A Lifelong Learner at Leasure Elementary
As a professional development, research and policy center working to improve public education by developing leaders, the Delaware Academy for School Leadership (DASL) celebrates successful school leaders from across the state. DASL recently had the opportunity to talk to one such leader, Dr. Deirdra Aikens, principal at Leasure Elementary School in the Christina School District.
Dr. Aikens is a recent graduate of the College of Education and Human Development Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership. The Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership at the University of Delaware represents the highest level of scholarly attainment in the professional field of education. Dr. Aikens has applied her learning to inspire and lead the staff at Leasure. In collaboration with her staff, she has taken on complex problems and designed solutions, resulting in improved achievement for all students.
Under Dr. Aikens’ leadership, Leasure has experienced a dramatic change in school culture as well as its highest test scores in nine years. The foundation for this success is her clear vision for the school- to instill instructional excellence. Dr. Aikens not only communicates this vision but, more importantly, demonstrates it through her actions by spending 70% of her time on instruction. She works with academic committees, completes classroom walkthroughs, provides feedback, and attends all PLCs.
In addition, Dr. Aikens was recently named a Data Wise coach through Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, a position held by only 15 people in the world. Her work with Harvard began in the summer of 2011 when she wrote a grant that enabled Leasure’s leadership team to attend the Data Wise Summer Leadership Institute. They returned from the weeklong institute with a new, distinctive set of commitments, referred to by Data Wise as “habits of mind”.
Dr. Aikens explained the habits of mind saying, “We are committed to assessment, action and adjustment. We are also committed to intentional collaboration. And, we are committed to a relentless focus on evidence.” These habits of mind are evident in Leasure’s PLCs, which are attended by active participants all focused on action planning for instruction.
In just four years, Dr. Aikens has moved from Data Wise participant to teaching fellow to coach. Although she is now looked to as an expert, she continues to learn by collaborating with other Data Wise partners and by coaching leaders who are new to the process. Reflecting on this she said, “Having a vision for excellence has given a whole new meaning to the term lifelong learner.”