All the work we do with and on behalf of others, it seems to me, adds up. It has a multiplying effect. This is worth cherishing and remembering especially in our pandemic world filled with so many challenges and as we start a new year. Reflecting on this, I have some thoughts that I would like to share.

Since 2013, I've been a professor in Virginia Tech's School of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) program. After it was reviewed by the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA), Virginia Tech became a full member institution of UCEA in 2014. Through my program’s national recognition for excellence in cultivating graduate students for success as equity-minded, capable education leaders and faculty, Virginia Tech gained prominence in the field of educational leadership. In the spirit of allyship and solidarity, ELPS’s commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion complement the University’s own values. University leaders have expressed support of Native Nations’ sovereignty, Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community, and initiatives that increase inclusion and access, as well as foster community with restorative justice.

UCEA has been my academic home for 24 years. It was a great delight to be voted onto the Executive Committee in 2018 and serve my organization ever since. Prior to this executive role, I served as a Plenary Session Representative (PSR) for 6 years, essentially a senator. As I ponder my two-plus decades of belonging to UCEA, I’m filled with pride in having contributed to this premier, research-oriented, nonprofit organization dedicated to the educational leadership profession.

Two UCEA initiatives of mine have deeply impacted my professional life. More importantly, being President-Elect and President served as catalysts in directing my current thinking and scholarship about allyship and solidarity.

Woman standing at podium
Plaque recognizing UCEA presidency (Courtesy of Carol Mullen)

My first achievement was creating, as UCEA’s President-Elect, the annual 2022 convention in Seattle, Washington. I assembled a planning committee of rising stars in the educational leadership field and designed the conference around the theme “Working For/With Equity and Leadership Toward Sustainability.” Being together after a long pandemic, we, the conventioneers, felt reenergized! From different states and nations, faculty and students engaged in lively discussions about research, policy, practice, and preparation. Across sessions, presenters were intentional about addressing issues of equity and leadership toward sustainability. Seattle provided a setting for exploring connections among educational leadership, human rights, and quality education for all. Remedying harm to Indigenous communities is a significant project in Seattle, yet the need is still great to support decolonizing efforts toward land restitution and reparation. Our Indigenous keynoters, led by Dr. Anthony Craig, from the area spoke movingly about the cultural strengths of tribal communities and influence on students that builds upon the wisdom of ancestors to ensure continuation. Dr. Ann Lopez, our distinguished keynoter from Toronto, shared valuable perspectives on decolonizing the field of educational leadership through antiracist approaches to leading schools.

The other breakthrough moment I had was at the 2023 convention when giving my presidential address titled “Speaking of Allyship—it’s Time to Leap Together in Educational Leadership.”

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“Hello, good people” launched the 2023 UCEA presidential speech (Courtesy of Carol Mullen)

I shared a message of allyship through the lens of my presidency: It’s time to channel our inner ally so we can build worlds that are welcoming to every child. I defined allyship as active support for the rights of a minoritized group without being a member. The core point of my speech was that “In allyship as education leaders, we work in solidarity.” About allyship and solidarity, I gave numerous educational examples, such as supporting college programs with an equity-oriented focus and high racial minority representation; publicly taking a stand on behalf of every child and their future; protecting people against “the onslaught of inequities” so they can thrive; and advocating for the rights of Indigenous cultures and their sustainability.

A large group of warmly enveloping attendees expressed appreciation for the “transparency, vulnerability, and strength”; “contributions [like mine] to allyship and Indigenous research to and beyond our field”; and this “powerful story with its trajectory from trauma to transcendence and healing, and touch of humor.”

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“Namasté,” final slide of UCEA keynote presidential address (Courtesy of Carol Mullen)

I could not have been in better company as a keynoter. The other featured speaker was Gloria Ladson-Billings who talked about how the pandemic has forced education leaders to rethink what we do to lead in ways that are better and more suitable for young generations.

At this conference, as in conventions past, I’ve brought talented collaborating mentees and reunited with close friends. As stated in my speech,

"This year, Susan Badger and Judy Cox, newly minted doctors, presented with me on rural leadership matters and place-based assets for managing dire challenges facing rural schools in Appalachia. A reviewer of our proposal wrote, ‘The partnership among the university, school systems, and education department is worth replicating across our nation.’"

That was thrilling to read!

Dr. Badger, my graduated advisee, and I also presented our research on teachers’ views of emergency remote teaching and leadership support at the middle level. For years now, advisees and alumni have joined me to present at UCEA on various topics: principals’ impact on student learning in rural schools, districtwide mentoring that supports new and veteran teachers, oral histories from a Black southern segregated school, peer group mentoring among educational leaders, and generational mentoring through diverse multi-mentor systems. Every year since 2017, I’ve had the pleasure of organizing a critical conversation’s session on mentoring research. I bring together seasoned faculty mentors and doctoral mentees to have a deep conversation around leading inclusively and equitably with impact in education at every level. The sessions have turned into published articles and collections, such as a special issue of the academic journal Mentoring & Tutoring.

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Dr. Susan Badger (left), Dr. Carol Mullen (right) (Courtesy of Carol Mullen)

In summary, our impact as leaders of organizations and professionals affects generations to come. The well-being and success of children depend on networked generations that advocate for every child through quality education that serves each and every child. I put it like this in my presidential address: “In solidarity, we move for social justice and the divine spark within, and we speak for all children in the hopes of a better tomorrow.”

Within UCEA’s community of education leaders, I’ve learned a great deal from the incredible people who lead, mentor, and contribute. It’s truly a pleasure to have the opportunity to collaborate on enriching leadership ventures with socially just, visionaries who are generous. Pointing to this reality in my speech, I said: “With our academic families, we live out our legacies, even as we breathe.”

So rejoice knowing that someone, somewhere, feels deeply grateful for the profound difference you’re making in their life.

If you would like to see a recording of the speech, you will be able to see it on YouTube soon and as an article in the UCEA Review.

Article invited by Samantha Smith, VT–SOE Communications & Marketing Specialist, in Dr. Carol A. Mullen’s current capacity as Immediate Past-President of UCEA (November 2023–November 2024)

Carol A. Mullen, Wikipedia page: