SPA 362 – Leadership Development Lab II – Spring 2020

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Week 9: Leadership in Education

This week we look at a number of approaches to leadership in education.

Most people don’t go to college and not everyone who does is equally prepared.  Wendy Kopp‘s experiences as an undergraduate at Princeton motivated her to found Teach for America – the now-famous organization that seeks to bring student leaders at colleges across the country to serve as teachers for two years in at-risk schools.  Some stay as teachers or other roles in education; others go into a variety of careers.  TfA is not without its critics, but in 2017, 10 of Forbes 30 Under 30 were TfA alumni.  She gives this interview 20 years after founding TfA, and before she expands the idea globally to Teach for All.  We can also watch her talk about transformational leadership in education:

Next we take a look at an example of leadership in education outside the U.S.  Fred Swaniker started a biotech company, and later founded the African Leadership Academy.  “I realized leadership was the single biggest thing that was holding us back from achieving our potential as a continent,” he explained, so he founded a school for high-school age students to develop into leaders.  Read this CNN article here, and look at the two short videos embedded within the article.

Prompts.  At this point, you probably don’t need prompts.  What makes these leaders particularly interesting? In what ways might they offer important lessons?  In what ways are they similar or different from other leaders we’ve considered?  Is there something different about leadership in education than leadership in diplomacy, peace, business, etc.?  Or offer your own prompt….

You will also be interested in one or more of these topics and resources offered by your classmates. I was going to include UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski but your classmates did – nice!

LeBron James

LeBron James started a school in Ohio to give opportunities to young students in Akron. He utilized his foundation, The LeBron James Family Foundation, to fund the school, which is public. Unlike other famous figures that have started schools with their money, James’ school is free and part of the public school system of Akron. James used his basketball fame and prominence to become a leader in education, how can other leaders learn from this?

LeBron himself has stated that this school is the most important accomplishment in his career, yet his talent and contributions to his teams over the years have been unmatched by other players in the NBA. How do you think LeBron shows that leadership is a transferrable skill, and what leadership traits have carried over from his leadership in sports to leadership in education reform?

This article discusses why the school is unique and offers important information about why it works:


Information about how much he is giving back:



Akbar Cook



Akbar Cook is the principal of West Side High School in Newark, NJ. He is a Newark native who has dedicated this career to bettering the community he grew up in. He gained national attention due to his innovative ideas to help his students beyond the academic realm. For example, he installed a laundry room, a storeroom filled with personal toiletries, and a food pantry in his school that is free of charge to students. This came to be after he noticed that students were being taunted for not having clean clothes which prevented them from attending school. He realized that in order for his students to achieve academically, he also needed to address the basic needs of his students. He began the Lights On program at West Side High School, which is a recreational program that keeps students off the street from 6 pm to midnight. This initiative has gained national news as Ellen and Oprah took notice and pledged enough money to keep the program alive for many years to come. He is an example of a leader in education that looked beyond just the academic performance of his students but also the wellbeing of each individual, tailoring to their needs as students in Newark, NJ. What does Akbar Cook’s example of educational leadership tell us about the unmet needs of students?

Freeman Hrabowski


If you can’t read the NYT you can try this recent announcement in the Baltimore Sun: Freeman got a prestigious lifetime achievement award.

Love the Freeman Hrabowski story? More here at C-SPAN interviewed by The Other Wes Moore (if you don’t know that incredible book, find it here)

is one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World,” for his contributions to higher education. He heads the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and since he took over the school in 1992, it’s been transformed into one of the nation’s top institutions for graduating students of color in science, math, and engineering. With STEM education and graduation rates being a key issue at educational institutions throughout the U.S., especially for minorities and women, Hrabowski’s accomplishments are incredibly inspiring and have served as a national model for how to promote equal access to science and engineering careers for minority students. If other schools begin following Hrabowski’s model, the achievement gap in these fields could narrow substantially, and STEM education may just become a popular choice for minority groups. He emphasized the significance of reading skills, and the ways in which disciplines can connect to solve problems. You don’t just solve them from one angle. The challenge is to make sure that educated people have a good understanding of all the different disciplines and how they connect. It’s about critical thinking. It’s this balance between confidence and humility. I found it particularly interesting how almost all the leaders we have covered have mentioned humility as being a necessary skill to have. During an interview with Hrabowski, he mentioned his own struggles with how to be a more efficient and effective leader. He states, “I was always working with other people and saying, “Let’s figure out how to make this better.” in meetings, I had to learn to not be so quick to give a response, to breathe deeply and allow the energy of the room to lead to more discussion. I was much too quick to think I had the answer in the early years. It’s always about understanding why someone isn’t doing a good job and what you can do to help them.” What type of leadership style do you think he possesses? (I think he is a strategic leader because he proposes a strategy, the improvement of reading skills and critical thinking, as a way to achieve the shared goal of connecting disciplines to close the achievement gaps in the STEM field. He was able to develop a deep understanding of the faults in the system and evaluate what can be improved while assisting in the personal development of his employees.) Do you think this is an effective style for the setting he operates in?


Elizabeth Harrison


Elizabeth Harrison was a pioneer in American education as both a key contributor to the first professional “early childhood education” standards, but also a notable figure for the crucial part she played in involving mothers in education – one of the first “socially acceptable outlet[s] for their skills” (Hart, 2011). This article explores how Harrison’s Kindergarten Movement aided in women’s ‘escape’ from the “cult of domesticity.” Through this action, “kindergartening” became the first all-female profession. In the end, teaching did not only aid in women entering the professional workforce, but it provided amazing benefits – such as purpose and direction for higher education, as well as economic and social independence.

Keeping in mind the role that education played in Elizabeth Harrison’s life and leadership, what other ways does education benefit and hinder the advancement of one’s leadership abilities?

The 1800’s were arguably the most transformative years of American education. That being said, on a nationwide level, very little has changed since. Over two-hundred years ago, women were instrumental to the changes made in education. Keeping this in mind, what group(s) of people do you think will usher in the next overhaul of American education (if there were to be one)?


Genny Beemyn


Genny Beemyn is an influential leader in the field of higher education. As the coordinator of Campus Pride’s Trans Policy Clearinghouse (www.campuspride.org/tpc) and the co-chair of International Pronouns Day (https://pronounsday.org), they have advocated for and spoken to the experiences and needs of trans college students. They have written or edited eleven books/journal issues, including their most recent anthology, Trans People in Higher Education (SUNY Press, 2019).

How does trans activism recognized and encouraged by a college institution like UMass Amherst contribute to the campus dialogue of descriptive leadership? How can leaders (like Genny) empower trans and LGBTQ+ to join the ranks of educational leadership? Through what methods can we support our trans and LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in a campus setting?