Penn Educational Leadership Simulation Program

Learning from and building on leaders' experiences tackling real-world challenges.

Project Overview

The Penn Educational Leadership Simulations (PELS) Program builds on the rich experiences of veteran educational leaders by creating problem-based simulations in both online and in-person formats. The goal of this venture is to develop human capital in school leadership through blended peer-to-peer (P2P) professional interactions. Since 2011, PELS has trained school and district leaders to author computer-based pathing simulations (“sims”), drawing out leaders’ own experiences tackling real-world challenges. In recent years, collaborations with Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, School of Nursing, and School of Social Policy and Practice have allowed for an expansion and exploration of this work through in-person, interdisciplinary, simulated case scenarios. 

The design of this program allows for the perpetual development, update, and improvement of these tools and ensures that they remain realistic and relevant in fueling critical conversations in educational leadership. Not only do simulations enhance opportunities for exploratory and problem-based learning in safe educational environments, they also offer school and district leaders the chance to practice dealing with difficult and challenging situations in reflective ways. By building a committed and connected community of trained and experienced simulation developers who are themselves leaders in preK-12 schools and districts, PELS is able to help large numbers of principals and superintendents develop complex skills in realistic but low-risk ways.

Since 2010 the Penn Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership has incubated PELS. Approximately two dozen sims have been developed in English, some in Spanish, and others are under development. Further, through this effort, the Mid-Career Doctoral Program and PELS programs have continued to explore live, in-person simulations through collaborations with other schools at the University of Pennsylvania.

Online Simulation Development

The culminating product for computer-based simulation development and authorship activities is the thoughtful construction of each participant's own micro-simulation (or "micro-sim"). Each is focused in scope and time and involves a limited number of actions or decision points. Every micro-sim contributes to a library of diverse sim titles that are housed by the PELS Program.

Drawing on this library, we select the best and combine multiple micro-sims (created by different people) into "multi-sim product packages.” These packages are affordable for use by school districts and leadership training programs while still supporting the building and growth of a sustainable initiative and program. The bundled sims are also available as supplemental materials to existing educational leadership courses and may be used as course materials in our workshops, Fellows Institutes, and additional sim-based professional development offered by the collaborating professional associations – AASA, NAESP and NASSP. 

An integral component of the sims development process is peer review. Reviewers are practitioners from a variety of educational settings with specific content expertise. After a short orientation session, PELS reviewers view the computer-based simulations and the written scripts and provide feedback on the accuracy and authenticity of the sim. Peer review ensures that the leadership challenges presented in the sims are a purposeful intersection of theory and practice.

Watch a PELS Simulation

The culminating product for computer-based simulation development and authorship activities is the thoughtful construction of each participant's own micro-simulation (or "micro-sim"). Each is focused in scope and time and involves a limited number of actions or decision points. Every micro-sim contributes to a library of diverse sim titles that are housed by the PELS Program.

Meet the Fellows

PELS Author Fellows come from a variety of backgrounds in education, all sharing at least two common characteristics: extensive experience as a practitioner of educational leadership and a strong academic background. Current and past program fellows include: 

Mustafa Abdul-Jabbar, Ed.D.*
Attorney, Vinson & Elkins, Dallas, Texas
Formerly Chief Executive Officer, E Pluribus Unum Charter School Project, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tina Arrington
Counselor
Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Washington, DC

Carol Baker, Ed.D.
Educational Consultant
Formerly Language Arts/Social Studies Supervisor, Flemington-Raritan Regional School District, Flemington, New Jersey

Nikole Booker
Principal Coach, Office of Leadership
New York City Department of Education, New York

Peter Carpenter, Ed.D.*
NAESP PELS Fellow
Coordinator, Accelerated Learning and Intervention
Harford County Public Schools, Bel Air, Maryland

Andrea Danial, Ed.D.
Head of Lower School
The Ranney School, Tinton Falls, New Jersey

Ronald Fay
Principal
Rangeview High School, Aurora, Colorado

Pam Greenblatt, Ed.D.
Director, Enrichment & Learning Center (ELC)
The Haverford School, Haverford, Pennsylvania

Linda Grobman, Ed.D.
Chief Academic Officer
Nobel Learning Communities Incorporated, West Chester, Pennsylvania

Christopher Hancock
Assistant Head of School
Eagle Hill School, Hardwick, Massachusetts

Kiet Hoang
formerly Deputy Executive Director for International Education
Van Lang Corporation/Van Lang University, Vietnam

Julie King
Director of Educational Technology and Computer Teacher
The Buckley School, New York City, New York

Karen Kolsky, Ed.D.
Deputy Chief of School Operations
School District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

John LePelley
Head of School
Cleveland School of the Arts, Cleveland, Ohio

Patricia Lesesne
Instructional Designer
reDesign, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Christine Mahady, Ed.D.
Principal
Greensburg Central Catholic High School, Greensburg, Pennsylvania

David Martin
Assistant Principal
New York City Department of Education, New York

Renee McCall
Headmaster
Excel High School, Boston, Massachusetts

Sarah McMenamin, Ed.D.
Director of Early Childhood Education Programs
Germantown Friends School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Kristy Miller
Fiscal Compliance Officer
Prince George’s County Public Schools, Maryland

Ryan Monaghan, Ed.D.
K-12 Supervisor of Instruction & Language Arts
Owen J. Roberts School District, Pottstown, Pennsylvania

Monica Palmer, Ed.D.
Dean of Faculty/Fine Arts Teacher
The Governor’s Academy, Byfield, Massachusetts

Curtis Palmore
CEO
The Community Charter School of Paterson, New Jersey

Wilbur Parker, Ed.D.
Assistant Professor – Educational Leadership and Science Education
Howard University, Washington, DC

Melissa “Missie” Patschke, Ed.D.*
NAESP PELS Fellow
Principal
Upper Providence Elementary School, Royersford, Pennsylvania

Juliette Pennyman, Ed.D.
Assistant Superintendent
Woodland Hills School District, North Braddock, Pennsylvania

Francisco Larraín Ríos, Ed.D.
Associate Dean
Universidad de los Andes, Santiago, Chile

Michael Roth, Ed.D.
Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning
Southern Lehigh School District, Center Valley, Pennsylvania

Kathleen Sciarappa, Ed.D.*
NAESP PELS Fellow
Graduate Teaching Lecturer, Educational Leadership
Plymouth State University, New Hampshire

William Thomas
Director of Science
Mastery Charter Schools

Terence Williams
Principal
Benjamin Franklin Middle School, Teaneck, New Jersey

Eric Yoak, Ed.D.*
Assistant Principal
New York City Department of Education, New York

*Note: Fellows include sim authors from some of the Mid-Career Doctoral Program’s associated colleague organizations – AASA, NAESP, NASSP, and other programs at Penn GSE.

Cross-University Collaborations: Standardized Professionals (SPs) & In-Person Simulations 

Developing Professional Judgement of Philadelphia School Principals

2018-Present

This project explores the application of standardized patient (SP) methodology to the training and assessment of school principals to gauge and develop professional judgment and leadership skills. A collaboration between the SP Program at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and the PELS Program, this project involves the design and production of standardized parent, teacher, and/or student simulations involving stressful, culturally relevant situations that Philadelphia school leaders commonly face. Guided by current practitioner leaders, this project brings together a unique combination of research expertise, field experience, and cross-profession collaboration to begin to tackle this fundamental challenge in groundbreaking ways. 

Serving LGBTQ Youth and Families: Preparing the Next Generation of Social Workers, Teachers, School Counselors, and Nurses

Penn Futures Project

To better serve LGBTQ youth and their families – particularly transgender youth of color – there is a pressing need to expand training opportunities and curriculum content for the next generation of social workers, teachers, school counselors, and nurses. In 2017, faculty, students, and alumni from Penn Schools of Social Policy and Practice, Penn GSE, and Penn Nursing worked with partners from the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP) and The Attic Youth Center. Together, they reviewed classroom and field learning opportunities for Penn graduate students at all three schools, with the intent of preparing the next generation of clinical and educational professionals to better serve this vulnerable population. In January 2018, the interdisciplinary, live simulation brought together over thirty students and alumni from all three schools to experience and learn from a simulation focused on supporting the medical and mental health of LGBTQ adolescents in a school setting.

Read more about this and other Penn Futures projects. 

Program Leadership

Penn GSE Michael JohanekMichael Johanek, Program Director

Michael Johanek, Ed.D., is a Senior Fellow at Penn GSE and Director of its Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership, Co-Director of the Inter-American Educational Leadership Network (IAELN/RILE), and affiliated faculty for the International Educational Development Program. Before coming to Penn in 2007, Dr. Johanek served as Vice President of Professional Services for Teachscape, a for-profit blended technology services company. He is the former Executive Director for K-12 Professional Development, The College Board, where he managed programs supporting over 500,000 middle and high school teachers, college faculty, coordinators, and administrators, including those involved in the Advanced Placement Program. There, he founded, developed, and managed a program development and operations department with responsibilities including new product development, in-person training, web services, electronic and print publications, regional office operational support, marketing and research. Committed to building and sustaining professional networks of educational leaders, Dr. Johanek actively explores and develops synergistic opportunities to bring together resources, ideas, and people to create innovative ways to support educational improvement. 

Dr. Johanek is an editor of Repositioning Educational Leadership: Practitioners Leading from an Inquiry Stance (Teachers College Press, 2018) and author of Making Up Our Mind: What School Choice Is Really About (The University of Chicago Press, anticipated spring 2019).

Eric Bernstein PELS Associate Program DirectorEric Bernstein, Associate Program Director

Eric Bernstein, J.D., Ed.D., is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership in the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education. Dr. Bernstein holds a joint appointment with the School of Dental Medicine, where he is the Director of Curriculum Advancement. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Bernstein was at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, with extensive experience in online and distance learning graduate degree programs. Before entering higher education, Dr. Bernstein worked as a middle school math and social studies teacher, a middle school assistant principal, and a middle and high school principal. His research interests include professional development–including the use of simulations for pre-service and in-service educational leadership development, professional education and curriculum development, school discipline policy, and social justice in education.

Dr. Bernstein has a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Connecticut. He is a graduate of the Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership and an active Mid-Career Program Network Associate. Dr. Bernstein brings to the PELS Program deep insights into the lived experiences of educational leaders and the contexts in which they work. These insights and experiences uniquely position Dr. Bernstein to understand the complex nature of interpersonal relations between school leaders, staff, parents, and students, a key aspect of what we hope to bring forward and further explore through the PELS Program.

Dr. Sonya HarrisonSonya Harrison, Network Lead

Dr. Sonya Harrison, a native of Brooklyn, New York and a graduate of New York City public schools, has enjoyed twenty-plus years as an educator within the New York City and Philadelphia public schools. As a leader in various capacities, her main focus is to provide instructional support and professional development to educators for the implementation of best practices in the areas of instructional and systems leadership. As a former principal in Philadelphia, Dr. Harrison reinvigorated the academic and social programs through the maintenance of a viable university partnership (University of Pennsylvania), a successful Community School, and a positive school climate through the incorporation of Positive Behavior Supports (PBS). She believes effective leaders positively influence the learning culture of an organization. Effective leaders create intentional learning for students by helping educators reflect and focus on their pedagogy, and by collaborating and partnering with key stakeholders.

In addition to her experience as an administrator within a large, urban school district, Dr. Harrison has served as a peer coach and presented extensively in the area of school leadership at conferences and in community forums. Through her experience as an Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Harrison has become more interested in deepening her understanding of issues that face administrators in urban schools while seeking solutions to the many challenges they face. This interest has led Dr. Harrison to an intense and strategic collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and the University of Pennsylvania Perelman Medical School to create innovative, flexible, learning experiences for school administrators through the use of simulations. The purpose of this collaboration is to assist leaders with building their individual skill development in order to improve leadership practices.

Contact Us

If you would like more information on the PELS Program or are interested in becoming involved with this exciting innovation in educational leadership preparation and professional development, please send an e-mail to mcprog@gse.upenn.edu