Branching out, together

Today marks a day both bittersweet and joyous here in Austin, as Dr. Cassandra Herring formally launches the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity (BranchED), a new organization devoted to building capacity at educator-preparation programs within minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

The reasons for joy are obvious. In launching BranchED, Dr. Herring has created an an entity that will help drive the growing movement to better prepare future teachers for our nation’s children. As the former dean of the College of Education at Hampton University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Virginia, Dr. Herring knows firsthand how to lead the transformative work that is needed at programs that have all too often been neglected and underresourced. To have a new organization dedicated to strengthening these programs is something to celebrate, and celebrate loudly.

Yet the work of BranchED does not begin with a “deficit model” approach but instead seeks to elevate the strengths that many MSI programs already possess. Let me highlight just one example.

There is a common refrain within the HBCU community that HBCU institutions “take our students from where they are…to where they need to be.” That simple, elegant phrase underscores that the shared mission of HBCUs is to serve the students in their care. In a field where “research” can often crowd out other important goals, there is much that other institutions of higher education can learn from HBCUs about focusing on student experience. BranchED will highlight and celebrate these strengths and others within the MSI community.

But this brings me to the bittersweet. The only reason I know this HBCU refrain is that Dr. Herring told me about it when she became a member of Deans for Impact during her tenure at Hampton. Through our conversations together, she developed the idea for BranchED, and we at Deans for Impact have had the honor and privilege of incubating her work over the past year, right here in Austin. She has shared with our team her keen insight and warm sense of humor — and downed a few alcoholic milkshakes with us in the process. During her time as member and then “dean in residence” at Deans for Impact, she has brought home the importance of having true diversity — of perspective, of history, and yes, of race too — on our team. We will miss her greatly.

Happily, however, this is not an end but a beginning. Going forward, the relationship between BranchED and Deans for Impact will remain tightly aligned. Both organizations are devoted to strengthening programs that prepare future teachers. Both organizations see educator-preparation programs within minority-serving institutions as vital to ensuring we have well-prepared educators of color serving all communities in this country. And both organizations intend to work together as allies in support of that shared goal, with BranchED providing comprehensive support to such programs, and Deans for Impact continuing to foster leadership development across the field.

Deans for Impact stands shoulder to shoulder with BranchED as we mutually work to transform educator preparation across all institutions in this country. I am so very happy — and a tiny bit wistful — for my friend Cassandra as she begins this new journey. Onward together we go!

Benjamin Riley

Founder and Executive Director

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