The MATL program opens your eyes to what teacher leadership can actually look like

“I think this program is really for educators who want to do something beyond their classroom.”

When Ayanna Hudson first started considering a master’s in teaching program, she knew she wanted something that offered a bit more than traditional teaching pedagogy. Having double majored in English and secondary education as an undergraduate at Emmanuel College and then starting her teaching career right after graduating, she found herself thinking far ahead and considering a key question: Could she ever imagine herself stepping out of the classroom?

A good friend and mentor suggested she consider Mount Holyoke’s Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership through the College’s Professional and Graduate Education program. The rest is not necessarily history, but the start of a new chapter in Hudson’s career — one in which she is ready to embrace alternative roles as an educator.

“I think this program is really for educators who want to do something beyond their classroom,” she said. “And I think when people picture leadership programs, they automatically jump to, ‘Oh, you want to be an administrator. You want to be a principal or the leader of the school.’ But in reality, this program opens your eyes to what teacher leadership can actually look like.”

For Hudson, whose passion within education is equity and diversity — and who aligned with Mount Holyoke even more when she saw that the College and graduate program also value and focus on those issues — some of the most impactful courses she’s taken during the MATL have been with Jemelleh Coes. The classes Outreach and Advocacy and Social Justice and Equity opened Hudson’s eyes to the possibilities of teacher leadership.

“I’m working to develop resources for teachers starting to develop accessible resources to develop community and talk about identity and belonging.”

“I think the biggest takeaway from her classes is that there are so many different ways to get your voice out there,” Hudson said. “Through her courses, I kind of homed in on what my kind of role could possibly be. For me, it came out through writing. I received such great feedback. We did reflective and persuasive writing. I had no idea about the power of that kind of writing or just getting your work out there and potentially getting published.”

Some of the writing Hudson did was also therapeutic and reflective of her own experiences, she said. From first grade through 12th grade, Hudson was bussed into Weston, Massachusetts, public schools from her hometown of Boston as part of METCO, the voluntary desegregation program born during the civil rights movement. Hudson wasn’t only isolated as an African American young woman attending a predominantly white school — she also noticed there were hardly any teachers of color in her district.

Her decision to go into teaching crystallized when she was about 16 or 17 years old and a junior in high school, she said. She was involved in advocating for the needs of METCO students and was regularly a part of discussions raising concerns about what it was like to not feel a part of the community. One of the questions she and her peers came to their principal with was straightforward: Why are there no teachers of color?

“And I remember my principal saying, ‘It's not that we’re not trying to hire them. Sometimes when they come here and they see the environment, they’re the ones who are like, “Absolutely this is not the place I want to work,”’” Hudson said. “And I found that so interesting. Like, I can see that, because I’m a student here, and I don’t necessarily feel accepted or wanted here. So I can imagine teachers coming to this different environment and not wanting a career here because it is a predominantly white, upper-class community.”

The revelation transformed Hudson. She knew she couldn’t force people to become teachers, but she saw pursuing education as part of the solution. “I’ll be the diversity I always wanted or the representation I always wanted,” she thought to herself.

Now, several years into teaching and ready to wrap up her graduate degree, Hudson is most passionate about work that addresses how to better support students of color — specifically young Black girls whose experiences, she says, are often overshadowed and overlooked. “Historically, the emphasis is on Black boys and their plight, which is very, very real and needs to be addressed,” said Hudson. “But then the needs and experiences of Black girls get pushed aside. That has definitely been my own experience as a student and as a teacher.”

Every candidate in the MATL program prepares a capstone project, and Hudson is focusing hers on restorative justice practices in schools, particularly the need for centering Black girls in those practices. Restorative justice is rooted in building respect, building community and acknowledging when harm has taken place, then working to prevent it from happening again. In other words, she says, instead of throwing out punishments and isolating and disciplining a student, working to address the issue at hand.

“I’m working to develop resources for teachers starting to develop this practice,” Hudson said, “accessible resources to develop community and talk about identity and belonging. And I’m also creating some professional development opportunities for teachers or admins to talk more about the importance of restorative justice and moving away from punitive measures.”

Hudson has continued teaching throughout the two-year, mostly remote MATL — and even switched jobs in the middle of the program. She imagines she’ll continue to have a foot in the door of teaching. But now she feels like she has far more confidence to step into a leadership role — and she credits the community she found among her peers in the MATL as a huge part of that shift.

There is no one memory that especially stands out in Hudson’s mind because community was a constant force throughout the entire program. “At different times, different moments, whether it was a professor or classmate, they were affirming me as a teacher. And I felt like, ‘OK. I am doing the work. I am doing a good job.’”

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Christian Feuerstein
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