Leading with Compassion

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Frances Gipson, Clinical Associate Professor of Education, Claremont Graduate University

Student-centered leader shares thoughts about the future of education

Frances Marie Gipson is a clinical associate professor of education in the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University, and also serves as director of the Urban Leadership program. We sat down with this experienced teacher and leader to get her perspective on the future of learning.

Can you tell us a bit about your goals with the Urban Leadership program?

The School of Educational Studies’ UL program is specifically designed for experienced educators who want to assume leadership positions in school districts, county/regional offices of education and community colleges. Alumni of the program have used their CGU experience to propel themselves into careers as superintendents, chief academic officers, community college presidents and elected officials.

Because the UL program’s cohorts are comprised of working educators, the urban leadership seminars are intensely relevant as fellow leadership students articulate the trends and phenomena they are experiencing. Faculty shapes the dialogue by helping the group understand these issues in terms of organizational and change theory, historical context and research. Out of this synergistic exchange comes a deep conceptual understanding and applicable insights to address current and yet-to-be-identified issues. This design model develops true scholar-practitioners.

Leading to a PhD, the UL program prepares leaders that deeply engage in problems of practice with an adaptive dynamical mindset. This type of perspective-taking develops their knowledge of theoretical frameworks and research skills needed to promote educational justice. In turn, CGU graduates accelerate in their ability to work with diverse and multiple stakeholders, and foster strength and excellence in our schools and communities.

Having worked closely with the next generation, what do you think colleges and universities should be focused on in regards to today’s issues?

Having served 25 years in the second largest school district, and the largest with an elected board, it is imperative that we have a P-20 cradle to career mindset in preparing students for college, career and life plans. Networks of supports and possibilities are imperative and more accessible than ever before, with proven models that include advancements in technology, that can facilitate and accelerate opportunities for all learners.

What long-term challenges do you see for higher ed?

A cornerstone of strong communities are strong schools, and a cornerstone of strong schools are educational leaders who have the passion, commitment and skills needed to promote educational equity and excellence among diverse groups of students. These are the educators CGU selects for our Urban Leadership (UL) program. In turn, higher education institutions need to be deeply embedded in the fabric of schools and communities.


RPP: As a Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer I deeply valued research-practice partnerships with our higher education partners to ensure we were able to pivot, innovate, and be better informed about the future of education—resulting in actionable and timely results.

Primary Promise to College Promise: Across the nation many have focused on students being college ready. This requires a strong focus on our Primary Promise to our earliest learners to prepare them for the College Promise. In this space, universities can offer courses to students not only in high school, but middle school and even elementary school. There is nothing more powerful than witnessing a university president visit every single local kindergarten classroom and give students a letter of commitment for college. Many of our students found themselves graduating high school with not only a diploma, but an associate’s degree and multiple industry certifications. These intentional and articulated experiences support pathways towards multilingualism, work-force readiness, college readiness, and creating a community of graduates that are ready for civic and life engagement.

What kind of messaging will resonate with aspiring college students today?

A signature of CGU is Transdisciplinary studies. Our director shares that, “When confronted with the world’s most complex issues, transdisciplinarity helps us see the forest for the trees. Derived from deep disciplinary foundations, transdisciplinary approaches require collective, novel, and dynamic strategies to transcend the boundaries of traditional fields.”

The dynamic issues of today’s ever-changing world demand approaches that travel across disciplinary spaces in order to inspire new ideas. Once new knowledge is created, it is our responsibility to understand whom it will impact and how, which will then create solutions that move beyond the theoretical realm and into the applied. Research cannot be kept distant from the stakeholders who are affected by it. It must be framed with society’s needs at the center and should be practiced as a negotiation between the arts, the sciences and society.

Our goal at Claremont Graduate University is to create leaders with the intellectual courage, tools, and wisdom to take on the most difficult and pressing problems. We are preparing a work and scholarly force that will assume the innovative leadership roles that help us adapt to our changing world—both within The Academy and outside its walls. This is why the Transdisciplinary Studies program is the foundation of the CGU experience.

Are you bullish on the future of education and why?

Absolutely, our university community is situated in the foothills of Los Angeles County and lovingly referred to as the “city of PhD’s and trees” with seven colleges that personalize experiences, innovate and cultivate infinite choices for our scholars. This model serves as a “both and mindset” as opposed to the “either or” world and therefore elevates collaboration in higher education. Being nimble and responsive is key to our success.

What do love most about your role at Claremont?

EVERYTHING! Our students frequently respond to our cohort Urban Leadership Program as the “Concierge University” at CGU. When recruited to return to my alma mater, our amazing Dean shared that she wanted more leaders that were equipped as scholar leaders to be social transformers. To do this we are unapologetic about leading with love—something we know our world needs more of! This has led to a complete re-design of wildly popular courses regarding the future of education, being socially just leaders, and well-defined research blocks that provide education leaders pathways to earn a true PhD in their field— while leading in their field. To continue the personalization. and build on the robust coaching research, I attend every course, mentor in the field, and ensure that the tam is on the head of each doctor that we have championed with during their journey at CGU. Welcome to success, a place we do our best!