How Can Education Leaders Break Through the Challenges of Today?

Meeting the demands of the post-pandemic era will require new skills and preparations.

By Pedro A. Noguera, Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean of the USC Rossier School of Education

On August 31—the first day of school at Long Beach Unified—Superintendent Jill Baker EdD ’04 asks first graders at Roosevelt Elementary School if they have lost any teeth yet. Photo/Getty Images, Brittany Murray, Long Beach Press-Telegram)

As the nation’s schoolchildren and college students returned to classrooms this fall, educational leaders found themselves confronting a variety of unprecedented challenges and controversies wrought by the pandemic. Still contending with the serious public health threat, superintendents, school boards and college administrators are dealing with mask and vaccine mandates (or none), as well as vociferous opposition to each; student learning loss; an alarming rise in mental health needs; greater awareness of the systemic inequities that threaten the well-being of children and families; and bitter debates over critical race theory and how to teach the history of racism in America. What a way to start the school year!

To navigate these issues while keeping an eye firmly focused on student support and outcomes, educational leaders find themselves compelled to acquire a new set of skills. Resourcefulness, tact and diplomacy, and an ability to communicate to divided constituencies are just some of the attributes required. What is needed is a form of leadership that many educators lack training or experience in, through no fault of their own.

This issue of USC Rossier Magazine explores how we might address the gap in real-world preparation that educators may be experiencing. How do those in leadership positions break through the challenges they are confronting to make a difference for their students and communities?

At USC Rossier, we believe the answers lie in our willingness to re-examine how we prepare these leaders, and we are looking at our own curriculum and approach to graduate training. As one of the nation’s premier producers of educational leaders, USC Rossier is committed to ensuring that these professionals receive the very best training for tackling the complex issues they will face. We will do this, in part, by ensuring that our faculty has the knowledge and experience—but also the intuition and the empathy—to instill the next generation of “Breakthrough Leaders” with these same vital qualities.

One leader and USC Rossier alumnus whom you’ll read about in this issue emphasizes the need for much more of one simple human quality. It’s a quality that is fleeting at the best of times, but one that he feels is in especially short supply in our world right now. You’ll also read how USC Rossier is moving to support him and all Breakthrough Leaders, from K−12 through higher education, through innovative policy proposals and groundbreaking research. And you will get additional perspective from alumni leaders working in fields outside education.

As the return to school proceeds and we watch the news, warily, hoping that our long period of disruption soon ends, USC Rossier is committed to equipping today’s leaders as fully and effectively as we can to meet the historic new demands of their profession.

Fight On!
Pedro A. Noguera, PhD
Distinguished Professor of Education
Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean
USC Rossier School of Education

This story appeared in the USC Rossier Magazine Fall/Winter 2021 issue as “Dean’s Byline.”