Tag Archives: Educational research

Leadership, research, and educational change in a time of disruption: The Lead the Change Interview with Rebecca Lowenhaupt

This month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview features a conversation with Rebecca Lowenhaupt, an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Boston College. Her research investigates educational policy and school leadership in the context of immigration.

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with anti-racist, equity, and justice-oriented systems. To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Rebecca Lowenhaupt: As educational change scholars, we have long understood the complexity of shifting entrenched practices within organizations. We are well-aware of the many barriers to change that can keep reforms from succeeding, and we have had some success developing models and frameworks to support adaptable, learning organizations. The current call to focus these efforts on dismantling oppression and designing new, justice-oriented systems provides a clear purpose and direction for us in our scholarship and partnership work.

I am hopeful that we are well-situated to address these issues. While the pandemic has been devastating for educational institutions in so many ways, we have seen how, when faced with crisis, many of our public schools were able to respond nimbly, work in partnership with public health and government, and serve as hubs of support for many communities. We continue to grapple with substantial challenges in education from youth mental health to staffing shortages and the ongoing politicization of curriculum. At the same time, new forms of leadership and collaboration have emerged along with an understanding that the complex problems we are facing as a society require interdisciplinary, innovative solutions. For example, many schools implemented pandemic response teams comprised of educational leaders, local government and public health officials, and in some cases, concerned parents. These teams helped sift through changing state guidelines, emerging research, and risk management, to support educational leaders’ decision making. In some districts, schools partnered with community organizations in new ways to address food insecurity and technology needs among families (Lowenhaupt et al., 2020). And across states, state leaders partnered with one another and researchers to share guidance and tools for their respective districts, such as the work conducted by the English Learner Working Group led by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in partnership with nearly 20 state EL directors (Hopkins & Weddle, 2021).

During this generative, if difficult, time, our role as researchers has shifted. In many cases, we have been brought in to help our partners in the field make sense of the changing landscape. Our research-practice partnerships have become more important than ever and require us as researchers to engage alongside practitioners with our boots on the ground, not as outsiders simply documenting what we see. As we encourage our partners to try things out, it is our responsibility to help them evaluate and understand the impact of their initiatives. Because the pace of change accelerated so rapidly as organizations tried to respond to the pandemic, we were called on to speed up our processes as scholars to support our partners.

“Addressing injustice requires coordination across institutions.”

Several researchers rose to the challenge by finding ways to support partners as well as providing timely, relevant policy guidance to support educational leaders in the field. For example, the Annenberg Institute produced a series of policy briefs that brought existing research to bear on the current crisis through the EdResearch for Recovery Initiative. In one brief, Kraft and Falken (2021) offered a summary of research and recommendations for implementing high dosage tutoring at scale in response to school closures and disruption. Similarly, the Journal of Professional Capital and Community provided an opportunity for rapid response and engagement. A colleague and I contributed a piece on school leadership for immigrant communities during the pandemic, highlighting the role leaders play ensuring access for students and families and providing opportunities for collaboration among educators and across immigrant- serving organizations (Lowenhaupt & Hopkins, 2020). And capturing student perspectives, Reich and Mehta (2021) shared their insights about what post-pandemic schooling might, and should, look like in real time. These are just a few examples of the many ways our scholarly community sought ways to quickly and meaningfully respond.

Now, as we are gradually emerging from the crisis, it is important to keep in mind that unexpected (and expected) changes will continue to challenge us to keep pace with an evolving field. We also have much to learn about bridging fields to address such complex problems—a challenge one school faces is likely also a concern for mental health providers and impacted by community resources and local government agencies. Addressing injustice requires coordination across institutions. As researchers, we can help uncover barriers and map the intersecting systems that shape educational experiences. We can also engage with our partners in developing solutions and learning about how those solutions shape practice as intended.

LtC: Given some of your work examining how social-justice oriented leaders holistically support immigrant students in challenging contexts (such as under accountability pressure and during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic), what are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?

RL: Throughout my career, I have always studied change as an inherent, defining feature of schooling. Whether studying new immigrant destinations or the implementation of new curricula, I have found that educational change is the norm despite the multiple ways the organization of schooling is entrenched. If we acknowledge that things are always changing despite an understandable longing for stability, we will need to build educational organizations that are responsive and adaptive to change. Over time, the pressures facing schools continue to increase, particularly in the last few years as the ripple effects of the pandemic, alongside an increasing number of climate related disasters such as fire and hurricanes, demographic changes caused by global migration, and ongoing political unrest continue to challenge educational organizations. Tied to this broader context, internal pressures of schooling such as severe staffing shortages and contested curricula require organizations and their leaders to be nimble and responsive to a range of challenges.

Take, for example, a national study my colleagues and I are in the midst of conducting on school district practices to support immigrant-origin students. We launched our study in 2018 during a time of crisis for immigrant communities that not only impacted students and families, but also impacted the work of educators seeking to support their students (Yammine & Lowenhaupt, 2021; Lowenhaupt, Mangual Figueroa, & Dabach, 2021). At the time, both the education and research community were alarmed at the deleterious effects of policy changes at the federal level such as the travel ban on Muslim- majority countries and challenges to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. Increased immigrant enforcement, the separation of children at the border, and other anti-immigration policies were found to impact students from immigrant families attending our nation’s public schools (Costello, 2016; Ee & Gándara, 2020; Rodriguez et al., 2022).

While our study’s inception came in response to one crisis, we quickly found ourselves in partnership with district leaders in the midst of another crisis caused by the pandemic. As we navigated our ongoing research through various disruptions that included school closures and then reopening, online instruction shifting to hybrid and back to in-person, and a halt to immigration that was then followed by a flood of recent arrivals, it struck us how change really was the only constant for our district partners. At the same time, we were impressed by the ways in which our partners were able to rely on existing routines and establish new ones that allowed for reflection, communication, and connection.

Our study found educational leaders with routines and structures in place that created a bridge between them and their communities prior to the pandemic were better able to respond in real time to changing needs and circumstances (Lowenhaupt et al., 2021). Relatedly, my research has clarified for me the importance of context even as it changes. Leaders who knew the contours of their community, its assets and needs, were better able to leverage and innovate in the midst of
crisis. They had routines in place to listen to and understand the unique histories and experiences of their community, and this allowed them to continue learning as the community context changed (Lowenhaupt et al., 2020).

“Leaders who knew the contours of their community, its assets and needs, were better able to leverage and innovate in the midst of crisis.”

In our work, we have seen that relationships and trust really matter during crisis, not just among educators, students and families, but also between researchers and practitioners. I know
that many of us have known this for a long time, thanks to Bryk and Schneider (2002), among others. But I think the pandemic really highlighted this and amplified the need to create and maintain relationships in purposeful, organizational ways. For example, the pivot to providing basic resources to families in need was easier in districts where educators had pre-existing relationships, not only with families but also with community organizations, food banks, and other service providers who could help establish new strategies for supporting community members. These relationships proved invaluable in navigating barriers and responding to emergent needs during crisis.

LtC: In some of your recent work, you use a large- scale survey across multiple states to examine educators’ beliefs and understandings about immigrant students. In the current political climate, how might we support educators in having justice-oriented and liberatory beliefs and practices?

RL: Often, there is a sense from general educators and even some school leaders that they are not responsible for addressing issues related to immigration, particularly issues that may arise outside of school such as those involving immigration enforcement or the need for various social services. This form of boundary management is incredibly understandable, given the number of demands and responsibilities on educators’ plates, especially in the midst of the pandemic. It also makes sense in terms of how educators may feel about bounding their work based on their expertise in education, not immigration policy or law, with some educators with awareness of their own limitations trying to tune out external distractions and focus on academics (Queenan et al., 2022). Those with a more holistic view of their roles may still see their work as bounded by the school walls, taking up issues of safety and belonging within school without considering, or lacking the confidence, knowledge, or skills to address the many ways external threats outside of school may impact their students (Lowenhaupt et al., 2021).

In our research, we have also seen a few instances of educators who support anti- immigrant policies or identify politically with those promoting these policies maintaining a boundary in their work. They do so as a way to manage the tension between honoring their professional commitment to care for all students with their support for policies that threaten those same students’ sense of safety and belonging. These educators avoid using the terms, “immigrant” or “immigration” when referring to their students, instead selecting other terms such as “Hispanic” or “English Learner”, perhaps as a way to avoid tangling with the broader politics and maintain a focus on educational categories and designations relevant to their work (Yammine & Lowenhaupt, forthcoming).

Our research team is currently working on a paper about the ways educators do (and don’t) view immigration issues as part of their roles in their work with immigrant-origin students (Queenan et al., 2022). Perhaps not surprisingly, we find that designated instructors of multilingual learners (MLs) are often the ones to feel that addressing issues is part of their job, as opposed to an added responsibility. We attribute this belief, at least in part, to the training and understanding these educators typically have about the communities they serve. We also have seen the many ways these educators identify personally with these issues, many of whom have themselves experienced immigration in their own or their families’ lives (Queenan et al., 2022).

“School and district leaders play an important role in establishing a sense of shared responsibility among all educators.”

We also found that school and district leaders play an important role in establishing a sense of shared responsibility among all educators, not just those focused on supporting MLs. The extent to which leaders speak openly about these issues, signal support to their community and staff, and ensure that educators have access to information and training shapes the ways educators view their roles and responsibilities when it comes to engaging with students, families, and even the broader community about the particular challenges facing immigrant communities as they evolve.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

RL: In the midst of the pandemic, I have given a lot of thought to my role as a researcher and scholar during such a time of disruption. What can we do? I have come to realize that there are a few things we can do that are absolutely necessary in our current circumstances: first, we can facilitate meaningful reflection, helping make and hold space open for our partners to make sense of their efforts, consider the resources and barriers that may help them achieve their goals, and interrogate their own assumptions and habits that may get in the way of transformative practice. For example, when initial school closures took place in the spring of 2020, our research team pivoted to facilitate online conversations with our district partners as opposed to the design work we initially planned. Instead, we offered time for job-alike pairs from districts around the country to commiserate and share strategies with one another. We also invited individuals to share a practice that they were proud of and work across districts to brainstorm how to deepen or expand that practice. Leveraging our skills as facilitators, several colleagues and I have developed other opportunities for practitioners to gather, pause, and reflect in the midst of a busy time. I think we need to do the same for ourselves, finding ways to build our own practice of reflection and recalibration in the midst of change.

Second, I see an important role for evidence in the midst of educational change. What kinds of data will we help our partners attend to? How can we contribute our research skills to help gather and interpret evidence about change as it is enacted? Decision-making is hard enough during times of upheaval, and one role we can play is to help our partners bring evidence to that process. Sometimes, that is as simple as taking notes in a meeting, pulling out themes, and reflecting those back to leaders as they plan for next steps. Other times, it is a matter of gathering and interpreting practical measures as we did in our district-university partnership focused on expanding family engagement practices where we documented participation rates in Parent-Teacher Conferences (Lowenhaupt & Montgomery, 2018).

“What kinds of data will we help our partners attend to?… We have the tools, skills, and time to expand what counts as evidence.”

As research partners, we have the tools, skills, and time to expand what counts as evidence, and I encourage us to continue innovating in this regard. Sometimes, our partners have particular habits or biases when it comes to evidence. In public schools, for example, we are accustomed to looking at accountability measures, graduation rates, and other formalized and generally quantitative metrics
that while useful, can be dehumanizing and don’t attend to the individual perspectives and experiences of those who matter most. We can help round out the array of evidence that matters for educational change decisions, sometimes providing the elbow grease to gather additional information, qualitative data, or help design new forms of data that are more directly linked to the decisions at hand. For example, while it is students who are most impacted by the majority of decisions, schools often lack the mechanisms to gather their perspectives on particular, emergent issues. We can help our partners by developing questionnaires or engaging in interviews with students in response to current dilemmas. We can also help identify relevant practical measures, drawing on the tools of improvement science to identify and generate quick, accessible forms of evidence that can help ascertain the impact of changes (Bryk et al., 2013). Of course, this isn’t easy especially in the midst of various disruptions that can demand educational leaders’ full attention. In the context of crisis, we cannot always design the most rigorous study or gather as much evidence as we may want. However, we can still step in and gather information to help our partners use some form of evidence to develop strategies and innovations.

Third and relatedly, we can help document and learn from the process of our partnership. Working alongside practitioners, we can support the process while also taking notes, writing up next steps and identifying barriers and mechanisms to contribute not only to change efforts in one particular context, but also help extend our learning to other contexts as well. Essentially, we can study educational change at the same time that we find ways to support the change process as research partners.

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

RL: I think this field is incredibly relevant, now more than ever, given the major disruptions we have experienced and can anticipate in the years ahead. Given the many tools we have now to study organizations as organic, evolving entities, I think we have much to contribute to an evolving field. As educators and researchers, we are also learners, and I hope that we are well-positioned to learn from what is happening now and apply those lessons to what comes next.

Thinking about my own trajectory, I’m excited to continue exploring how to involve communities in more meaningful ways in the change process. This is happening in some contexts organically via engagement and protest, as families on different sides of the political spectrum have made their voices heard about topics ranging from temporary and permanent school closure, masking, safety, policing, and racism in schools. While I certainly agree with some movements more than others, there is no doubt that communities are actively engaging in educational change.

In this politically divisive context, I have thought a lot about how to partner more purposefully in ways that lead to coordinated, collaborative change. In the current moment of pandemic recovery and racial reckoning, I have seen among some of my partners a willingness to seek the input and wisdom of youth and families. In particular, I’m excited to think about strategies to bring more youth voices to the table as we recreate a vision of schooling that is more holistic and expansive building on the traditions of Youth Participatory Action Research (e.g. Camarotta & Fine, 2008) to think creatively about supporting youth leadership for change. I am also excited to pursue new partnerships beyond schools and think collectively within communities across organizations, local government, and families about addressing complex social problems together. These are new areas of research for me, and I think increasingly relevant given the various crises we are facing. Education alone cannot solve the problem.

The challenges are daunting, but I hope we can leverage some of the strategies I talked about above to support our practitioner partners as we work to envision and enact real change. As we navigate the uncertainty of a future that will likely continue to challenge our commitments and capabilities to address longstanding and growing inequalities, rise of global migration, and climate change, we will need to continue to innovate across sectors and continue to adapt. As Bryk et al. (2015) put it, we need to continue learning to improve. I do believe that as a community of scholars, those of us working on Educational Change are up for the task!

The LtC series is produced by the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association; Jennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.


Bryk, A., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. Russell Sage Foundation.

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. G. (2015). Learning to improve: How America’s
schools can get better at getting better. Harvard Education Press.

Costello, M. B. (2016). The Trump effect: The impact of the 2016 presidential election on our nation’s schools. Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

Ee, J., & Gándara, P. (2020). The impact of immigration enforcement on the nation’s schools. American Educational Research Journal, 57(2), 840-871.

Hopkins, M. & Weddle, H. (Eds). Restart & Recovery: State Leadership Guide for Engaging Stakeholders in Continuous Improvement of English Learner Programs & Services During COVID and Beyond. CCSSO: Washington D.C. https://learning.ccsso.org/engaging-stakeholders-in-continuous-improvement-of-english-learner-programs-services-during-covid-19-beyond

Kraft, M., Schueler, B., Loeb, S., Robinson, C. (2021). Accelerating Student Learning with High-Dosage Tutoring. Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University: https://annenberg.brown.edu/recovery/edresearch1

Lowenhaupt, R. and Hopkins, M. (2020). Considerations for school leaders serving US immigrant communities in the global pandemic. Journal of Professional Capital and Community. 5(3/4), 375-380. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPCC-05-2020-0023

Lowenhaupt, R., D.B. Dabach, Mangual Figueroa, A. (Online, 2021). Safety and belonging in
immigrant-serving districts: Domains of educator practice in a charged political landscape. AERA Open.

Lowenhaupt, R., Mangual Figueroa, A., Dabach, D.B, Gonzales, R.G., Yammine, J., Morales, M., Tesfa, E., Andrade, P. and Queenan, J. (2020). Connectivity and creativity in the time of COVID19: Immigrant serving districts respond to the pandemic. Immigration Initiative at Harvard Issue Brief Series no. 4, Cambridge MA: Harvard University.

Lowenhaupt, R., Mangual Figueroa, A., Dabach, D.B, Tesfa, E., Andrade, P. and Queenan, J. (2021, November). “We’re already doing it”: Expanding leadership practices in support of immigrant communities in times of crisis. Paper presented at the University Council for Educational Administration Annual Convention. Online.

Lowenhaupt, R. & Montgomery, N.* (2018). Family engagement practices as sites of possibility: Supporting immigrant families through a district-university partnership. Theory into Practice, 57 (2), 99-108. DOI: 10.1080/00405841.2018.1425814

Queenan, J., Andrade, P., Lowenhaupt, R., Mangual Figueroa, A. (2022, April). Supporting Immigrants in School: Educators’ Personal and Professional Identities in Context. Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association. Toronto, Canada.

Reich, J., & Mehta, J. (2021, July 21). Healing, Community, and Humanity: How Students and Teachers Want to Reinvent Schools Post-COVID. https://doi.org/10.35542/osf.io/nd52b

Rodriguez, S., Roth, B. J., & Villarreal Sosa, L. (2022). “Immigration enforcement is a daily part of our
students’ lives”: School social workers’ perceptions of racialized nested contexts of reception for immigrant students. AERA Open, 8, 23328584211073170.

Yammine, J. & Lowenhaupt, R. (Online, 2021). Educators’ perceptions of immigration policy implications on their schools: A mixed-methods exploration. Teachers College Record.

Yammine, J. & Lowenhaupt, R. (Forthcoming). Leveraging existing educator expertise: Serving Latinx students in the rural Southeast. In E. Hamann, S. Wortham, & E. Murillo (Eds.), Re-engineering Education in the New Latinx Diaspora. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

A focus on future generations: A Conversation with Carrie Sampson on school boards, research, and educational change

This month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview features Carrie Sampson’s discussion of her work on equity, research, school boards, and educational changeSampson is an assistant professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University. The LtC series is produced by the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research AssociationJennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with anti-racist, equity, and justice-oriented systems. To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Carrie Sampson: Many scholars come into the field of education because we hope to make a positive contribution. We have dedicated decades of our lives to learning and teaching. We read, listen, reflect, formulate questions, seek answers, write, and share knowledge. Trained to think critically about our field, most of us are excellent at finding flaws, issuing critiques, and pointing fingers. In doing this, we come to understand just how complex our educational system is, and we recognize that even if we fix one part, there’s still hundreds of moving parts that make it nearly impossible to fix an entire system. Sometimes we become disillusioned. At times, I have become disillusioned. Yet, as education researchers we have not come this far to sit in our disillusionment. It’s our responsibility to continue to find the best possible solutions to the many problems in our systems. It’s our responsibility to fight the good fight.

In building my good fight, I have focused on three major areas as a scholar. First, I constantly return to my “why” for the work I do. While it has always been rooted in the notion of “the personal is political,” my “why” has changed over the years. It has shifted from my own experiences as a mixed race, Black and Chicana, woman who grew up in poverty in both rural and urban communities. My success in education was too reliant on luck and cultural capital rather than a system that offered ample opportunities, a system that failed many of my peers and family members. 

These days my “why” centers on what I have experienced and witnessed as a mother-scholar of two school-aged children—one who is 8 years old and skipped the first grade and one who completed his kindergarten year online due to COVID. Since the time they entered preschool, my kids have faced racism and gender discrimination. Navigating these isms when they happen to me is one thing, but when they happened to my babies, it lit a fire in my soul like no other. The urgency and clarity of my “why” both shifted and soared. In an article about coalition politics, we cited Bernice Johnson Reagon, a Black feminist and activist (Sampson, Demps, & Rodriguez-Martinez, 2020). Her emphasis on the importance of doing what we do for future generations resonated with my “why.” Reagon (1983) said, “…most of the things you do, if you do them right, are for the people who live long after you are long forgotten” (p. 365). This work is not about us. Just like our ancestors before us, we will likely not reap the benefits of our labor directly. Instead, my children, our children, and those children who are not yet born have the chance to be impacted by our work. I believe this must always be the center of our “why.”

My other two areas of focus are simple. I hold on to the notion that “all politics are local.” This means I try to engage in my local community as much as I can. These communities are my home. I seek to understand the history and context of where I live. I am on advisory councils, I engage in political campaigning, and I meet with local officials to advocate for change. Relatedly, and more recently, the final area of focus for me has been gaining the skills to translate my research for a broader audience. As school boards are increasingly part of the broader conversation among the media, decision makers, families, and even youth, I have been increasingly called on to offer a research-based perspective on school board governance. I pursued this career largely because I liked research. And like most of us, I spent many years learning to do research, not translate it. Sadly, we don’t often teach our future academics to talk about their research in a non-academic context. Yet, it’s our responsibility as education researchers to bring our research to broader audiences and that must begin with learning the skills to translate our scholarship in ways that all groups of people can understand and apply what we learn.

In sum, the three areas of responsibility that ground my work and I believe should ground our field’s work are a) a focus on future generations as a major part of our “why”; b) engaging in our local community; and c) translating our research to those outside of the academy.

“It’s our responsibility as education researchers to bring our research to broader audiences.”

LtC: Given some of your work using critical lenses to examine political coalitions, district reform, and equity (or a lack thereof), what are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?

CS: I’ll share six things I’ve learned from my work and experience.

(1) The notion I mentioned above about “all politics is local” is from the fact that I’ve seen time and time again that local politics matter. Democracy and justice happen locally first. Without political players and policies that make sense at the local level, educational change for the better will never happen.

(2) We need to work on being more proactive. From my dissertation research that explored school board policymaking for English learners, two of the school board members I interviewed said that they, as board members, were always putting out fires and never got a chance to work ahead of the fires to prevent them (Sampson, 2016). While reacting to the inequitable experiences voiced by minoritized communities is critical as a school board member, the idea of being proactive about ensuring that our children have equitable educational opportunities (and not just reactive) always stuck with me. Consequently, I carefully consider what it means to be proactive in terms of my research implications toward educational equity.

(3) Building critically conscious coalitions is needed to sustain the work. As someone with several minoritized identities, I have come to realize that groups are too often in competition mode. Moreover, as one of my research findings illustrates (Sampson, Demps, & Rodriguez-Martinez, 2020), competition can water down the end result for all groups. Instead, coalitions that are rooted in the unique needs of the communities these coalitions intend to serve have a better chance of achieving more relevant and adequate outcomes.

(4) While I center race in much of my work, knowing and acknowledging how race intersects with other identities is critical to how I shape my scholarship. Aligned with Crenshaw’s (2017) concept of intersectionality, I gained significant insight on why this concept and reality matter from my studies in feminist theory and research. While pursuing my graduate certificate in Women’s Studies, I was assisting on a study examining the history of school desegregation in Southern Nevada (Horsford, Sampson, & Forletta, 2013). As I learned about feminism, I began to ask deeper questions aimed at exploring why a group of mostly White women from The League of Women Voters became one of the leading organizations to advocate for racially desegregated schools (Sampson, 2017). I learned that their efforts were often largely informed and shaped by their racialized, gendered, and classed experiences, and more importantly, their efforts influenced the outcome for Black children who were bussed from their neighborhood schools for nearly two decades.

(5) As frustrating as it might be, change is often incremental. Maybe it was my economics degree that trained me to believe that when systems change quickly and drastically (for good and bad), these systems often experience push back aiming to disrupt those changes creating little to no real change. My studies on school boards taught me the same thing (e.g., Sampson, 2019; Sampson, 2019b).

(6) Specific to my research on school boards, I have learned that school governance matters to educational change, and yet, many states and localities have fallen short when it comes to electing and training strong candidates for these positions. Nonetheless, district leaders (i.e., superintendents, other board members) who can help create a heathy foundation on which a school board can grow and develop cohesively can contribute to setting a vision for positive change. I’ve seen board members who clearly don’t understand issues of race and racism shift their thinking and be willing to compromise once they understand the stakes of their decisions, and that usually happens through both training and developing a trust among district leadership. We must do a better job at creating pathways and training for board members so they are equipped to govern toward positive change (Sampson, 2019a, 2019c).

“As frustrating as it might be, change is often incremental.”

LtC: In some of your recent work examining district reorganization in Nevada using a critical lens, you find that marginalized communities are excluded from the policy process, resulting in anti-democratic and inequitable processes and outcomes. You explain that other efforts to decentralize districts in Chicago, New York City, and Houston, seem to have similar results. Is there a way for districts to restructure in an equitable and democratic fashion given the current political climate?

SC: This is a tough question. Our political climate is highly divisive. Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but I still think many local communities, when given the opportunity to really engage in open and honest dialogue, can agree on some fundamental areas of education that can move school districts in the right direction to improve educational opportunities for all children. The problem in these districts mentioned is that the push to reorganize typically came from outside

of the district, often from the state-level, not from within or at the local level (Sampson & Diem, 2020). While it might take longer to make change from within, informed by those most impacted by the change, I think it’s the only way to prompt the change necessary particularly with the aim of improving educational equity.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

SC: We must be in conversation not only with those directly in schools but also those connected to schooling. One thing I hope we all learned from COVID-19 is that schooling happens beyond the walls of classrooms. Not only do teachers, staff, and school leaders matter but without the families and youth they serve, schooling is nothing. And yet, as my coauthors and I noted in a blog we wrote during the beginning of COVID (later published in a book), school systems often overlook and dismiss families (Sampson, Wong, Cervantes-Soon, Estrella, & Demps, 2020).

Moreover, as researchers, being in conversation with communities impacted by schooling can make our scholarship better. This shapes our research methods, including the questions we ask and how we make sense of the problem we are studying. As an example, one recent study I co-conducted was heavily influenced because my colleague and I were in conversation with a

community-based organization advocating for change. We began by thinking that maybe we could help them. But more so, they helped us develop a keenly relevant study by offering us deeper context and helping shape our overarching research questions and the purpose of this specific study on school board meetings (Bertrand & Sampson, 2020; Sampson & Bertrand, 2020, 2021). Without these conversations, our work can miss the mark of being applicable toward any positive change.

“Being in conversation with communities impacted by schooling can make our scholarship better.”

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

SC: I think we are at a crossroads. COVID-19 and the many uprisings prompted by racism and white supremacy have brought to the surface several deep-seated problems in education. To sit in optimism and hope that educational change can offer improvements to these problems keep many of us motivated to fight the good fight. Yet, those of us whose work is rooted in critical theory and who have lived in marginalized spaces, know that the systems holding these problems hostage are too complex and unjust to adequately change without being completely dismantled. I think what the future holds is much of what the author Octavia Butler wrote about in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. After the world as they knew it fell apart, she envisioned change as the opportunity to plant new seeds, using their talents to create a community rooted in a collective vision of liberation. Although these texts paint a bleak picture in some ways, I think they also show that change is inevitable. Our crossroads is figuring out how change can offer us the opportunity to collectively envision and engage in efforts that result in an educational system or systems that can support future generations to solve our most pressing problems, such as racism and climate change, that will continue to haunt us for years to come.


Bertrand, M., & Sampson, C. (2020). Challenging systemic racism in school board meetings through intertextual co-optation. Critical Studies in Education, 00(00), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2020.1765823

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Reagon, B. (1983). “Coalition politics: Turning the century.” in Smith, B. (Ed.) Home girls (p. 356-368). New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.

Sampson, C. (2016). The role of school boards in addressing opportunity and equity for English

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Sampson, C. (2017). So it ‘‘became White activists fighting for integration?’’ Community

organizations, intersectional identities, and education reform. The Urban Review, 49(1), 72-


Sampson, C. (2019a). (Im)Possibilities of Latinx school board members’ educational leadership toward equity. Educational Administration Quarterly, 55(2), 296–327. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X18799482

Sampson, C. (2019b). From a lighthouse to a foghorn: A school board’ s navigation toward equity for English learners. American Journal of Education, 125(4), 521–546.

Sampson, C. (2019c, August 26). In school boards we trust? The potential for educational equity in public education. Equity Alliance Blog. Retrieved from https://equityalliance.stanford.edu/content/school-boards-we-trust-potential-educational-equity-


Sampson, C., & Bertrand, M. (2020). “This is civil disobedience. I’ll continue.”: The racialization of school board meeting rules. Journal of Education Policy. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2020.1778795

Sampson, C., & Bertrand, M. (2021). Counter-storytelling, metaphors, and rhetorical questioning: Discursive strategies of advocacy toward racial equity in school board meetings. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 0(0), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/01596306.2021.2002268

Sampson, C. & Diem, S. (online first, 2020). Democratic (dis)engagement in school district decentralization: A critical analysis of actors and coalitions. Leadership and Policy in Schools.

Sampson, C., Demps, D., & Rodriguez-Martinez, S. (2020). Engaging (or not) in coalition politics: A case study of Black and Latinx community advocacy toward educational equity. Race Ethnicity and Education, 00(00), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2020.1842346

Sampson, C., Wong, L.-S., Cervantes-Soon, C. G., Estrella, A., & Demps, D. (2020, May 13). A Call from Black and Brown mothers for true family engagement. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/a-call-from-black-and-brown-mothers-for-true/a-call-from-black-and-brown-mothers-for-true-family-engagement-bbfda3e7f72d

Lead the Change Q & A with Terri N. Watson

This week’s post features an interview with Terri N. Watson, Associate Professor in the Department of Leadership and Human Development at The City College of New York. This is the 105th edition of the Lead the Change (LtC) Series.  The fully formatted interview can be found on the LtC website of the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.

Lead the Change: The 2020 AERA theme is The Power and Possibilities for the Public Good: When Researchers and Organizational Stakeholders Collaborate. Organizational leaders, “who bring knowledge, status, and constituents to critical educational topics” were invited to this year’s meeting to reconnect and to harness our collective possibilities. How can the leveraging of such a diverse body of scholars contribute to collaboration and engagement within and across multiple stakeholder groups and to educational change?

Terri Watson: The 2020 AERA theme rightly calls for increased collaboration amongst education researchers, organizational leaders, and stakeholders. These partnerships are essential to educational change and reminds me of a similar charge echoed throughout Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, And the Foundations of a Movement, a collection of essays and speeches by Angela Y. Davis. In this work Dr. Davis, a political activist and scholar, passionately articulates the need for ‘movement builders’ and calls for seemingly divergent movements to coalesce for a common good, a public good. She consistently challenges neoliberal policies and practices found in society at large and in far too many K- 20 schools and schooling contexts. The latter is troubling as public education is one of the few services that, if it is to be effective, must address the human condition. In this light, I view the work of education researchers, organizational leaders, and stakeholders as akin to those of movement builders who, by way of AERA’s 2020 theme, are charged to unite for a public good: public education.

We must cease conducting research in schools and communities and, instead, establish meaningful partnerships with schools and communities

If we, as an association of 25,000 scholars, are to leverage educational research for the public good, we must intentionally forge meaningful relationships with the public. And, in addition to organizational leaders and stakeholders, education scholars must join forces with students, parents, teachers, school administrators, community members, and educational policymakers. To do so, we must cease conducting research in schools and communities and, instead, establish meaningful partnerships with schools and communities. Too often, education researchers are detached from the realities of schooling, the lives of young people, and the experiences of those deemed ‘other.’ And while we read journal articles, conduct research, and publish our findings, few researchers engage with schools and communities outside of the course of their study. Moreover, we rarely, if at all, share our findings with the general public nor employ what we have learned to inform education policy. If our scholarship is to impact educational change, we must engage with the public. To be clear, education scholars must endeavor to establish connections with the people, paradigms, and perspectives we persistently marginalize in and outside of the schoolhouse.

‘Theory is cool, but theory with no practice ain’t shit.’  – Fred Hampton, 1969.

At the start of my academic career, I conducted a longitudinal study of the leadership practices exhibited in a large urban high school. Using the lens of Critical Race Theory, I examined how teachers and school leaders identified and considered the challenges to parent involvement “without either engaging in or disrupting normative constructions of the term parent involvement” (Watson & Bogotch, 2015, p.258). Based on what I learned from the school’s parents, teachers, and administrators, and with funding obtained from a community based organization, I conducted parent meetings, teacher workshops, and worked with the school’s leadership team to redefine and reframe the function and purpose of parent involvement. I shared my experience with Sylvia Saunders, a reporter from NYSUT: A Union of Professionals. Our conversation, along with a link to the journal article, Reframing Parent Involvement: What Should Urban School Leaders Do Differently?, can be accessed here. A major lesson the field of Educational Change can learn from this study is that as critical researchers, we must be open to alternative ways of knowing and practice to facilitate change and, ultimately, student achievement.

LtC: Given your focus on how racism manifests and is manifested in schools and the impact of such racism as well as class and gender discrimination on Black girls in particular, what would be some of the takeaways the field of Educational Change can glean from your work and experiences with Black girls?

TW: I wrote the following text (tweet) on November 18, 2019:

Dear Educators,

Black girls are not loud – they want to be heard.

Black girls are not seeking-attention – they are seeking a connection.

Black girls are not aggressive – they know what they want.

Black girls are not bossy – they are leaders.

Last, Black girls are not adults.

To date, this tweet has been shared over 21K times and was ‘liked’ more than 68K times. As a Black woman and the mother of a Black girl, I know that schools, for many Black girls, are sites of trauma. This tweet is based on these truths and aimed to challenge oft-cited (mis)perceptions of Black girls. In addition, my article, “Talking Back”: The Perceptions and Experiences of Black Girls Who Attend City High School, is based on data gathered as part of the aforementioned longitudinal study. In this manuscript, I centered the voices and perspectives of Black girls and Black women scholars “to honor the voices that are oftentimes silenced in schools and to employ standpoints that are seldom considered in education research” (p.239).

As a Black woman and the mother of a Black girl, I know that schools, for many Black girls, are sites of trauma.”

The recommendations from this study appear below and were offered to improve the educational experiences of Black girls at CHS and are offered here as takeaways the field of Educational Change can glean from my work and experiences with Black girls.

Affinity groups. Several of the study’s participants described negative perceptions that many of CHS’ teachers, administrators, and security agents held of Black girls. In response, schools should establish affinity groups for Black girls: They build self-esteem, provide a safe place for students, and foster positive relationships among students and the larger school community.

Mental-health professionals. Mental health is essential to student success. Several girls shared that they suffered from depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, by-and-large, therapy is frowned upon in the Black community, and many Black girls oftentimes suffer in silence. Schools should provide access to mental-health professionals to students and, if requested, their families.

Post clear rules and regulations. Several Black girls felt CHS’ security agents targeted them. By posting clear rules and regulations throughout the school building, unpleasant interactions between students and security agents may be avoided. Moreover, if a student is disciplined, the student should know why she is being disciplined, and the consequence(s) should be clearly articulated in the regulations.

Form a task force. While all the study’s participants were on track to graduate from high school, data trends show Black girls tend to drop out of high school at higher rates than their peers. Furthermore, based on the data gathered for this study, several Black girls at CHS were found to experience challenges during their high school career that could have caused them to drop out. To ensure their success, schools should form a task force aimed at improving the educational experiences and outcomes of Black girls.

Professional development. Several Black girls interviewed for this study detailed conflicts they experienced with teachers and administrators at CHS and readily offered advice for the school’s leader to improve their lived experiences. In this light, schools should invest in professional development centered on meeting the needs of culturally, socially, and linguistically diverse students to improve teacher practices and, ultimately, student achievement.

LtC: In your recent work, you conceptualize racism in schools through an ecological lens to show the ways it operates across the system (i.e., individual, dyadic, subcultural, institutional, and societal) and how it is dynamic and changing. In so doing, you challenge school leaders and others to think beyond traditional approaches to addressing racism in schools and towards more systemic approaches. What do you see as the most needed changes to policy/practice to address these findings and bring them into practice?

TW: To effectively address racism in schools through policy and practice, we must first commit to the fact that society in general and public schools, in particular, are fundamentally racist. This truth is evident in the nation’s founding charter and in legal jurisprudence and throughout the history of public education. It is also quantified in the disparate educational outcomes of America’s children (see NCES Graduation Rates). Next, we must problematize the process of schooling. Meaning, we must ask hard questions about the ways in which schools function in our society. Paying close attention to how neoliberalism and its byproducts (capitalism, school choice, and standardized testing) have polarized the most vulnerable children, families, and communities. Then, we must gather the political and moral will to create systemic race-conscious educational policies and practices. Gathering such will is challenging, as while most people will readily admit that they are not racist, very few will support mandates that operationalize racial equity and social justice in the places that we call schools (see NYC’s Chancellor’s school desegregation efforts) In fact, I will go one step further and suggest that while most people, especially White people, will call out overt racism, very few will acknowledge and address the systemic and insidious ways racism functions in our society and schools. And that, dear colleagues, is wherein the challenge lies.

We must gather the political and moral will to create systemic race-conscious educational policies and practices.”

Dr. Rosa Rivera-McCutchen, my colleague at the City University of New York, and I drafted the case study #BlackLivesMatter: A Call for Transformative Leadership to provide aspiring and current school leaders with the opportunity to engage in critical reflection and transformative leadership practices. We were inspired by the acceptance speech Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings delivered in the spring of 2015, upon her receipt of the Social Justice in Education Award at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting:

In her lecture aptly titled “Justice . . . Just, Justice!” Ladson-Billings explained why she was troubled by the current use of the term “social justice” and feared how it was, for some, purely ideological. Most distressing, she noted how many social justice advocates fail to recognize injustice. Poignantly, Ladson-Billings challenged the audience to move beyond justice as a theory to justice as praxis.” (p. 3).

Public education will not right itself. We must move beyond rhetoric and theory – if we are who we say we are.”

Dr. Ladson-Billings’ message rings true for the field of Educational Change. Public education will not right itself. We must move beyond rhetoric and theory – if we are who we say we are.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

TW: I began my teaching career in 1994 at a middle school in East Harlem. I elected to teach at JHS 45 because it was located between two housing projects and many of the students who attended the school shared life experiences similar to my own. Nearly 20 years later I joined the Department of Leadership and Human Development at The City College of New York (CCNY). The College’s legacy of proffering “access, opportunity, and transformation” to the children of the City of New York aligns with my primary aim, as a scholar-activist, to improve the educational outcomes and life chances of historically excluded and underserved children and families. Moreover, based on my educational experiences, I deeply understand that schools are complex systems and require a heavy lift from individuals and groups who seek to transform them. Hence, during my first year at CCNY, my colleague, Dr. Hope Hartman (Professor Emeritus) and I explored the effects of metacognition on school leaders. Our article, Transformational Leaders Who Practice Metacognition, appeared in the New York Academy of Public Education’s research journal here.

Dr. Hartman and I wrote the aforementioned manuscript with our graduate students in mind. We knew that as novice school leaders they would be charged to contend with systemic racism, inequitable funding, and the legacy of low expectations for children of color. We explained:

“We posit that in order to reform schools, specifically in urban areas, transformational leaders who systematically practice metacognition are better able to promote effective, caring, and socially just schools and communities than those who do not. This article provides a paradigm for and examples of metacognitive transformational leadership” (p.8).

The field of Educational Change can best support individuals and groups engaged in the transformation of schools by creating and offering workshops on transformative leadership practices (see Shields, 2010) and metacognition (see Schon, 1983). Those who seek to transform schools and the process of schooling “must observe their own actions, inactions, and attitudes, as well as their impact on others. Upon awareness, they should take steps to enhance their effectiveness” (Watson & Hartman, 2013, p.9). Learning experiences centered on transformative leadership practices and metacognition promotes social justice and self-awareness and can help individuals and groups actualize their goals for educational change.

Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

We are currently experiencing unprecedented times. In an attempt to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus NYC’s public schools, the nation’s largest public school system, recently announced that its 1,700 schools will remain closed for the remainder of academic year. I am sure other school districts throughout the U.S. will soon do the same. While many are lamenting the possibility (and impossibilities) of this decision, I am inspired by its promise. The physical closure of schools will force many in the field of Educational Change to reimagine and redesign the form and function of schooling. We can no longer rely on traditional paradigms and practices and must find new and different ways to engage young people, establish community, and effect change. This forced shift will be refreshing. The traditional structure and function of schools and schooling created nebulous and hostile environments for far too many children, particularly those of color. This is the time for the field of Educational Change to implement new solutions to old problems. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

This is the time for the field of Educational Change to implement new solutions to old problems. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain!”


Schon, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

Shields, C. M. (2010). Transformative leadership: Working for equity in diverse contexts. Educational Administration Quarterly, 46, 558-559.

Watson, T. N. (2016). “Talking back”: The perceptions and experiences of Black girls who attend City High School. The Journal of Negro Education, 85(3), 239-249.

Watson, T. N.,  & Rivera-McCutchen, R. (2016). #BlackLivesMatter: A call for transformative leadership. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 19(2), 3–11.

Watson, T. N., & Bogotch, I. (2015). Reframing parent involvement: What should urban school leaders do differently? Leadership and Policy in Schools, 14(3), 257-278.

Watson, T. N., & Hartman, H. (2013). Transformational leaders who practice metacognition. The Professional Journal: The New York Academy of Public Education, 8-11.