of making an important change in some educational enterprise. Only the Harvard Medical School had made a larger commitment to learning on the job through doing, and it was exciting to me to see how that could be supported intellectually, and what the effects were on the students and the organizations. The fact that this would be done for the K–12 education sector at a time when that system was being severely challenged, and when new opportunities for leadership were opening up, was also exciting. There was a real chance to make a difference in an important social sector.
Finally, the aim of the program to create leaders who could help promote a large change in the sector raised a host of interesting intellectual questions about how innovation and social change occur in social sectors, and what role social innovators and entrepreneurs could play in that process.
Why are skilled leaders so critical to the success of education reform?
Today there are vast challenges facing those willing to assume the mantle of leadership and bring about the much-needed transformation of the public education sector. At the federal, state, and local levels, there is growing recognition that instructional inputs and students' outputs, as measured by what students know and can do, are the primary means by which everyone in the educational enterprise is being judged. Simultaneously, there are multiple and competing demands placed on schools; there is a misalignment between the central mission of schooling and the policies, practices, and structures that are supposed to undergird the work; and there is growing dissatisfaction with and a lack of belief in the efficacy of our public schools and in their leaders' ability to educate all students. What is needed at every level of the sector are individuals of courage, vision, skill, and innovation who are willing to be bold, risk-taking, and accountable for the education and success of the students under their watch and care.
Without question, knowledge about content and pedagogy remain critical; however, today's educational leaders also have to be agile thinkers and skilled at adaptive leadership. It is imperative that today's leaders signify by word and deed their belief that demographic data like zip codes, parents' education, economic status, primary language, gender, and/or ethnicity will not determine the destiny of the students under their collective watch. These skilled leaders will be called upon to focus like a laser on the core mission of teaching and learning, to galvanize the teaching core and community to be open to new ideas, and to marshal the political and social capital needed to disrupt those instructional practices that aren't benefiting students.
Political leaders and corporate entities have joined with parents and other stakeholders in demanding far more from their public schools. The reality, as author Jamie Vollmer stresses, is that "public schools cannot do the work alone." Therefore, today's leaders must continuously build bridges with the larger communities and be willing to collaborate with service providers in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors to insure that the teaching, learning, and care of the "whole child" is at the center of the educational enterprise. Today's skilled leaders must insure that all staff are able to see a clear connection between their work and teaching and learning. If the case cannot be made, the function is extraneous and should be eliminated.
Skilled leaders are needed most because the work of transforming America's public sector is not for the faint of heart. There are those contemplating such leadership for whom the challenges of change, new learning, and heightened accountability will prove to be just too difficult, and I encourage them to pursue a different field like rocket science. It is easier.
Why did you leave your impressive career to enroll in this program?
In my prior work as a mentor for new teachers in a high needs school district, I was often amazed and humbled by the impact that the creativity of passionate teachers, when combined with thoughtful planning and reflection on their practice, had on the students they served.
My work with these brilliant and dedicated teachers proved to me beyond a doubt that high student achievement, even in the face of daunting economic, organizational, and social obstacles, is not unattainable, nor are the obstacles facing schools and teachers intractable. The success that my colleagues and mentees achieved provided me a window into what is possible when the behavioral patterns, systemic dysfunctions, and entrenched ideologies that impede progress are faced with a creative, solutions-oriented mindset and a shared vision about teaching and learning.
However, I witnessed firsthand the limitations imposed upon the creativity, energy, and professionalism of individuals when I was working across schools within a system. Comments from the central office administrator such as, "If you want to be a creative teacher, you need to go teach in another district," typified the limited nature of the organizational approach to solving problems of practice. This problematic reality gave me a new appreciation for the role that leadership plays in either transcending or exacerbating the behaviors, dysfunctions, and ideologies that dampen student achievement.
It is within the immense possibility of transcending these impediments to progress on a large scale that I found my inspiration to apply for the Ed.L.D. Program. Transforming the impediments to progress in urban education is both the opportunity and challenge of our lifetimes. I was, and continue to be, excited to explore the frontier of possibility that exists when the brilliance and creative energy of a dedicated teaching force is met with an organizational leadership willing and able to harness and expand, rather than constrain and curtail, its desire to work with students and communities to maximize the potential of every child.
I came to this program to learn from a diverse group of experts to develop the skill set necessary to be the kind of leader able to empower collaboration, productive conflict, and shared purpose. I believe that Harvard's comprehensive approach toward educational leadership affords a unique opportunity to integrate the most current scholarship and practices from education, business, and policy in order to develop as both an educational and an organizational leader.
What are the most important skills that the Ed.L.D. students will need to be successful education leaders?
One thing that I have thought about is how much the skills to lead have, in some ways, remained the same over time and how they cut across different sectors. Regardless of where students end up in the field of education, leaders need to be able to understand people and how to get others to focus on a mission. They need to be able to communicate those things so that others understand the larger vision and the mission in relationship to particular aspects of the work. Those things are constant across many different areas of leadership.
