Meeting the needs of and improving education outcomes for students who identify as Hispanic or Latinx requires a strategy that ensures high-quality education and equitable representation at all levels of the system—from teachers to superintendents. How can the education community provide improved pathways and support for experienced and aspiring Latinx leaders?
Dr. Teresa López Alonzo, WestEd’s Associate Director of Educational Leadership and System Design, works with leadership teams to build instructional capacity, promote high-quality teaching and learning, and increase equity.
In honor of National Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, Dr. Alonzo shares valuable advice for aspiring education leaders in this video and the following Q&A, highlighting her deep commitment to leadership development.
What led to your interest in education and education leadership? How has your background influenced your career?
Growing up in a mixed immigration status household, working in the fields of California’s San Joaquin Valley, I knew I wanted to help immigrant farm-working families fight for their basic human rights. I thought it would be as an immigration attorney. Then, in college, I had an opportunity to work as a teacher’s assistant, working with students from the migrant labor camps, and I fell in love with teaching.
I also experienced firsthand how unjust policies and practices in the educational system contributed to a trajectory of poverty and disenfranchisement for many families. It was then that I decided to become a teacher so that I could directly impact the lives of students and their families through education.
That experience has continued to influence my work as a school and district leader and, even today, in my current role, by providing tools and processes to school leaders and their teams to articulate their vision for teaching, learning, and leading and identifying practices to effectuate their vision across their system.
As I reflect on my 30-plus years in education, working in multiple systems at various levels of the education system, I recognize just how important all of the facets of my identity and upbringing have informed my work and shaped my career.
What challenges do Latinx education leaders encounter in the field?
We share many of the same struggles as leaders from other ethnic and racial groups; however, in my experience working with so many Latinx experienced and aspiring leaders, there are a few recurring themes that emerge as challenges:
- We carry a tremendous sense of responsibility to serve in communities where students of color and other marginalized groups have not benefited from the promises of public education.
- We can suffer from imposter syndrome—a sense that we don’t belong.
- We are often the “first” in many spaces, thus making it difficult to navigate our career trajectories.
- Many of us are first in our families to obtain college degrees, and are encouraged to pursue careers in fields other than education.
Do you have any advice for aspiring education leaders?
As I reflected on my own experience and then asked leaders in my networks, many of the same ideas surfaced:
- Know thyself—your values and what drives you, as you will be tested along your journey.
- Be authentic and true to who you are. It’s what makes you unique and what draws people to you.
- Leverage your cultural assets to lead. Much of what we learn from our parents and families makes the right person to lead in schools.
- Find or build a network of people who you can connect with and lean on. Leaders set the tone, but they don’t do it alone.
- Continue learning and growing your skill set and knowledge base. Model what it is to be a lifelong learner. When leaders get better, everyone benefits.
- The students and community you serve deserve a great leader. Be that leader!
Can you tell us about the Bridge Project?
A racially diverse, vibrant principal workforce is essential to accelerating student learning and retaining teachers. Yet, the principal workforce is disproportionately White compared to teachers and assistant principals.
With funding from the U.S. Department of Education, The Bridge Project addresses a crucial stage of school leader development: the “gap years” when newly certified administrators take assistant principal or teacher-leader positions for up to five years but still aspire to be principals.
The Bridge Project is supported by WestEd’s new Education Leadership and Systems Design (ELSD) team through a unique partnership with six Illinois Regional Offices of Education. In Illinois, approximately 43,000 educators have an administrative certification and hold teacher-leader or assistant principal positions. The learning network ensures Bridge participants stand out in a competitive job market by:
- Building and documenting instructional leadership skills in ELA and mathematics improvement, culturally responsive pedagogy, and leading for equity through a paid post-certification instructional leadership residency;
- Raising participants’ profiles through career networking with diverse, Illinois-based educators; and
- Providing new principal induction coaching support in the year of work as a principal.
The Bridge Project will demonstrate how districts and states can strengthen principal pipelines, especially in smaller, rural school districts. Most importantly, we’re working collaboratively to accelerate Bridge Fellows’ advancement and success in principal positions.
We launched the Bridge Project Fellowship in June 2023 and are excited to report that 53 Bridge Project Fellows are actively participating in networked learning sessions and engaging in coaching and career development activities. For more information, contact BridgeProject@WestEd.org.
What inspired you to be a mentor and now director of mentorship at the California Latino Superintendents and Administrators Mentoring Program?
I was encouraged by a colleague to join the mentoring program many years ago, and I’m so very glad I did. I was at a crossroads in my career trajectory, and I was looking to stretch and grow my leadership skills.
The CALSA Mentoring Program provided me with professional learning and opportunities to network with other leaders from across the state. My mentor met with me regularly and helped me to reflect on my practice and identify areas for professional growth. The 2 years in the mentoring program were definitely a worthwhile investment of my time and energy. I felt compelled to pay it forward, so I began volunteering in the CALSA Mentoring Program, helping to plan and coordinate mentoring events and workshops and even serving as a mentor in two cohorts.
When the sitting director took on a new role in the organization, the California Latino Superintendents and Administrators Executive Board wanted a leader who could take the mentoring program to another level and invited me to take on the role of Director of Mentoring. I gladly accepted. Since its inception, over 400 California school leaders have participated in the CALSA Mentoring Program either as a protégé or as a mentor.
This year, we launched the 20th mentoring cohort, and I am proud to share that this cohort is an ethnically and racially diverse group of leaders who are all committed to working to improve outcomes for students in Latinx and other marginalized communities. Our program serves as a model for affiliate organizations across the country that are also working to both strengthen and diversify the leadership pipeline in their states.
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