Program change begins with personal transformation

A version of this story appeared in our five-year anniversary report, Louder than Words.
When Anthony Graham was chosen as a fellow for the first-ever Impact Academy in 2016, his career trajectory at North Carolina A&T had been straight up.

In the span of 12 years, he had advanced from adjunct professor to interim dean, with stops at associate professor, professor and department chair along the way.

But now he was poised to be NC A&T College of Education’s eighth dean in seven years – a statistical indication that the odds were stacked against his success. In addition to high turnover rates, Graham saw the college struggling to articulate an identity and a common purpose. And organizational culture was at a distinct low point.

So, Graham arrived at Deans for Impact’s four-day fellowship launch with an adaptive challenge already in mind: a wholesale makeover of the College, including redefining its vision, mission, and the role that educator preparation would play within it. He left the Impact Academy knowing that any transformation needed to start with him.

“I had planned a top-down approach with mandates, edicts and directives,” Graham said. “The Academy made me take a step back and say ‘this needs to be a much more inclusive process.’ I went back and completely reworked that retreat overnight.”

Looking back, Graham calls his Impact Academy experience the best professional leadership development of his career. “It was pertinent to what I was doing in my new role as dean—thinking through the complexities of what I was trying to achieve and the intended outcome. How do I know when I have met it? What assessments can I use to determine if I’m making progress?”

Many fellows report that having a veteran dean coaching them is profoundly helpful as they negotiate the complexities of leading their educator-preparation programs. Bill McDiarmid, the former dean of UNC Chapel Hill, is a founding Impact Academy coach and one who’s seen how the fellowship is strengthening the leadership capacity of numerous deans.

“Virtually all the deans I have worked with have mentioned that the Impact Academy makes them more conscious of their own thinking, of the assumptions that underlie their plans and decisions,” says McDiarmid. “That increased self-awareness has been identified in a variety of research as a key to successful leadership.

Graham used lessons learned during his fellowship to revamp the college’s vision and mission statements and establish a new strategic plan that unified everyone around a single goal and identity. The college leveraged these very noticeable improvements to connect with foundations and other funding agencies. Over a three-year period, they brought in almost $13 million in grants to launch teacher-residency and STEM scholar programs.

And Graham’s leadership continues to advance, as he now serves as provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs at Winston-Salem State University, where he is expanding student opportunities in research, internships and study abroad. Happily for us, his relationship with Deans for Impact continues as a member of our board of directors.



About Impact Academy

Impact Academy is a yearlong fellowship for leaders of educator-preparation programs. While other leadership programs focus on nuts-and-bolts training for budgeting or accreditation, Impact Academy fellows define a strategy for instructional improvement grounded in equity and learning science. Throughout the year, fellows are mentored by veteran deans, benefiting from regular virtual coaching sessions to help them conceptualize and implement transformative change. Along the way, fellows build a network of peers firmly committed to creating equitable outcomes for future teachers and their students. Applications are open for the 2021-22 fellowship until April 2, 2021. Apply now!

Deans for Impact Team

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