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Q&A with AACTE Coaching’s Kandi Hill-Clarke

Kandi Hill-Clarke, Ed.D., is the former dean of the College of Education at the University of Memphis and currently serves as provost fellow for Faculty Affairs and Leadership Development. Hill-Clarke will facilitate the New Deans cohort, part of AACTE Coaching. In the following Q&A, AACTE asked Hill-Clarke for a preview of her cohort’s coursework and what members can expect from participating in this new AACTE-exclusive experience.

Who inspired you to become an educator?

From a young age, I was inspired to become a teacher by my mother, a retired educator who taught elementary school for 40 years. I vividly remember helping her decorate her educational bulletin boards, watching her grade papers, and sitting in on after-school conferences. At the age of six, I knew that I would become a classroom teacher. This realization set me on a path to turn my dream into a reality, beginning with “teaching” my imaginary students in my grandparents’ living room, with the dining room serving as the school’s cafeteria. Pursuing a career in teaching was a choice I made intentionally and strategically and a goal I am proud I accomplished. Teaching is deeply ingrained in me, and throughout my career in higher education, I have been fortunate to both teach and learn in new and different ways as an academic leader.

What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received as a dean?

Throughout my time in academic leadership, I have received numerous pieces of valuable advice that have greatly benefited my professional journey. One of the most impactful, yet simple pieces of advice came early in my tenure as a dean: “Take a moment”. This advice has influenced how I conduct myself professionally and how I approach crucial conversations or challenging situations. I have come to embrace and appreciate the “moment” – the initial awkwardness of silence, the quiet breath, the brief break of a pause. Taking this time allows me to reflect, process information more deeply, listen more attentively, and focus, enabling me to respond thoughtfully during interactions.

 Additionally, taking a brief pause has helped me to make better and more informed decisions. As I have navigated the waters of academic leadership, I have expanded this advice to include taking a moment for personal reflection and self-care. Dedicating time to myself has become crucial in maintaining my well-being and enjoying periods of quiet, which I have found to be peaceful and calming. This simple yet profound advice has been so beneficial that I happily share it with my peers and colleagues, encouraging them to also “take a moment” in their professional and personal lives.

Why is your coaching cohort important?

Academic leadership often comes with its unique set of challenges, including a sense of isolation and loneliness. Often, academic leaders in higher education step into these demanding positions with minimal mentoring, coaching, or development, yet they are expected to meet the expansive and ambitious demands outlined in their job descriptions. This expectation to manage, conquer, and solve it all single-handedly is both unrealistic and overwhelming. Recognizing the need for a supportive network, the dean’s leadership coaching cohort has been established to offer an environment where cohort members can engage in open dialogue, share ideas, collaboratively problem-solve, and reflect on their experiences.

Our time together will serve as a space for academic leaders to lean on one another, celebrate successes, acknowledge each other’s efforts, and offer the validation that is often missing in their roles. Each session is designed to provide moments of pause and reflection, allowing members to step back and gain perspective. Additionally, the deans’ coaching cohort program aims to cultivate a sense of community and shared purpose, reinforcing the idea that our academic leaders are not alone in this work.

What excites you about the cohort you are coaching?

I am most excited about welcoming and meeting new dean colleagues and working with them to build and create a community of leaders who are learning, stretching, growing, sharing, collaborating, celebrating, problem-solving, and networking.

To learn more about AACTE Cohort Coaching, visit the webpage.

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