Of course, with changes in the field — the opening up of education to other sectors, for example — some of the skills are beginning to change. There is increasingly a need for education leaders to be ahead, to serve almost in a kind of "scanning" capacity in order to be able to anticipate and move people to where they need to be. Leaders also need to be aware of how political the work becomes the higher you move in an organization. What was political at a micro-political level when I was a classroom teacher or a person working in a central office expanded tremendously when I became chief of staff in New York and then deputy chancellor. This really prepared me for what it meant to be a superintendent in Baltimore. The scale of the work, the intensity of the gaze, the scrutiny, the need to constantly serve and respond, and to think through how things connect — it magnified enormously when I became a district superintendent. My sense is there's an enormous need to prepare people for what that means once you're in the arena.
Of course, underlying everything, there's always a need for a leader to understand him or herself. There are nonnegotiables, there are triggers. You need to understand the triggers, the areas of weakness, and understand how those elements are significant at every single moment, but also how they can either help or hinder the work in relationship to a community. Leadership, at some level, is always a process of managing oneself in relationship to others. That's an enormous aspect of the work since the personal authority of the leader is always the most important currency. Personal authority becomes a tool for building a team, for making others serve the mission of the institution. That's the key to the work. Last, I've been lucky in my career in having great mentors. There's a need to connect with people who have the experience and the goodwill to support one in the work. The Ed.L.D. Program has thought through this. It asks: How do these leaders-in-training benefit from the many, many people who are really rooting for effective leadership in education?
Why did you choose to invest in the Ed.L.D. Program?
As an alumna of the Ed School's Technology in Education Program, I have had a long-standing interest in educating children through nontraditional methods. There are so many ways to spark children's interest in learning, both inside and outside the classroom, and I've come to believe a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work. That's why we need education entrepreneurs, leaders who can forge new and meaningful pathways to learning for all children. When my husband, Andy, and I first learned about the new Doctor of Education Leadership Program, we were inspired to support it through our foundation because of three primary features:
1. The Ed.L.D. Program wants education leaders who can think big and outside the box. Most of the degree candidates already have impressive education experience. By training in interdisciplinary approaches from the Ed School, the Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, and other Harvard schools, Ed.L.D. graduates will be better equipped to develop and implement innovative education solutions.
2. The Ed.L.D. Program is committed to giving its graduates real-word experience during their degree program, so theory and practice can come to agreement. Too often there is a divide between the ivory tower and the trenches. Ed.L.D. students will test ambitious ideas on the job in their third-year residencies, while still connected to the think tank of their student/professor cohort. They are aiming for real-world success, and this part of their studies will significantly boost their chances.
3. The Ed.L.D. degree candidates are fully funded. Like many of your readers, I was divided in my focus during my Ed School studies between getting the best education I could and figuring out how to pay for it. With the stress of tuition removed (as it is for most students in Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences), Ed.L.D. students are free to concentrate on finding solutions to one of the most difficult challenges of our era — providing quality education for all.
The Ed.L.D. Program is still in its infancy, but I can't wait to see what comes from it. I have learned from Emma Heeschen, a cohort 2 student whom the Endeavor Foundation is sponsoring, that they are already offering innovative ideas to solve education conundrums. For example, this year's first-year students are helping the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan implement a student-centered instructional model as a means of improving achievement in some of Detroit's lowest-performing schools.
This is just the beginning. Imagine what kind of impact Ed.L.D. students will have within 10 short years! Andy and I are delighted to have the Endeavor Foundation help launch these soon-to-be doctors of education leadership, and we are committed to the school's mission to let them focus on their degree program without the burden of tuition.
Why did Teach For America choose to partner with the Ed.L.D. Program?
Through shaping the thinking and action of high-potential education leaders, the Ed.L.D. Program will help ensure that many more of our nation's children have the educational opportunity they deserve. In our experience, wherever we see truly meaningful change in education — whether in the classroom, at the school or district level, or in the policy arena — we see transformational leaders, and Harvard's program is helping to develop just that.
Our partnership with the Ed.L.D. Program includes both recruiting Teach For America alumni into the program and hosting a resident on our staff. Teach For America alumna Lizette Suxo, Ed.L.D. cohort 1, for example, is leveraging the program to build on her experiences as a kindergarten teacher in the South Bronx, N.Y., and as the founding principal of Bushwick Charter School, which is part of the Achievement First Network. One of Lizette's favorite parts of the program is the coaching around leadership style. She says, "Coaching has offered us an incredible opportunity to learn more about ourselves, our leadership styles, and our patterns."
People like Lizette, who have the conviction, insight, experience, and determination required to make change happen, are pursuing the Ed.L.D. to become even stronger leaders on behalf of the kids we serve. We are pleased to partner with Harvard to support the development of the transformational educational leadership we need.