Resilience and Hope: Developing the Next Generation of School Leaders

How can we develop future school leaders of color to endure and thrive in today’s complex education landscape? Our National Aspiring Principals Fellowship offers a way forward.
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Hal Harris

New Leaders chose Atlanta as the site for our inaugural National Aspiring Principals Fellowship Summer Leadership Seminar in late July. Atlanta is known as the cradle of the civil rights movement. We gathered there to teach future school leaders how to build resilience and promote enduring change in our nation’s schools. 

17 Fellows from across the nation attended the seminar, which took place at the Georgia Tech Conference Center and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. This first cohort of Fellows, all current and future school leaders, are pursuing their principal preparation through our Fellowship, an innovative partnership between New Leaders, Morehouse College, and Clark Atlanta University.  

Hope is the vehicle toward a just future. Resilience is the fuel.

The theme of the seminar was “Resilient Leadership: Taking Action to Advance Equity.” Our CEO, Jean Desravines, opened the session with an overview of how education changed his life and by reminding the Fellows that their unwavering belief in the brilliance and potential of all children is what endures. Dr. Cheryl Hughes, one of the professors, told the Fellows that “passion alone does not create sustained change” before having the cohort do an exercise modeling how equity-driven leadership and focused, incremental changes in classrooms and schools can lead to a transformed organization over time.

Hope is the vehicle toward a just future. Resilience is the fuel. It is an increasingly precious resource for educators of color. The pandemic has facilitated an exit of teachers and administrators, especially education leaders of color. During the 2020-2021 school year, the RAND Corporation conducted a study that showed nearly half of Black educators were considering leaving the field. 78% of surveyed teachers reported feeling high levels of job-related stress, with 28% demonstrating symptoms of depression. In February 2022, Bloomberg reported that in December 2021, 143,000 educators had quit their jobs over the course of the last year. How many of them were educators of color? 

At New Leaders, we believe educational leaders, in partnership with the communities they serve, have unparalleled impact on the academic success and well-being of their students. When this first cohort of Fellows graduates—and all the national cohorts that will follow—their presence and practice will have a demonstrable impact on student outcomes. Research from the Brookings Institution regarding education and identity shows that “increased exposure to same-race teachers is also associated with improvements in course grades, students’ attendance, students’ grit and interpersonal self-management, their working memory, and the likelihood of taking an advanced math course.” Their research also showed that these results are linked to them spending more time preparing for instruction, and that "diverse school leadership is associated with a greater likelihood of employing diverse teachers.” 

Diversity breeds equity. Teachers who look like their students often provide a bridge that closes opportunity gaps. We need to rebuild strong pipelines and invest in developing the next generation of equity-focused school leaders who better reflect the communities they serve. New Leaders and our partners are collaborating to make future equity-driven leaders both effective and enduring.

When this first cohort of Fellows graduates—and all the national cohorts that will follow—their presence and practice will have a demonstrable impact on student outcomes. 

Equity cannot simply be a flashpoint for the moment. The goal of the seminar was to inspire our Fellows toward endurance and hope. As leaders, we intend for them to persist through the current challenges of teacher shortages caused by the pandemic and a fraught political climate to pass down their skills to teachers and, by extension, the children in the building. And we intend for them to do it for quite some time. 

Atlanta has long headquartered resilience toward equity. On the final day of the seminar, the Fellows were presented with quotes from civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Bayard Rustin. These prominent activists and their organizations were headquartered in Atlanta. They trained other activists in non-violent resistance and sent them deeper South to secure long-denied rights. And they kept doing so over the course of a decade until their resilience forced the government to pass the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It will take similar effort to honor the work of the ancestors in regards to advancing educational equity. 

We know our Fellows will endure.

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