Crisis Leadership in Education: People First — Spotlight on Dr. Rosa Isiah

Our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our nation.” — Nelson Mandela

Dr. Isiah shares what her district has learned during the pandemic and the importance of people first. Here are a few highlights from our conversation. Enjoy!

Dr, Rosa Isiah is an Educational leader, International speaker, leadership consultant and author who currently serves her school community as Director of Elementary Schools, Equity and Access in California. As an educational practitioner, Dr. Isiah has also served as a Teacher, Bilingual Specialist, Language Arts Specialist, Assistant Principal, Principal, and Coordinator of Federal and State Programs.

Rosa is a connected educator and the founder of #WeLeadEd Twitter chat. She is also the host of WeLeadED BAM radio podcast with a focus on leadership through a social justice and equity lens. Dr. Isiah was recognized as the 2016 Body and Mind Education Radio Thought Leader of the Year and the Loyola Marymount University 2019 Educational Leader for Social Justice recipient. Dr. Isiah is the coauthor of 3 books focused on leadership, relationships, SEL and Equity. She has also contributed her voice to a number of leadership books, blogs, and panels on equity, anti racism, leadership, school culture, and English learners.

Crisis leadership model

Dr. Isiah likes to call this period of the pandemic, an opportunity to lead through a crisis leadership model. And one of the first things she thinks of when she thinks about crisis leadership is people first. Dr. Isiah has found as we navigate this new normal during the pandemic is the ability to communicate effectively, and to communicate with transparency, and often empathy. Leading with empathy, and leading for equity has been at the forefront of the work that they’re doing in her district. What that means for her personally, is relating to what is happening to the community, and the trauma that is impacting so many of the families and staff, and being able to take a social emotional learning approach, partnered with an equity approach to everything that they do for students and families. Communication and the idea of people first at the forefront of everything they do, and being able to answer that question, Is this good for kids, before they launch into anything has given life throughout all the changes during the pandemic.

Tips to connect with students and families during online learning

The question is how do we continue parent partnerships virtually? Parents often times are not able to communicate, let’s say in English, that’s not their first language or our not able to use a device. The district has really focused on providing workshops for families that focus on using the tools that we have at our disposal. Parents are informed about what their kids are doing and how they’re logging in. They also are partnering with community resources, to offer some parent workshops on what it means to be a parent supporting a student who’s learning virtually. Offering some tools for them and their parenting toolbox so that they’re able to support and navigate what they’re dealing with at home, which is often frustration. This might include getting their child on zoom every day, and not taking this negative approach, and understanding that they’re overwhelmed as well as their students are overwhelmed. Educating parents on how do you support your student emotionally, when that’s happening? Ultimately, the best way to navigate creating an equitable distance learning experience for students is being able to support the student and the family, and really see our schools and our districts as that heart of the community.

How to embrace the richness of culture

Traditionally, we’ve had this negative subtractive mindset about the funds of knowledge that families bring that our students spring. This includes language, culture, race, and lived experiences, that may not align with our personal experiences, but it doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. When we talk about this education box, and thinking out of the box, I think about what we expect of kids and often it’s this perspective that Friday speaks about, which is we feel like we hold the knowledge, and we will bestow this knowledge upon our students, and that they’re just clean slates that have nothing to offer, and that it is our responsibility to fill them with knowledge. When in reality, when we build connections and relationships with our families and our students, we realize what amazing gifts our kids and diverse communities bring to the table. And that language that may not be the same as yours is a gift and those experiences are gifts. So how do we tap into that and bring that into the classroom and use that to leverage our teaching and our learning and building those really tight connections? Their district has embarked on this learning around funds of knowledge and taking this difference approach and perspective and leveraging those experiences.

To hear the rest of the interview with Dr. Isiah, join us for the second Learning For Life Virtual Summit, March 31st and April 1st. Please take a moment to click this link to sign up for your FREE ticket to the Learning For Life Summit. Can’t wait to see you there!

To learn more about Dr. Isiah’s work follow @rosaisiah on Twitter or visit

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

Frederick Douglass

The joy is in the journey!

Blessings and Peace,


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