Continuous Learning: A Day in the Life with Chong-Hao Fu of Leading Educators
Leading Educators, a New Profit grantee-partner from 2016-2020, partners with school systems to build and sustain the conditions, teaching, and leadership to ensure that the students furthest from opportunity succeed in school and in life.
New Profit has been honored to partner with Leading Educators over the last four years as they scaled their impact:
- In 2020, Leading Educators is directly serving over 150 system and school leaders, ~1k teachers and teacher leaders, and 48k students
- In total, their school system partners serve approximately 1 out of every 60 students in the country
- District of Columbia Public Schools, where they scaled teacher professional development to 116 schools, have seen improvements even post-engagement with Leading Educators, seeing around a percentage point improvement of 15 in ELA and 11.5 in math.
- They have recently undergone evaluation studies in Louisiana and Michigan and are seeing significant effect sizes that outpace other interventions.
These are just a few of the breakthrough strides that Leading Educators has made and continues to make in supporting schools systems across the country that are committed to making bold, systemic change stick. In late January 2020, members of the New Profit team, Sarah Duarte and Delanoe Johnson spent several days shadowing Chong-Hao Fu, CEO of Leading Educators, to get to know more about this groundbreaking organization. Continue reading to learn more about their experience with Chong-Hao and the Leading Educators team in New Orleans.
[Note: Throughout this piece you will be able to click on audio recordings to hear directly from Chong-Hao and other members of the Leading Educators Team. We recorded all of these interviews on the move in different settings so please bear with us through any background noise.]
It’s rare that you find an organization that embodies their values to the extent that they are obvious to outsiders. Values, in practice, are often aspirational. A list of ideals that members of an organization collectively agree to strive for on a daily basis. It’s admirable and necessary, but not easily done.
In January, when we had little to no idea of what was to confront us in the year 2020, our team was gearing up for what we thought would be a year of travel and storytelling. The idea was to travel across America to spend time with New Profit grantee-partners and witness a day in the life (or several days in the life) of social entrepreneurs. For our first, and as it turns out, only trip, we spent a few days in New Orleans with Chong-Hao Fu, CEO of Leading Educators, a New Profit grantee-partner from 2015 to 2020, that is reinventing professional development for educators, setting a clear focus on racial equity, and putting it back where it belongs: in schools.
[Click play below to hear from Chong-Hao on what inspired him to get into the education space and why Leading Educators work is so important.]
We spent two days shadowing Chong-Hao along with an amazing photographer— Gr8mnd, a New Orleans native— attending meetings, trainings, dinners, and conducting interviews to try to create a succinct image of who he is as a leader. Chong-Hao graciously welcomed us into his life with open arms (as you can see in this photo of Sarah’s very first interaction with him).
To tell you this story, oddly enough we need to start at the end. On our last day in New Orleans we joined Chong-Hao, members of the Leading Educators team, and several teachers and school leaders for a full day training centered around looking at student work and recent learning data from a lens of equity and social justice.
The training took place at Delgado Community College. During lunch, we pulled Chong-Hao aside to snap a few last photos on the beautiful campus and conduct one final interview. Throughout these final moments, we asked Chong-Hao about the foundations that Leading Educators are built upon, as well as the values that he and his team created together and that guide their work. This may sound like a bit of hyperbole, but when he explained their four key values, it felt as if we could have guessed them ourselves. After spending just a few days with Chong-Hao and his team we had seen each of these four values on full display.
[Click play below to hear Chong-Hao on Leading Educator’s four values]
These values were so present during our time in New Orleans that when we sat down to discuss what this piece would look like, we knew they had to be core to how we told this story.
On the first day, we met Chong-Hao and his husband Marcus at the airport. We planned to take them out to lunch and snap a few photos around downtown New Orleans; however, Chong-Hao advised us that he was anxious to get to the Leading Educators office and would prefer to skip lunch. The New Orleans team was in the midst of the stressful process of moving offices, so he wanted to go check-in with his team. When we entered the office, the strong relationships that exist within the Leading Educators team were immediately apparent, even in the way the team greeted each other. Chong-Hao drifted around the office having in-depth conversations with each of his teammates about the work but also about life. This immediately felt more like a family than a group of co-workers.
Over the next several days we witnessed Chong-Hao consistently prioritize each of the people he engaged with, primarily through time. Time is one of the most valuable things we have. To give your time to another person is a gift. At every turn, we witnessed Chong-Hao dedicate time and effort. Although Chong Hao was visiting New Orleans for a short period, he made a concerted effort to see as many of his teammates as possible. We traveled all over New Orleans to meet his teammates, which began with a personal check-in, followed by conversations about Leading Educators’ work. Even when people weren’t around, Chong-Hao spent time crafting thoughtful notes to leave behind for them. And in turn, members of the Leading Educators team returned the focus on prioritizing people —from teammates going out of their way to give us a ride to the next location to taking a moment to brainstorm and engage in thought partnership.
If everything we’ve said didn’t make this point clear enough, on day one of our time with Chong-Hao we asked him what keeps him energized in this work and here is what he had to say.
You can also click below to hear from Brittney Jones, Director of Development.
The sense of community that we felt during our time with Leading Educators was profound.
Disrupt Racial Inequity
There is often a misconception around racial equity work that you must be an expert or you must be perfect at all times. This misconception can be detrimental to making a real impact. In order to effectively do equity work one must approach it with humility and the understanding that you do not know everything, but you can learn. Asking questions and pushing one’s understanding beyond the limits of one’s lived experience is key to truly disrupting racial inequity.
During our first interview, we asked Chong-Hao to tell us what it is like being a CEO. His answer focused primarily on the sense of responsibility he feels to grow as a leader and take on difficult tasks on a regular basis. Near the end of his response he spoke about his responsibility as a leader of an organization that aims to disrupt racial inequity:
Build on Strengths
When you first hear the value “build on strengths” you may think about it on a personal level. You might start to think back to situations where you have performed well and how you might be able to capitalize on the strengths you already possess. This is, of course, part of it, but in our time with Leading Educators it became clear that this value was really about identifying what is working really well in a given school system and adapting the model to fit that environment. This is an organization that at the end of 2020 is active in 98 school sites and 17 schools systems across 10 diverse cities. In order to flourish in that many different spaces there has to be iteration and shifting to fit different contexts.
It’s apt that we close out on this value, as it has already presented itself numerous times throughout this piece and intersects with each of the other values so clearly. So many of our conversations with Chong-Hao found their way back to the need to continuously learn and grow. It’s part of why under Chong-Hao’s leadership, Leading Educators has continued to push for deep contextualization in their partnerships by learning about the great work teachers have already done to design for the opportunities they still see on the horizon.
Building deep individual relationships is learning. Equity work is learning. Building on strengths that already exist is learning. One of the superpowers of this organization is the willingness to iterate, to reinvent, to test things out, and to learn. This is present in every part of their work.
Thank you Chong-Hao and Leading Educators for welcoming us into your family even for a few days. We were inspired not only by the deeply impactful work you are doing but also by the heart and joy that you bring to the work.
We’ll leave you with this final thought from Chong-Hao. During our final conversation at Delgado Community College, we asked him what is the one thing he would want our audiences to walk away with. Here is what he had to say: