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.
Education is something no one can take away from you.
As Peggy Brookins’ grandmother once told her, the more you know, the more you’re able to walk your own path in the world. Peggy’s grandmother, who was born at the turn of the century, was her greatest inspiration. She demanded that Peggy persevere and walk her own path, rather than be a follower — and that’s precisely what she’s done. Whether it was her trailblazing spirit that started a STEM school or her work as CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), Peggy has provided an example of focus, drive, and strong leadership, and has helped others to see women of color as leaders.
Sitting down to talk with Kristin felt like talking with a friend.
Kristen Swanson, founder of EdCamp and current Director of Learning at Slack, brings to the table an accomplished career in education and leadership, but during our interview, I was most in awe of her humility and down to earth nature.
It was incredibly clear that, in her life, she listens, connects, and elevates the ideas of others. These qualities are all components that likely enabled her to create the EdCamp platform. For readers not familiar, EdCamp is an “unconference” where participants drive the content, structure, and flow of their professional development on the day of the event. EdCamp provides ownership of ideas, participant voice, internal motivation, and relevance to teachers seeking to redefine their professional learning experiences.
Our new series, Women Leaders in Education, shares powerful narratives from female trailblazers in education. Our first interview is with Linda Darling-Hammond. An educational leader focused on bridging education and policy, Linda Darling-Hammond is an advocate, author, reformer, professor, and policymaker. She has been instrumental in shaping many areas within the education ecosystem, including teaching standards, assessments, educational systems, and education policy. Teachers across the nation continue to be inspired and encouraged by her powerful and thoughtful messages.
I grew up with the belief that I could do anything — that being born a woman wouldn’t impede my path to achieving my goals or obtaining a leadership role. One of two girls, I was raised learning how to fish in the ocean, play sports, and dance. Moreover, both of my parents held two jobs so traditional gender-based roles were not my norm. I often felt empowered because I was surrounded by strong female coaches and role models who inspired me to reach beyond what even I thought possible.
It wasn’t until high school that I understood being a strong, intelligent woman may not always be a popular choice. While running for student body president, I campaigned against a young man who wore a gold colored t-shirt to school every day and took on the nickname “golden boy.” Void of a dense platform, I assumed my marketing, clever ideas, and rich resume would convince the student body that I was the best candidate. Unfortunately, this was an incorrect assumption and I lost in what might be considered a landslide. That moment gave me pause and made me doubt whether I really could do anything. Surely I had the talent to be a leader, but would others be able to see it too?