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Cross-Boundary Leader: Terri Ferinde Dunham (DC EPFP '93-94)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Thursday, February 19, 2015


Cross-Boundary Leader: Terri Ferinde Dunham
(DC EPFP '93-94)

Terri Ferinde Dunham is a partner at Collaborative Communications Group, where she has managed, facilitated, and supported groups that expand learning opportunities and redefine professional development. For more than a decade, Ms. Dunham has managed the National Network of Statewide Afterschool Networks. She has also written and published the groundbreaking compendium Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning Programs for Student Success, and currently serves as the director of the Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project. Prior to working at Collaborative, Ms. Dunham worked at the U.S. Department of Education for 10 years and was recognized as a Fellow with the Council for Excellence in Government. In 2014, she was named one of the top 25 most influential people in afterschool by the National AfterSchool Association.

EPFP Experience

When I was a Fellow, I was working for the U.S. Department of Education, and it helped to create my perspective on education at the time. I was able to see across organizations, boundaries, and sectors, which is very hard to do in a federal agency or organization. Having the opportunity to see what’s out there and how you can influence what’s happening across the board was very powerful. I particularly enjoyed the conversations with people I normally would not have had the opportunity to speak with.

EPFP gives fuel to the fire for early and mid-career professionals, which is one of the main reasons why I continue to sponsor Fellows at Collaborative to participate in the program. We have a bright, skilled, and thoughtful staff who know about education, but EPFP provides the depth of knowledge and connections that are invaluable to our staff and our work. The strength of the program and people is that they are steeped in knowledge that is based in practicality. Sharing knowledge with peers and getting new perspectives from Fellows and speakers is a powerful way to learn.

Creating Meaningful Change in Afterschool Policy and Practice

The National Network of Statewide Afterschool Networks (NNSAN) is a group of 48 state networks that work to create more and better afterschool networks, find funding for afterschool programs, and build quality systems for afterschool work. One meaningful aspect of this work is truly working across sectors for afterschool solutions. One example of this is STEM learning. In so many states, we need to build the STEM workforce and our students need to develop strong STEM skills. Afterschool programs can offer space for STEM-focused workforce development or build student interest in the area and create opportunities for communities.

The Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project (ELAP) is an effort to bring to the forefront the research and communications tools that talk about how afterschool works and impacts students. This includes compiling research and articles from many authors and initiatives about the ways and spaces in which afterschool programs work, as well as research on how they help to close opportunity and achievement gaps. Most recently, we’ve done research with the Afterschool Alliance that shows more demand than ever for afterschool programs, and we’re making the case for afterschool programs in a variety of settings and showing their results.

What Leaders Need to Know about Policy, Leadership, and Networking

From our unique view in the afterschool space, we see that leaders are looking at the broader view of learning to encompass all the spaces and people that are involved in education. Having a broad vision is important for creating a seamless and comprehensive system for the greater goals of preparing students for college, career, and life. Policy is more detailed and nuanced, so it’s important to look across sectors. Networking can help with this by allowing leaders to break out and see networks across boundaries to connect the dots to help and support young people.

Developing Education Leaders

I like the idea of helping all leaders be exposed to all areas, from high-level idea development to on-the-ground work. We also need to develop leaders who understand the value of partnerships. We are too often conditioned to think only about what we do and take on a lot that relates to that, but leaders need the skills to build and leverage partnerships to collectively do the work, which shows the power of collaboration. A lot of my work at Collaborative is around network development and building communities where professionals are sharing and shaping their leadership skills through peer engagement. Good leaders create, join, and participate in strong networks where they have peers no matter how isolated their work may seem.

Cross-Boundary Leadership

I am constantly trying to connect networks and resources to people and ideas who can benefit from them. My leadership role is being a connector. I am always scanning and seeing need and reaching out and bringing relevant resources in. In my specific area of expanded and afterschool learning, for example, I look for how college and career readiness and college access networks could intersect with and leverage our networks, and find ways to connect them.

Career Challenges

The greatest challenge I see is building a learning system that is cross-sector and child-centric. Policies and people are siloed, and there are so many components to consider: allowable and required uses of funding, getting credit in classrooms, etc. It’s very hard to break from the traditional model, even for places with a strong vision. Creating powerful conversations and convening people to work out problems and create good practices can create a new vision of learning.

Leadership Lessons Learned

Strengthening and sharing research is very important. I often find myself talking about leaders being articulate in their research, but we need to compile digestible bits of research that are easy to share and understand. On the communications side, we are always working to build our tools and graphics to share information more effectively.

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