Rachel Scarpato and Brittney Wray talk

Rooted, Recharged, and Reconnected for Greater Impact


Written by Leading Educators Staff

Rooted, Recharged, and Reconnected for Greater Impact

Four Takeaways from our Org-Wide Retreat

Connection and purpose fuel successful movements. In a society that’s becoming increasingly complex and more dispersed, alignment around purpose requires intention. That’s why we recently convened our team of nearly 100 career educators and leaders, strategists, designers, and advocates from across the country in the home of our newest partnership—Houston, Texas— for three days of deep planning, dialogue, and teambuilding.

overhead group photo of the Leading Educators staff

We gathered as colleagues, volunteered with families and educators at partner schools, and met with members of the Houston education community. 

For you—the members of our broader community—our planning team reflected on how we left and our hopes for the near future. We highlight four key takeaways that reflect our commitments to disrupting racial inequity, fostering continuous learning, building on our strengths, and prioritizing people. We hope our reflections inspire and support your efforts to create a more fair and just future.

Meeting the Moment

There’s a lot on the shoulders of educators right now. School system leaders are reckoning with historical inequity, the demands of a changing world, and the aftershocks of a global pandemic. Teachers face urgency to accelerate and reimagine learning, but they’re also feeling overwhelmed and under-resourced.

All of this is pushing schools to their limits. We know structural changes to how districts cultivate excellent teaching can’t wait, and we must be ready to help.

Our CEO, Chong-Hao Fu, echoed this call to action in an opening keynote, reflecting on his own educational trajectory as a Chinese-American, multilingual student, and career educator. He spoke about the importance of striving for excellence, overcoming challenges in collaboration, and reflecting on the wisdom of our ancestors. Quoting Kahil Gibran, he reminded us of the significance of the space we create for one another. These ideas grounded us in our purpose and set the tone for the next three days.

Disrupting racial inequity: Leaning Into Productive Discomfort

Since our founding in 2011, we have believed that excellent teaching has the potential to change lives. When we support teachers to be their best, they can inspire students to think more deeply about their learning, find confidence in themselves, and grasp the knowledge to build the world they imagine.

At the same time, we’ve worked to continuously interrogate and strengthen our approach to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. In that spirit, we kicked off a new partnership with Onward to take us even further. Alongside Onward, we will collaborate on a multi-year learning arc to expand our capacity for ongoing learning, equity-informed strategic planning, and collective ownership of initiatives focused on inclusion and belonging.

To revisit how partner districts are centering belonging alongside academic rigor in their leadership, check out this conversation with four school system leaders. 

Continuously learning: Digging in to Understand

Our commitment to continuous learning in pursuit of justice drives us to set ambitious goals that meet the moment and the needs of a changing future. We explored data and past trends using the National Equity Project’s Seven Circle Model to check our assumptions going into the next school year.

Organizations can get stuck in limiting patterns when reflecting on their history and past achievements. The Seven Circle Model encourages people to see new possibilities and find new opportunities for collective action by focusing on seven core technical and relational factors that affect organizations’ equity work.

Through our analysis of key problems of practice, we identified several promising areas for collaboration and organizational strengthening. These areas include building shared knowledge of innovations that emerge during professional learning implementation, balancing standardization and customization of core services, and telling stories of impact with data to prove that systemic change is possible.

Building on strengths: Centering CommUNITY Perspectives

An African proverb says, “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.” Likewise, improving educational opportunities across an entire community or city requires collective actions and shared ownership.

There’s a reason we chose Houston as the meeting place to root, reconnect and recharge into our mission. Beyond it being our newest district partnership and the hometown of our many colleagues, our reasoning was grounded in stories told through these facts and figures:

  • Houston is ranked the 9th most ethnically diverse city in the US.  
  • Less than 1 in 4 8th graders across Harris County earned an in-state postsecondary credential by the time they were 25
  • Texas ranks near the bottom for per-pupil spending across the US at 44th.
  • Houston is home to 25 independent School Districts– HISD being the largest in the state.    

Because we know our communities are our greatest asset, we held space for leaders from ProUnitas, Eight Million Stories, EMERGE, and St. Paul Cursillo Center to discuss their hopes for their community and the assets they see in Houston’s schools through their work.

Here’s some of what they said:

There is nothing about me that is self-made… Everything about me is community-made. And that is what I remind my students about as I work with them.” -Mayra Valle, Director of Learning & Design, EMERGE

I decided to take on the school-to-prison pipeline…[to] create a positive school environment, foster community, foster inclusion, right, and that starts with love.” -Marvin Pierre, Executive Director, Eight Million Stories 

Teachers have a very, very primary role in the ecosystem… to ensure that those basic needs, those emotional needs, those physical needs are met so that students feel safe and secure, and then are ready to learn.” -Edith Rahimian, Chief Program Officer, ProUnitas

Prioritizing People: Joy and Connection

action shots of staff doing fun activitiesPriya Parker, the acclaimed author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters, writes, “The way we gather matters… in democracies, the freedom to assemble is one of the foundational rights granted to every individual… why? Because of what can happen when people come together, exchange information, inspire one another, test out new ways of being together.”

During our retreat, we were reminded of the importance of prioritizing people to foster more humanistic ways of working. By embracing laughter, humanity, and genuine interactions, we create an environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and seen. We can build bridges and make meaningful progress toward a more equitable education system through these joyful connections. 

Here are a few examples of how we prioritized joy and connection:

  • We charted “trees of life” to delve deeper into one another’s lives beyond roles and titles. We reflected on “roots” (things about you that are not easily visible), “trunks” (things that you need to support and protect your roots), and “branches” (things that define who you are).
  • We joined forces with Good Reason Houston to recognize families, students, and educators at two partner elementary schools and celebrate a successful year.
  • We shared meals with one another, including a team dinner at Lucille’s, a nationally-acclaimed, Black-owned restaurant known for its delicious international spin on Southern cuisine. The restaurant was founded as a tribute to Lucille B. Smith, who was an educator, culinary innovator, and successful entrepreneur who founded her own food corporation.
  • We also had opportunities to bond across teams through activities, including a scenic bike ride around Houston, an escape room, rock climbing, axe throwing, and a food tour.

Looking Forward

Ultimately, our retreat was a powerful reminder of the importance of coming together as colleagues, connecting with our community, and prioritizing people in our work. We hope that our reflections and takeaways will inspire you in your efforts to make a meaningful difference.

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