Teachers, administrators gain valuable insights through College leadership events

by Sal Nudo  /   Jul 8, 2015

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Effective teaching practices and leadership the focus for motivated educators in area schools

For more than a decade the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities in the College of Education has organized the Chancellor’s Academy, an annual themed event that supports teachers in Urbana-Champaign by offering numerous informative and interactive sessions for a large group of educators who want to improve their classroom methods.  

The June 22-24 Chancellor’s Academy this year, however, was unique in that it featured an even larger assembly of aspirational educators.

That’s because the event—“Making Teaching and Learning Visible”—was held in conjunction with a similar type of happening designed for administrative leaders in education. “Leading Forward: Strategies for Innovative Leadership,” an inaugural leadership development program developed by the newly formed Executive Leadership Academy (ELA), offered values-oriented sessions that included topics on ethical leadership, leading change, and understanding schools from a systems perspective.

"It's exciting to start something from nothing."

Dr. James Gallaher Jr., executive director of ELA, said the melding of the two events was an ideal way to bring together teachers and administrators, all of whom have the goal of providing a better education for Urbana-Champaign students. Both parties, in fact, would like to have more interaction in the future within the ELA and Chancellor’s Academy spaces, according to feedback Gallaher received.     

Gallaher was pleased overall with the “Leading Forward” sessions but said adjustments at future leadership development events will occur—and he has ambitions for ELA to host more sessions that could expand statewide, nationwide, and possibly worldwide.

“It’s exciting to start something from nothing,” said Gallaher, a business-minded Education alumnus who spent the early part of his career in the human resources sector of General Motors. “We hope to see it grow and become a competitor to the handful of educational leadership workshops and maybe branch out beyond educational leadership, ultimately.”

Education professors Nicholas Burbules, K. Peter Kuchinke, Ronald Jacobs, and Stafford Hood presented and ran sessions during the three-day ELA event. Burbules, who talked about the relationship between ethics and leadership within different models of educational leadership, said a key aspect of his presentation encompassed how people’s interactions influence how colleagues act and react.

“Especially at a workshop like this, it should be by working through complicated problems, and then really reflecting on how I approach certain kinds of issues,” he said.

Gallaher said participants at the ELA sessions, which included principals, superintendents, assistant superintendents, and other leaders, were complimentary of the interactive and participatory nature of several sessions, including Robert Husband’s workshop, “The Communicative Side of Work Relationships.”

“They just loved it,” Gallaher said. “They were up and moving and really engaged in different types of activities throughout practically the whole session.”     

Participants from the Chancellor’s Academy and ELA events, both of which included staff members from the Rantoul school district, heard leadoff keynote speaker Pedro Noguera, a Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University. Noguera was direct in his delivery and exceedingly honest.

"When you are this close to a major university there should be some benefits."

He spoke about the inequities in education and how cities with major universities, such as Urbana-Champaign, often don’t have school systems that are as glowingly respected. Professor Noguera saw the dichotomy firsthand as a teacher at Harvard University in Cambridge. During his presentation he said the schools in that city were mediocre at best.

“When you are this close to a major university there should be some benefits. It should show up in your schools,” said Nogueara, who has visited Urbana-Champaign before and is familiar with the education issues happening in the Unit 4 and District 116 school districts.

Noguera’s no-nonsense outlook impressed many in the audience, including Education doctoral student Mykah Jackson, an assistant principal at Booker T. Washington STEM Academy in Champaign.

“I think he was very realistic,” Jackson said. “I think he set the tone for the conferences. It made you think, ‘Okay, we’re coming here to really have some serious conversations and really talk about things.’”

With its focus on high-leverage teaching practices that increase student learning, this year’s Chancellor’s Academy once again offered a step in the right direction toward enhancing local schools. Dean Mary Kalantzis said she is always proud to see the impact of the vibrant and ongoing collaboration on classroom practice and student performance that occurs at the Chancellor’s Academy.

“The hard work, dedication, and openness of teachers during these sessions and throughout the coming year will have an important impact on students and the community as a whole,” Kalantzis said.

Going forward, that impact will positively affect the work of school administrators as well, who will simultaneously be joining their teacher colleagues during the summer at two annual College of Education-sponsored events.

Pedro A. Noguera’s June 22 presentation was called "Equity and Deeper Learning: Making High Standards and Powerful Learning Opportunities Available to All Students." View the PowerPoint slides.