In spring of this year, I commented in an Open Letter to the Field that “the promise that every child, youth, and adult will have an equal opportunity under the law to access a quality education, get a decent job, and make enough to lead a middle class life was at risk unless IEL and many of its partners were to take different steps.” In that letter, I invited our partners and constituents to engage in an ongoing dialogue about six initial strategic considerations for IEL:
- Make economic development and community empowerment more explicit elements in IEL’s pursuit of greater equity;
- Double down on collaborative leadership development in and with communities;
- Expand IEL’s research and development capacity to design and test innovative policies and programs for the most vulnerable youth, adults, families, and communities;
- Step up IEL’s role in bringing visibility to the issues facing the most vulnerable;
- Strengthen IEL’s position as a school improvement and workforce development intermediary; and
- Focus IEL’s work in communities where opportunity gaps are the greatest.
This dialogue evolved into a process, which I prefer to describe as a strategic renewal rather than as a strategic planning process. Since summer 2017, IEL has engaged all of its staff, Board members, partners, funders, and constituents in this process. I am happy to report that in early 2018, we will release this plan. Without revealing too much prematurely, I can share with you that the plan will present a clear and renewed sense of purpose and a strong three-pronged strategy of innovation, preparation, and mobilization of leaders of all ages, stages, roles, and contexts. The plan focuses us back on our core mission and competency of leadership development but refreshes this work for the times in pursuit of a Desired Future State, where Leaders are prepared to eliminate systemic barriers in education and workforce development and to create conditions, capacities, cultures, and policies necessary for everyone to succeed. As the plan will reveal, 2017 has been a year of planning and renewal.
2017 was most certainly a year of transition for IEL. New leadership for the organization and for IEL's Coalition for Community Schools and new internal policies, practices, structures, and processes have made 2017 a year of constant change. We have embraced that change, have supported our team members, as needed, and have capitalized on new ideas and fresh energy.
Capacity building was another hallmark this year. IEL has strengthened its networks. They have become larger and more cohesive. They involve over 35,000 leaders and practitioners now and our work is now deeply embedded in the grassroots and grass tops efforts of over 300 communities. We have solidified this asset and will increasingly leverage it as we use our leadership development and support work as the vehicle for scaling promising and proven policies, programs, and practices for greater equity.
We have also strengthened our team and continue to add different types of capacity. 2017 certainly was a year of intentional growth. I recall that when I applied for the job just over a year ago, that IEL had 22 team members. Today we have 38 permanent staff and three part-time staff/consultants for a total of 41. Our managers have made good hiring decisions and have brought in new talent with skills we were lacking previously. We now have a staff team that increasingly reflects America—but we still have work left to do in this area—and have the skill sets we will need to execute our 2018-2023 plan. I am very proud of the commitment our teams have made to IEL this year.
As we celebrated the holidays and our accomplishments last month, and as we reflected on our “failures” in 2017, we came to see how much a year of learning 2017 had been. As we integrate these lessons learned, we are filled with hope and confidence that in 2018 we will make significant improvements in our ability to positively impact the individuals and families in our programs, the communities, partners, and networks we work with. We are looking forward to working closely with you to eliminate barriers and create favorable conditions for everyone to succeed, particularly children, youth, adults, and families in communities where opportunity has been constrained, by design or otherwise.
Johan E. Uvin
Institute for Educational Leadership