Five questions for Cassandra Herring

Cassandra Herring is the dean of the School of Education and Human Development at Hampton University. The School, which consists of four academic departments and two non-academic units, enrolls more than 300 students across a range of degree programs. Within the School, the Department of Education is responsible for the education of future teachers. The Department has been highly successful in placing students in various areas of education: about 95 percent of its graduates receive jobs in their fields while the remaining 5 percent go on to graduate school.

What was your first role working in education?
My first role working in education was as Special Assistant to the President of a public land-grant college.  Organizationally, I was at the executive level, but there were no formal lines of authority reporting to me.  I was challenged, empowered, shocked, and inspired on a daily basis in my efforts to get things done.  With a bird’s eye view within the organization, and a nuanced understanding of the systems of constraints outside of it, I came to understand that making change requires more than wielding one’s power or tweaking the rules.  Real transformative power lives in motivating others to embrace a vision and a passion to serve others and, by extension, inspiring in them the will to work together to make a positive difference for the collective good.

What is one pivotal moment in your career in educator preparation that left a positive impact on you or others?
One of my fondest memories from middle school was when one of my teachers returned from a trip to another country and brought back a number of artifacts to introduce us to the culture that she encountered there.  There was something to touch, pictures of unique things to see, and something oddly yummy to eat.  I was reminded about this during my first year as an education dean.  I had the good fortune of interacting with a group of teacher candidates from a neighboring university who had just returned from a service-learning trip to Africa.  These candidates were absolutely on fire about education and were both passionate and confident about the change that they would make in the world through teaching.  I realized that, like my teacher, these young people would become windows to the world for their students, revealing to them the joy of exploring other cultures and discovering both similarities and differences.  Most importantly, these teachers would be better equipped to nurture our youngest global citizens because they had been empowered by an awe-inspiring, life-changing international experience themselves.  That day, on the drive home, I formulated and later launched the Global Education Initiative at my institution that seeks to provide every teacher candidate the opportunity to serve and study abroad at least once before graduation.

Why did you decide to join Deans for Impact?
I joined Deans for Impact to be among a community of educational leaders who are striving to find better ways of doing the things that our schools already do very well.  The deans of Deans for Impact are challenging the status quo, breaking down silos, scrutinizing assumptions, and forging a new normal in educator preparation. That new normal is characterized by genuine collaboration among a diversity of institutions, open dialogue and co-creation with PK-12 school partners, and high expectations for candidate performance with equal emphasis on establishing scaffolds of support.  I hope the group will continue to unapologetically reject the call to conform to conventional power structures that may be holding the field back from true innovation. I am honored to be among a group of educators that is solutions-focused and outcomes-driven and that has the audacity to believe that educational reform is an opportunity, not an indictment.

What most excites you about the opportunity to transform the field of educator preparation in the years ahead? 
I am excited about the opportunity to pay it forward.  I am who I am because of great teachers who awakened in me a belief that learning is the first step in making all things possible.  It is awesome to now have the opportunity to multiply that influence by training up an army of educators who are called to speak life into their students while also equipping them with the knowledge, skills, and competencies necessary to bring those possibilities to fruition.

I also have to say that I am motivated to disprove the misconception that quality and diversity are opposing goals.  I reject the notion that in raising standards, we have to sacrifice our commitment to diversity.  We can have both – a high quality and diverse teacher workforce.  We MUST have both for the benefit of our children and for the sake of the future of our nation.

What is one surprising thing that everyone should know about the program you lead?
Research training and service learning are incorporated into every degree program in the School of Education and Human Development and across the campus.  In fact, because of this tradition, Hampton University has earned the distinction of being ranked #3 among the nation’s Masters Universities in the number of its baccalaureate degree graduates who go on to earn the Doctor of Philosophy degree (Money Magazine, 2014.)

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring Q&As with all the member deans of Deans for Impact.

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