Helen Janc Malone on working with scholars and practitioners to break barriers in education

This interview with Helen Janc Malone appears as the third installment in a yearlong series on the public scholarship of women in education leadership.

Dr. Helen Janc Malone

Dr. Helen Janc Malone

Dr. Helen Janc Malone is the Director of Institutional Advancement and National Director of the Education Policy Fellowship Program at the Institute for Educational Leadership. Her areas of expertise include education policy and leadership, expanded learning, and systems-level change in the national and global contexts. She is the Chair of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Educational Change and Out-of-School Time Special Interest Groups, a Board Director for the PDK International Chapter of Harvard University, and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Expanded Learning Opportunities, in addition to her posts as a peer reviewer for several academic journals focused on educational change, youth development, and school-community partnerships. Her most recent book is Leading Educational Change (Teachers College Press, 2013).

In this interview, Dr. Malone shares her early interest in education policy and issues of equit and what she has learned from engaging with education leaders in the U.S. and around the world. She also offers an overview of the national Education Policy Fellowship Program, and why she finds this an exciting time for public dialogue on the concerns of women in education leadership.

An early interest in education policy

I was lucky to discover my interest in education policy very early on in my life, when I was 15 years old. I got involved in my high school’s Student Government Association (SGA) in the state of Maryland. The state, through SGAs, gave high school students an opportunity to work with their local county boards of education, as well as to review legislation and prepare testimonies on education policy bills during legislative sessions. I became a spokesperson for the students, testifying on a variety of education policy issues. I also worked with a couple of students to launch the first statewide mock elections for presidential elections that encouraged all high school students to become active in presidential elections, as well as to learn about the state and county level elections. Early on I felt empowered—that students can make a difference and have a voice in education. As a student at the time, I felt included and represented.

I graduated in 2013 with my doctorate from Harvard University, and all along the way, I had just phenomenal experiences working across the education sectors. I worked for non-profits, for-profits, research institutes at universities, and that really provided me with both intra and inter-disciplinary perspectives on education and how different organizations play a role in informing education policy and how they help and support the capacity building on the ground, especially when it comes to leadership capacity.

On educational equity, access, and quality

Over the last decade, I have focused on research that is often seen as peripheral to the school reform, but which is also an area that the research shows is very critical to school effectiveness and improvement: the role of out-of-school time learning partners. It’s about building strong school-community partnerships, and the role of out-of-school time partners, with a particular lens on equity. We know that in the high needs communities, access to learning opportunities is limited, and often times schools are asked to do a lot, well beyond the instructional practices within the classroom, within the confines of a traditional day. But we also know that students benefit from meaningful high-quality opportunities. It is about starting to examine how we bridge conversations around equity, access, quality, and learning in this larger education sector space (see for example community schools as a promising strategy).

A lot of my work has been at the nexus of policy, research, and practice. What do we need to do in terms of our policies to encourage, invite, and promote opportunities that will alleviate the opportunity gap? How do we make sure that we are creating and empowering teachers, principals, and community partners to work together more effectively to create rich opportunities for students, opportunities and spaces for their own development and growth as educational leaders? What do we need to do on the research side to start to break out of our silos and start to connect more effectively across the education spectrum? We often work in particular niches across education. There’s a lot that we actually know in each of these pods, but we need to bridge them together. I’ve always sat at an intersection of youth development, education change/school reform, and political science/public policy. And this tripod has been very, very important to me, and also a very meaningful place to be, because I can see policy drivers, I can see on the youth development side what we know from neuroscience and adolescent development, what we know from the human services side. And then obviously, on the school reform and educational change side, how do we redesign and move systems to change to better serve all students?

When I look at the education leadership component, I strive to lift up work of scholars and practitioners to break existing barriers in education. I chair two special interest groups at the American Educational Research Association. One is the Educational Change Special Interest Group, which adopts an interdisciplinary and international approach to understanding many aspects of educational change, including large-scale reform, school-initiated change, school improvement, and classroom-level change. I also chair the Out of School Time Special Interest Group, a forum for researchers in out-of-school time teaching and learning to share resources and become each others’ resources; to provide venues and opportunities to present related research; and, to bring additional knowledge and resources to AERA. The scholarship of both complements a broader understanding of what systems and youth need to succeed.

On the Education Policy Fellowship Program

I’m the National Director for Educational Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP), a 52-year-old professional fellowship program, whose mission is to develop a diverse and collaborative community of strategic leaders for effective public policy. Often in education, our professional development is focused on role-based leadership and the immediate accountability responsibilities of that position. What we seldom have is an opportunity for education leaders to experience professional development that offers new thinking, perspectives, breaks boundaries within and across systems, where they can learn from experts and from diverse peers, all who deeply care about children and educational issues. It is a pleasure to support capacity building of different education leaders across the country and to hear how their reflecting on what’s happening on the local, state, and national policy levels, how they’re thinking about the issues of equity and education from wherever they sit, and how they are solving issues in the education space.

As a National Director I work with state partners, who administer the program on the state level, so it’s really contextualized and speaks to the needs of individual states. EPFP is a national partnership between IEL and 17 sites with nearly 320 Fellows in the 2015-16 cohort and 8,500 alumni in all 50 states. The fellowship is built on three pillars—policy, leadership, and networking. Over the course of the fellowship year, the Fellows focus on local and state contexts related to education and public policy from diverse perspectives. Toward the end of their experience, they come to us, to Washington, DC, for their capstone four-day Washington Policy Seminar designed as an intensive federal policy institute and a conversation on national education issues. Our cohorts represent preK-16 leaders, as well as non-profit, business, philanthropic, and agency leaders within education and complementary sectors, which provides for a powerful, interactive experience that offers new perspectives and considerations.

On the leadership development side, EPFP is a neutral space where people can reflect on their leadership practices and build their competencies and new skills. And they do so through a variety of ways, from leadership assessments, to seminars and regional leadership forums. It is during the fellowship sessions that Fellows get to explore diverse leadership pathways and have a platform to share, to learn from each other about how to lead in the current educational system and how to lead effectively to better support children, youth, and their families. And, finally, there is networking. Cohorts build trusting relationships and lifelong professional partnerships. Fellows also learn how to utilize networks in their own lives to promote action and change on the ground.

There is a real hunger across the country to build leadership capacity among leaders who are able to navigate and lead within and across the education system, who can break down barriers, and build lasting partnerships that move the needle of progress for all young people. EPFP is one vehicle to develop cross-boundary leaders.

On women in education leadership

As I was reflecting on your question, I thought, “It would have been so great if Twitter was around 15 years ago.” I was involved with the American Association of University Women, AAUW, and I remember attending an international conference on “Beijing Plus Five” It was a global agenda to really start to pay attention to the issues of women and girls, the importance of education access, as well as empowerment for women across the world. They sparked many conversations nationally about how we support one another. How do we continue the mission for equity in the workplace, about equity of access, to empower women to be in positions of leadership in a variety of sectors? And I just thought the conversations that we had at that conference, if Twitter existed back then, could have catapulted so many meaningful discussions so early. It was a powerful experience for the participants, where women really came away feeling this camaraderie, feeling the sense of shared purpose, sense of belonging, no matter who they were or where they came from. There are common struggles, common acknowledgement and identity, that helped to move us forward.

I was very pleased when I was asked to participate in the Twitter chat #SatChatOC around women as educational leaders. As many do, I had started to follow those Saturday chats before, more in passing to see what the conversation was about. When I was invited to be part of the conversation, I jumped in and I saw an opportunity to connect with women across the world—for practitioners, scholars, and leaders, and to hear their perspectives and the issues that are important to them. I think it’s very important for women to have this platform through social media to come together to discuss issues, because there are some persistent through lines that we have heard emerge from those conversations.

It’s wonderful to have the platform, especially when you’re talking about education, leadership, and equity. I work at the Institute For Educational Leadership, and we have Twitter chats called #PTchat. They have grown into a global conversation on family and community engagement. And we are now doing the same with the Educational Policy Fellowship Program with #EPFPchat, to discuss issues of educational leadership and policy. What I like about Twitter is that every one is invited to the conversation, and it’s a great way start to connect people across one’s community and across the world. Learning about all the great work that people are doing that we might not be aware of that can actually inform what we are trying to solve, or what we are trying to grow in our own communities is encouraging.

It’s an exciting time to talk about women as education leaders. I think it’s a great opportunity to discuss the narratives that we have in the mainstream – not just within the US context, but also globally – about how we perceive women leaders in education. How do we build capacity of women superintendents and principals? How do we perceive women scholars who are trying to break the glass ceiling and contribute in big ways to the educational discourse? How do we create multiple avenues for women to mentor, to create a collaborative community to raise visibility of the great work that women are doing. I think that’s what’s exciting. Social media has certainly allowed us to do so on a global scale so we can– from the US, I can see the great work that’s being done from across the world, and use the networks that I have to highlight that work to a new set of professionals in education who might not have been aware of that scholarship or practices. I think it’s exciting that if somebody needs support from a different continent, we can be there for each other to share our stories, to share our pathways, or to just listen and be there. I think that’s what’s really going to move us forward and empower women, especially around leadership, which has been pressing and very important for so long. But renewing the conversations with the assistance of social media, I think is a really exciting proposition.

Deirdre Faughey (Founding Editor, Publisher) is a doctoral candidate in the Curriculum and Teaching Department at Teachers CollegeColumbia University. She is also the Managing Editor of International Ed News, a Research Assistant for the National Center for the Restructuring Education, Schools & Teaching (NCREST), and has taught Masters-level Literacy and English Ed courses at Hunter College. Contact her at df2145@tc.columbia.edu if you have any questions about Esteem. Visit www.deirdrefaughey.com to learn more about her work.

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