Education Leadership Conference Considers Definitions of Success

Defining Success: Understanding Our Aspirations for Students

From pre-kindergarten admission to college graduation, education is a complicated tangle of institutions involving a range of stakeholders—students, parents, teachers, administrators, nonprofits, governments, and private companies. To make such a system successful first means understanding what “success” means. This year’s Education Leadership Conference, a student-run conference on April 7 and 8, convened more than 800 diverse attendees around precisely this question.

Success can often be understood through a set of numbers—test scores, graduation rates, college matriculation rates. But in many cases, positive outcomes aren’t as easily quantified. Tevera Stith, director of KIPP Through College, speaking as part of a panel on getting students into top colleges, described how women, students of color, and first-generation immigrants often withdraw themselves into near invisibility when on college campuses. But, she noted, a study has shown that students who are able to realize a personal sense of ownership at their school are more successful. With this in mind, KIPP takes its scholars on campus visits to help them “take up as much space as that kid sitting next to [them] in class.” For KIPP, realizing ownership is one measure of success.

And though all the conference-goers were likeminded in their aspirations to improve education, even they struggled to agree on universal measures of success. “What does successful parent engagement look like?” asked Richard Gray, a director at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and a moderator on a panel about this subject. He opened the floor to seven minutes of discussion among attendees. “Success is having tough, courageous conversations,” said one participant when the room reconvened. “It’s about building relationships that are not based on problems,” said another. A dozen more attendees offered a dozen more distinct insights.

Amid the varied perspectives, a sense of agreement emerged around the necessity of empathy. “Empathy development—that’s the hardest work,” said Malene Kai Bell, a restorative practices specialist at the Community Conferencing Center. She noted the vast gulf that often exists between adults and students. “In the end, it’s about mutual respect and taking care of each other.”

About the Event

The theme for the 2016 Education Leadership Conference is “Defining Success: Understanding Our Aspirations for Students.” For the last decade, the Yale School of Management Education Leadership Conference (ELC) has gathered teachers, parents, community members, school leaders, and politicians who have dedicated their lives and careers to students. While all of these leaders strive to do what is best for our students, they often have different visions for what that should be. The 2016 ELC, our 10th anniversary, will explore the different aspirations we have for our students. From arts to academics, character to college, we’ll investigate our goals for kids and examine how our own experiences, perspectives, and biases inform how we define and work toward student success. Registration opens in January 2016. More details to come.

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