What It Means to See Myself In Leadership

Hear from a New Leaders and Clark Atlanta University alum on the importance of representation in leadership and how both institutions shaped who she is as a principal today.
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3/31/22
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Tamara Littlejohn
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I have been fortunate to be part of two life-changing, equity-focused educational programs during my life: Clark Atlanta University, the historically black institution where I completed my undergraduate degree in teaching, and New Leaders, where I learned the recipe for becoming a transformational school leader.

A native of Chicago, I attended diverse schools growing up, but I was always in the minority. I could count on one hand the number of Black teachers I had, even though I lived in a huge urban center with a large Black population. My experience at school was very different from my home life. At home, I could see firsthand how my mother, a lifelong Chicago teacher and assistant principal, impacted her students. 

When it came time to choose a college, I knew I wanted to attend a historically Black institution so I could be mentored and loved in a way that my 4,000-student diverse high school did not. I wanted an institution in a big city where people who look like me strive for excellence. Clark Atlanta nurtured me and empowered me as an aspiring Black educator. It showed me what I could be for the students I would serve.

"Clark Atlanta University undoubtedly understands the importance of diversification in all spaces of our world. Our institution was established on the beliefs that all disenfranchised, particularly people of color, have access to higher education and better opportunities. Today, we continue our work toward that effort by partnering with New Leaders and the Aspiring Principals Fellowship.”
- Dr. George T. French, President, Clark Atlanta University

After returning home to teach and work as an assistant principal for more than a decade, all in low-income Chicago schools, I received my master’s degree in education leadership and applied to the New Leaders Aspiring Principals Program. I went in with a very traditional viewpoint on school leadership: that principals are managers. But New Leaders showed me that school leaders are change agents. We must evoke positive change that creates a ripple effect for our students, their families, and their communities. New Leaders changed my entire lens as a principal.

That’s why I am thrilled to see New Leaders partnering with Clark Atlanta and Morehouse College to develop a pipeline of principals of color via the National Aspiring Principals Fellowship. Developing more leaders of color is critical to ensuring the success of our children now and into the future. Representation matters. Today, only 20 percent of principals identify as leaders of color; yet more than half of public school students are people of color.  

“The National Aspiring Principals Fellowship is the first-ever HBCU-infused online program designed to develop leaders of color. It connects the country’s most evidence-based principal preparation program with two of the most prestigious historically Black institutions that have been training educators of color for generations.”
- Jean Desravines, CEO, New Leaders

I know firsthand the impact my mother, a Black woman, had on her students, and I see the impact I have on my own students. When I became principal of Carter G. Woodson Elementary in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood in 2010, we were among the lowest-performing schools in the city. Now we are in good academic standing. And more than that, the children at my school get to see someone who looks like them striving for excellence and leading the work with their teachers. Someone who shows them that they, too, can go on to be a leader in their hometown school district.

I want to provide my students with the same kind of empowering, nurturing experience I had at Clark Atlanta and with New Leaders—the life-changing impact of seeing myself in the educators and mentors around me. 

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Tamara Littlejohn

Tamara Littlejohn

Tamara Littlejohn has been the principal at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School in her hometown of Chicago for the last 11 years. Littlejohn has a bachelor’s degree from Clark Atlanta University, a master’s degree in school leadership from Concordia University Chicago, and a master’s degree in education leadership from National Louis University. She participated in New Leaders Aspiring Principals Program in 2008-09.

Tamara Littlejohn

Tamara Littlejohn

Tamara Littlejohn

Tamara Littlejohn

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