MSEA’s success depends on building power through strong leaders and a motivated and engaged membership at both the local and state levels. Leadership is a learned skill, one that requires forming and articulating a vision, understanding the nuances of human behavior, relationship building, reflection, and humility.
At MSEA, two of the mainstays of leadership development are the Minority (MLT) and Women’s (WLT) Leadership Trainings. They are cohort-based leadership development programs for diverse education leaders that prepare members to lead fellow educators toward creating equitable, inclusive, safe, and just public schools and communities.
In three sessions held throughout this school year, participants met nationally-recognized and member experts, including local parent and civic leaders, such as: Dr. Alvin Thornton (chair of the Thornton Commission), Yamil Baez (EduColor), Dr. David J. Johns (National Black Justice Coalition), Dr. Gladys Fátima Márquez (NEA Executive Committee), Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D–21), and Dr. Charmaine Mercer (William and Flora Hewlett Foundation). Coupled with sessions like A Diverse Leader’s Journey toward Leadership, Community Outreach and Engagement for Safe and Just Schools, Who Gets to Be an Education Leader?, From Process to Power (parliamentary procedure), and The Theory of Change, the trainings provided relevance and depth.
Edwin Pérez is a Baltimore County Spanish teacher eight years into his career. His MLT journey gave him a broader definition of leadership. “My concept of leadership has evolved. I have met more minority leaders than ever before. This is amazing! I didn’t know we had so many allies working out there to support us and our students,” he said.
“I learned that leadership is more than just a job. It is more than an assignment. It is greater than a title. It is for life. I see that successful leadership is not just a top-down approach—it must be collaborative and inclusive. And I have learned that training, empowerment, collaboration, opportunity, and representation are key to the success of minority leaders.”
Another member of the MLT cohort, veteran Howard County teacher Q Smith-Green, experienced a joyful reawakening of his goal to become a leader for change. “The training has given me new hope. As a Black male educator, my leadership efforts often get sabotaged. We are often overlooked and witness leadership opportunity given to others. Programs we try to lead are not seen as beneficial to the school, the system, or its culture.
“Being part of the MLT has opened the floodgates—ideas are churning and I have hope that I can overcome the roadblocks and obstacles to success that I have historically faced. My goal is to create a program that will bring more men of color into Howard County classrooms with recruiting and mentorship at its heart.”
ESOL teacher S. Cristal Ouedraogo of Prince George’s County attended the Women’s Leadership Training and found the door wide open to a more accessible leadership model. “My WLT journey helped me unlearn the exclusionary concept of leadership that is traditionally taught and expected in professional spaces,” said Ouedraogo. “I was able to explore and fully embrace the concept of humanizing leadership which is grounded in leading whole people. This includes leadership that exhibits competencies such as social and emotional intelligence, empathy, and compassion.
“I believe in the power of grassroots development and leadership. I believe this bottom-up approach will yield the most change,” she added. “As an educator, I hope to begin leading more grassroots initiatives in my school community and local district as part of a coalition of educators leading a global overhaul of educational systems.”
Charlene Miott-Jones, a speech and language pathologist in Prince George’s County, said her concept of leadership has changed through the WLT process: “The presentations, assignments, and discussions were engaging, informative, and diverse. I found that the women in leadership discussions with Dr. Andrea Kane, Ph.D. covered aspects of women’s leadership that have made me think and grow. It made me aware of the value of women in leadership that many people have missed. We discussed ways to be an effective leader with compassion and still share knowledge, break glass ceilings, and deal with doubters, haters, and nay-sayers. Dr. Kane talked about the importance of analyzing your outcomes and reflecting on the pluses and deltas. It is important to determine ways to adapt, adjust, and improve your leadership development.”
Weeks after the training, Pérez is still captivated by the leadership stories of program guests Dr. Thornton and Del. Peña-Melnyk: “It’s about accepting where you are in the journey and understanding and acknowledging that all of these attributes and experiences have prepared you to lead and embrace what comes next. I learned from both speakers that determination, motivation, hope, perseverance, willpower, love, and compassion go a long way to making us better leaders and towards making this world a better place for youth, schools, and our communities.”
“At MLT, I collaborated with others who look at the world through a similar lens,” Smith-Green adds. “I no longer feel like I have to fight for my vision to be understood or that I have to conform so much that my vision morphs into something no longer identifiable as my program. It’s refreshing to be with others who have the same vision. All of a sudden, the world is not so lonely.”