TCHERS' VOICE / Professional Learning

Tch Talks 15: Women Leaders in Education: Sonia Nieto

Women Leaders In Education

It was a Thursday afternoon when I interviewed Sonia. After a long day at school, my mind was busy negotiating what was and was not accomplished. Like most days, I struggled with my work-home balance and feverishly ran home to switch gears, quiet my self-doubt, and prepare for our interview.

Sonia Nieto is a leader, activist, author, and advocate well known for her work in diversity, equity, and social justice in education. Professor Emerita of Language, Literacy, and Culture at the School of Education, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Author of Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education, Sonia has been working in education for nearly 50 years. She taught at the first fully bilingual school in the Northeast and was later recruited to a position in higher education, as a member of the Puerto Rican Studies Department at Brooklyn College. As she grew to love higher education, she worked toward her doctorate in curriculum studies with concentrations in multicultural and bilingual education. She has spent 26 years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst teaching preservice and practicing teachers, and doctoral students.

Sonia’s voice was calm, present, warm, and comforting. Her words soothed my anxious spirit. In speaking with Sonia, her expertise in understanding teachers, especially teachers who are women and women of color, was evident. Speaking to the many challenges, Sonia shared words of wisdom to empower and to comfort.

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Some of Sonia’s real, honest, and comforting messages include:

  • (5:55) The importance of listening to others who believe in us, when we may not believe in ourselves.
  • (8:50) The idea that leaders in education should be mentors as a way of giving back and being examples of what can be achieved.
  • (9:58) Addressing the challenge of self-doubt.
  • (11:00) The importance of seeing leaders who look like us. In particular, women and more specifically women of color, need to see other women as leaders to diminish some of the doubt and increase one’s willingness to strive toward leadership roles.
  • (11:30) The challenge of how to find and amplify one’s voice as a leader, and the specific challenges women face in being heard in comparison to male counterparts.
  • (19:50) The value of “finding other things to love besides the kids you teach and the profession you're in” as self-preservation in the field of education.

While Sonia’s messages were powerful, so was the focus on her family. She often mentioned her husband and children, with great pride, as her inspiration and her foundation.

As you listen to Sonia’s interview, I believe you'll be empowered and inspired as well. And it's my hope that you're comforted by the notion that even the most admired leaders have moments of doubt and need our support and encouragement.

Crystal Morey is a K-6 instructional coach in Kent, Washington. Crystal spent the past seven years teaching middle level mathematics. She’s a strong advocate of inquiry-based mathematics instruction, as well as increasing student voice in the classroom. Crystal has partnered with a variety of organizations on projects, including Illustrative Mathematics, Washington STEM, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington State. When not teaching, Crystal is a mom to two energetic children. She utilizes her many life experiences to speak about the challenges and opportunities many educators face. Connect with Crystal on Twitter: @TheMathDancer.


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