Supporting Educational Leaders: Penn GSE Launches Strategic Leadership Certificate Program

October 28, 2021
A professor wearing a white shirt and striped tie addresses a classroom of students who are listening and taking notes. The screen in the background has a large pi symbol] [Photo caption] Dr. Zachary Hermann is executive director of Penn GSE’s Center for Professional Learning, which offers virtual programs to support educators at various levels in the face of changing educational environments.

Dr. Zachary Hermann is executive director of Penn GSE’s Center for Professional Learning, which offers virtual programs to support educators at various levels in the face of changing educational environments. Photo by Ryan Collerd

by Juliana Rosati

For Wendy McCulley, WG’91, GED’16, entering the virtual classroom of Penn GSE’s Strategic Leadership in Education Certificate Program was a welcome opportunity to gain perspective on day-to-day challenges during the first half of 2021. By connecting with program director Dr. Zachary Herrmann and her fellow participants, who were all educational leaders grappling with an unpredictable landscape amidst a pandemic and tumultuous current events, McCulley found a professional learning environment where everyone’s voice would be heard.

“I enrolled because I needed the opportunity and the space for supported reflection,” says McCulley, who is interim chief of engagement and external partnerships at Fresno Unified School District in Fresno, California, and a member of Penn GSE’s Alumni Leadership Board. “It would have been rare in this year to get a balcony view of leadership practices, but the program afforded me that.”

Part of a slate of virtual offerings from Penn GSE’s Center for Professional Learning, the Strategic Leadership in Education Certificate Program is designed to help leaders strengthen their effectiveness and deepen their impact on schools, districts, colleges, universities, and other educational organizations. McCulley and her classmates, many of them Penn GSE alumni, were the program’s first cohort of participants. 

Like McCulley, Sarah Jewett, GR’03, director of innovations in transfer research and practice at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, values the perspective she gained from the experience. “I appreciated the multifaceted inquiry into leadership—reflective processes, collaborative strategies, and culturally responsive practices,” she says.

Waldo Alvarado, GED’90, director of equity and diversity at Reading School District in Reading, Pennsylvania, reports meaningful learning among classmates. “I found great opportunities to share challenges and promising practices, and to network with fellow educational leaders from around the country,” he says. 

Practical learning in a community of peers is a hallmark of the Center for Professional Learning, according to Herrmann, the Center’s executive director. “Our programs help educators translate research and big ideas into tangible strategies and practices they can use daily,” he says. Another hallmark is the expertise of GSE and Penn faculty. The inaugural team for the strategic leadership program included Penn GSE Dean Pam Grossman and Penn psychology professor Angela Duckworth.

“I believe all educators can learn to use psychological science to help people thrive. Setting goals and pursuing them is one example,” says Dr. Duckworth, who is the Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor at Penn with a secondary appointment at Penn GSE. “In the Strategic Leadership in Education Certificate Program, I worked directly with educators and leaders to explore and apply cutting-edge, research-based goal setting and planning strategies.”

Across its programs, the Center aims to bring the expertise of faculty to bear on urgent issues facing education professionals. In addition to strategic leadership in education, topics of its certificate programs include project-based learning, international college advising, race and diversity in higher education, instructional coaching, and college athletics for senior leaders. While these programs take place over several months, the Center’s institutes and workshops address similar topics in a shorter format. “We have programs that support novice educators as well as seasoned leaders, and everyone in between,” says Herrmann. 

As educators continue to face a challenging era, members of the first strategic leadership cohort are applying the knowledge they gained. “I found so many useful tools throughout the program that I was able to use in my school,” says María Paz Gatica, GED’13, director of curriculum and instruction at The Next Step Public Charter School in Washington, DC. “Learning more about leadership competencies and crisis management really helped me better navigate all the challenges and difficult conversations that we are having right now.”

Visit www.gse.upenn.edu/professional-learning to learn more about the Center’s certificate programs, institutes, and workshops. The next application deadline for the Strategic Leadership in Education Certificate Program is February 11.

This article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of The Penn GSE Magazine.