In late September, we held our first Changemakers in Education event of the academic year, Advancing Education Leaders of Color. During this live, one-hour webinar, Middle States Association President Christian Talbot spoke with Commissioner Ligia Alberto, Ed.D., a professor of education leadership and researcher, and the Director of the Alternative School for Bergenfield Public School District, and Sadia White, an education consultant who has held several senior leadership roles in education, including as Chief Academic Officer of Newark Public Schools in Newark, N.J.
They discussed how diversity in leadership can impact student success, and Dr. Alberto described her leading-edge research on identifying and mentoring leaders of color in schools.
In an effort to provide tangible steps schools can take to diversify and strengthen their leadership teams, Talbot compiled the following key takeaways from the event:
- Shift your organizational culture from a deficit– to a strengths-based mindset. Ms. White described how her Newark team succeeded when they shifted to focusing on the strengths that kids could control: “We had to change from a focus on kids being inherently intelligent to the idea that the harder you work, the smarter you become. It is effort-based.” This insight is echoed in the research from Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck (Stanford University) and Grit by Angela Duckworth (U. Pennsylvania).
- Be intentional about creating leadership opportunities. Dr. Alberto shared insights from her research interviews with leaders of color: “They took on different projects [before they became administrators]—on curriculum, on the school handbook, on unhelpful policy. That’s when they started realizing that they wanted to be leaders and that they were able to do this work. […] Through those experiences, they developed something that they were proud of, and that increased their sense of self efficacy.”
- Unify a diverse population through cross-cultural mentoring. Dr. Alberto’s research reveals that “a mentor does not need to be the same gender or race as the mentee.” Ms. White affirmed that she enjoyed success as a school leader in part because of mentorship by white men and women. Dr. Alberto and White demonstrated that it’s a positive sum game in which both mentor and mentee gain something profound—and as a consequence, can help to unify a diverse population.
- Encourage external networking. Mentoring is not always available, but that should not prevent aspiring leaders of color from finding support. As Dr. Alberto shared, “The alternative is to seek out networking opportunities through outside organizations.” Ms. White concurred: “Joining national organizations was critical to my career rise.”
- Read Dr. Alberto’s research! While her first research paper has been accepted for publication, it is not yet public. Rest assured that we will share it as soon as it is available. Equally exciting, she just submitted for review her latest research on self-efficacy and verbal persuasion as ways to develop leaders of color. We will also share that as soon as it’s available. I value the fact that we can clearly and immediately apply the findings from Dr. Alberto’s research.
Diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and justice (DEIBG) is an important “force at play” that is reshaping the educational landscape. You can learn more about last month’s conversation on the topic here. Or, see it for yourself when you watch a recording of the event.