Director's message

Empowering all students takes courageous leaders: CEL’s new vision for student experiences and a mission to get there.

In their recent book, Leading for Professional Learning, my colleagues Anneke Markholt, Joanna Michelson and Stephen Fink begin by acknowledging that, “Our nation has work to do. Deep and historically entrenched economic, political, and social chasms continue to create systemic barriers to student learning that result in educational disparities, dividing our nation’s children along the lines of race, class, and language.”

As alluded to, these societal chasms have been a part of the education landscape for generations and continue to be persistent obstacles to achieving equitable outcomes for too many students. In fact, not too long ago – roughly half a generation – my friend and mentor Stephen Fink courageously launched the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership with a dedication to eliminating the achievement gap.

I don’t use the word courageously lightly. As we’ve seen in our work over the past 18 years with leaders in school systems, the leaders who willingly and boldly take on the daunting challenge of eliminating educational inequities are truly courageous.

At CEL, we have had the privilege of working daily with these courageous leaders across the country, whether they are teaching in classrooms, leading schools or providing the systems, structures and resources to support equitable student learning.

Together, you and we have worked from shared beliefs in equity, in the potential of every student, and in the critical importance of quality teaching, learning and leading. We know that these beliefs are central to our core values and joint work.

Over the past year, my CEL colleagues and I have been envisioning the next 18 years for our organization and the course we want to chart with you.

Our entire CEL team worked together throughout the year to answer questions such as:

  • What do we truly hope for students, families and communities?
  • What experiences do we want for adults working in and with schools?
  • What do we believe is the potential of school systems across the country?
  • How do we want to work with our courageous partners in school systems?
  • What will inspire us and what do we want to be held accountable for?

We knew that our answers to these questions would inform the creation of new vision and mission statements that would guide us internally as well as in our joint work with you. We knew that these statements would inspire us and you to continue the courageous work teaching, learning and leading with a heightened sense of urgency. The ideas in the statements would form the foundation from which we will build and grow together. While relying on our past we are excited about our path forward.

Answering these questions fueled our passion to become an organization that truly puts students, particularly those traditionally furthest from opportunity, into the heart of our work. We know that we alone can’t change the societal chasms, but we can be fierce stewards for creating empowering school experiences for students.

We challenged ourselves to articulate the greatest aspiration of what can and should happen for students in school. Students should have school experiences that are driven by their interests, goals and aspirations.

Deeply embedded in this vision is the importance of student empowerment and a definition of success that means students leave school with the skills, dispositions, habits and passions necessary to create limitless futures for themselves – with ripple effects for their families and communities.

Too often, school is a place where students lose their power. The school systems in our vision embrace a very different paradigm of student experience and learning. For this to happen today’s leaders must challenge themselves to transform their schools to achieve this vision.

The courageous leaders in our vision embrace the following principles:

  • A belief that there are leaders throughout schools who can work alongside those in formally designated leadership roles. To us, anyone willing to accept the challenge of transforming their school is a courageous leader.
  • A commitment to the idea that all members of the school community are important assets able to support and further student success. In these schools, roles are fluid and all experience rigorous opportunities to teach, learn and lead.
  • An understanding that educational inequities are the result of historic and current school designs that can be changed to eliminate the predictability of race, income and language on student outcomes. For us this means constantly questioning who is successful in school and pushing relentlessly on behalf of those who aren’t succeeding yet.
  • Most importantly, an understanding that the student experience inside and outside the classroom is one that builds on the agency, curiosity and creativity that students bring with them to school every day. Ultimately, these are schools in which all members of the community are valued, believed in, and expected to thrive.

In honor of all the courageous leaders working to empower students, I am excited to use my final blog post of the school year to share CEL’s new vision and mission.

Our Vision:

Transformed schools empowering all students, regardless of background, to create limitless futures for themselves, their families, their communities, and the world.

Our Mission:

We partner with courageous leaders in classrooms, schools, and the systems that support them to eliminate educational inequities by creating cultures of rigorous teaching, learning and leading.

As we publicly release these statements, we are also learning how to work differently with our partner school systems across the country. We will continue to deepen our knowledge of the leadership and teaching most likely to positively impact students, and we are equally committed to building relationships that embrace our partners as leaders, thinkers and problem solvers on behalf of the students they serve. The way forward for us is in working together as equals. We are excited about the journey in front of us. We hope that you will join us as a partner, critical friend, funder or collaborator.


Max Silverman
Executive Director
University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership