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Equity-Minded Deans Discuss Leading During the Twin Crisis at #AACTE21

AACTE presented a Deeper Dive session on February 24, 2021 at its 73rd Annual Meeting, “Leading in the Time of Crisis: Responding to COVID-19 and Social Justice Movements.” This panel discussion, moderated by AACTE’s Vice President of Research, Policy, & Advocacy Jacqueline Rodriguez, explored the leadership responses of three education deans to the national and racial pandemic. Although the issues raised were not easy to navigate, each dean highlighted specific strategies and intentional efforts made at their respective institution, which demonstrated the keen ability to lead with justice, compassion, and action. In listening to their responses, I noted that each response matched one of John C. Maxwell’s quote for leadership success, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

Jacqueline Rodriguez described the deans as equity-minded leaders who start off with empathy and maintain their efforts through action.

Despite a history of offering online classes, Gaёtan Jean Marie, dean of the College of Education at Rowan University, met with leaders at the university to not only evaluate the impact and access of remote learning on students but also identify ways to help “support our faculty, those who were new to the online learning environment to be able to teach remotely …” Jean Marie collaborated with faculty and the leadership team to successfully transition online and build a community. True resilience was exemplified as she described what emerged, “amazing teacher’s pedagogical practices.”

Kimberly White-Smith, dean of the LaFetra College of Education at the University of La Verne discussed prioritizing the budget to “build into technology.” By doing so, the institution was able to facilitate asynchronous and synchronous classes that allowed working students and international students to meet their educational needs despite other challenges they faced, whether it was serving as a frontline worker or returning to one’s country of origin on short notice. As a leader of a Hispanic serving institution, White-Smith’s noted, “We’ve increased our faculty of color over 75%.” She shared that the diverse representation of faculty helped foster connection and support for students of color as racial tensions erupted.

Marcie Wycoff-Horn, dean of the School of Education, Professional and Continuing Education at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, described efforts made at her institution to sustain equitable practices during remote learning. Like other institutions of higher learning, Wycoff-Horn reported adjustments to the grading process, extension of deadlines, increase accessibility to WIFI on campus, and flexibility of placements for teacher candidates in locations such as the YMCA. Before the pandemic, many of these practices may have been viewed as unnecessary or impractical, but during a moment of crisis when uncertainty was pervasive and dominating, Wycoff-Horn’s flexibility was viewed as a token of grace and compassion.

As an aspiring counselor educator, I found this conversation inspiring and created in me a new desire to embrace an equitable lens that encompasses empathy and great vision. An old proverb states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This dynamic panel of deans continue to lead with purposeful vision amid troubling times, which without a doubt has sustained their programs and their students. What great models to follow.

As a follow-up to this Deeper Dive session, the presenters will expound on how educator preparation leaders can, and should, lean into moments of crisis in order to lead faculty, staff, and students through to a new, more equitable normal during an AACTE webinar, Leaning in and Leading Through Crisis,” on March 18. Learn more and register.

Danna Demezier, LMHC, NCC, is a doctoral candidate at Florida Atlantic University and an Holmes Scholar.


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