Women’s History Month: Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Talks Dynamic Leadership in Teaching

Kaya Henderson offers tools for success for today's educators

Kaya Henderson (Image: File)

Named by Forbes as one of “the world’s most powerful educators,” Washington D.C. Public Schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson, (@HendersonKaya) is delivering results in an extremely challenging urban public school environment. Results from the 2013 Comprehensive System Test show that the DCPS system is on the right track. Students improved in both reading and math, and have made the largest gains in test scores since 2008.

That was last year, and Henderson knows that previous results, although good, do not mean victory for education reform or DCPS. The stakes are even higher now, and Kaya Henderson has built a team of administrators and educators that believe each and every student, given the proper tools, can and will succeed.

I sat down with Henderson to discuss education and development for a career in teaching that makes an impact.

In a very difficult urban public school environment, how do you lead your administration and teachers to improve on measurables despite challenges?

Kaya Henderson: I am a parent first. Furthermore, I am a parent of two DCPS students, so I am creating a school district for my kids and our kids. If I want my kids to have a solid academic background, play an instrument, master a foreign language and excel in sports then that is what I want for all of our kids. Understanding what we need to deliver to the current students in front of us everyday keeps us very present and creates a sense of urgency about the work we are doing.

Second, we have amassed a legion of people that believe these children can achieve at the same level as other children. We are very competitive and pressed to show people what an excellent urban education can look like. The result is that we are meeting and exceeding requirements, because we believe we can demonstrate what a excellent urban education looks like with our 50,000 students.

New technologies are emerging that impact the teaching profession. How do we ensure that we do not overlook the teacher who is an indispensable piece to education?

All of the research shows that the single most important in-school factor to improving student achievement is the quality of the teacher. Whether you use technology or not, the quality of the teacher still matters. You can be in a blended learning environment where the room is technologically outfitted with laptops and smartboards, but without a high-quality teacher, the lesson can be just as terrible as it would have been without technology.

Technology is a tool, and there is no way that it can replace the teacher. People will try to foolproof teaching, but teaching is not just about conveying information. Teaching is also about the relationships you build and the connections that are made with students. Students need to know that everyday someone cares about them, that they are being held accountable, and a computer cannot do that for them.

What key skills are critical for educators to be successful in the changing educational environment?

Educators have to be constant learners. Our jobs change every day and so do our children. People who are bound and determined to learn how to respond to new situations are best suited for teaching in today’s environment. This is not a profession anymore where you can whip out your lesson plans from the past 20 years, and teach them over and over again.

Kids are coming with new skill sets and new experiences. We have to be able to meet them where they are and take them to a place where they have never been. If you are not constantly learning as teacher there is no way that you can do that for our children. Of course you have to be hardworking,and a critical thinker which is true for anyone to be successful, but these skills will show through your willingness to constantly learn and develop.

What advice do you have for existing educators and those pursuing a career in education?

If you do not love children and do not fundamentally believe that all of our children can achieve at incredibly high levels, you should find something else to do. A lot of people think that teaching is nice, but they do not understand that this is the most critical career in the world. If you are not willing to give this 150% then there is something else for you because our children deserve it.

Don’t worry about where your next job is going to come from. Rock out where you currently are. Do the best that you can in your current position and the rest will come your way.

Be nice to people. The world revolves around relationships. You get a lot more done through collaboration, than through conflict.

Daron Pressley (@daronpressley) is an entrepreneur and former Fortune 500 sales and marketing executive who has been featured on outlets including Fox45 News, Black Enterprise magazine, and The Washington Post. Knowledgeable in marketing and branding, Pressley works with professional athletes, organizations, and individuals to develop strategies to create, build, and grow brands. As a speaker Daron has reached over 20,000 students, and provides dynamic insights on leadership and branding via his Website, DaronPressley.com.

ACROSS THE WEB