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Impact Academy provides “a place of refuge” for leaders during crisis

Deans for Impact

Category: Leadership

When Dr. Christy Harris, Dean of the Relay Graduate School of Education in Atlanta, joined Impact Academy, she thought she knew what her adaptive challenge would be: infusing cultural responsiveness into the school’s curriculum and teaching practices.

2020 had other ideas.

The year compounded crisis upon crisis, as the coronavirus pandemic shut down society and calls for racial justice intensified in the wake of violence.

“We all just didn’t know what to expect in the world of education and teacher preparation — it was uncharted territory,” Harris said.

Just about everything that could change in her organization did. The school shifted classes to be online. The structure and staffing changed. Roles and responsibilities shifted or were eliminated. Students experienced trauma.

“I had to help the people that I supported work through all these changes, and not only that, but help them be optimistic during a time that was really difficult,” Harris said. “Thank goodness I had Impact Academy during that time, because it was my saving grace, it really was.”

She found solace in her coach, Dr. Andrea Kent, Dean of College of Education and Professional Studies at the University of Southern Alabama, as news of layoffs and changes rolled down the pike. Dr. Kent helped Harris to get centered by acknowledging her vulnerability and stress, then refocusing her attention towards navigating the bad news.

“Andi helped calm my spirit. She helped me figure out the next step — not that she gave it to me, but she helped me to get out of my head and determine what to do from there. She was really valuable in helping me to figure out that I can get us through this and I did,” Harris said.

Knowing that conversations in Impact Academy are strictly guarded by confidentiality, Harris felt free to share candidly about her worries and questions in coaching sessions and in virtual gatherings with other fellows.

“It’s so good to be vulnerable, because usually, you know, you have to lead all day. But at Impact Academy, you come into a space with peers, and hear, hey, here’s what’s going on. And they not only help you through it, but they understand,” she said. “We were able to work through all these changes together because we were dealing with similar problems with the pandemic. It was really helpful to have people to bounce ideas off of, who really understand what you’re going through and what’s happening.”

As the difficult year wore on, she found herself increasingly grateful to be part of the community of Impact Academy.

“It actually becomes a place of refuge,” she explained. “It was something I looked forward to every month, because I knew I could spend that time focusing on the thing that I needed to focus on, with people who could help me think through it. It’s a gift to yourself as a leader to be able to be a part of it.”

This year, she’s offering that sense of refuge to others, having moved into the coaching role herself.

“What Impact Academy offered me, I was really excited about being able to offer to others. The people I coach are really smart people, intelligent people, people who have been doing this job for even longer than I have, and it’s like being able to give them the canvas to do their painting. You are the expert, you are the artist here, you are the phenomenal leader; how do I give you the canvas to paint this leadership picture for yourself?”

She knows firsthand the value of this coaching, and its importance during a year which many see as being even more difficult than the last.

“As people are coming out of where we were last year with the pandemic, there’s still the aftereffects of it on our K-12 students, our education students, our faculty and us as leaders. There’s racial tensions that were in the air last year that we’re now seeing play out in court cases—we’re still dealing with a lot of this. It’s so important to be able to come together and have the space to ask how to help your students, and their students, and the profession flourish in a time that’s so difficult.”

By working together, she hopes to create an education system in which teachers are able to meet every child’s needs in an environment that’s sustainable for them.

“Just as education has to adapt and change, we have to adapt and change,” she said. “Being able to continuously grow your leadership style and leadership approach and be adaptive to the changing environment is so important, because many of us have had to deal with situations we’ve never dealt with before. So we have to continuously grow in our leadership if we want to ensure that our students are successful, and it’s really valuable to be part of a community where you can be vulnerable enough to do that.”

Are you interested in joining Impact Academy next year? Applications are now open.