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Dr. Shelby Cosner


Dr. Shelby Cosner, Professor and Center Director. Shelby Cosner is a Professor of Educational Organization and Leadership in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and the Director of the UIC Center for Urban Education Leadership (CUEL). In 2018, this center received national recognition by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for its expertise with continuous improvement. Beginning in 2019-2020 CUEL established a Research Practice Partnership with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) called C2. The goal of this partnership is to positively contribute to the 5-Year CPS Equity-oriented Vision. Cosner’s research interests focus on leadership for school improvement, activist and equity-oriented school leadership, and how school leaders cultivate capacities for improving schools/student learning with varied sorts of pursuits and challenges in mind. Her work also pays close attention to leadership preparation and development as well as the continuous improvement of preparation programs. She has examined school leader development in a wide assortment of national contexts. She is actively engaged in researching and cultivating leader development programs and infrastructure in the Global South and Middle East.

Cosner is an applied qualitative researcher whose work draws heavily from the organizational sciences, sociology, social psychology, and management. Her work appears in such peer-reviewed journals as Educational Administration Quarterly, the Journal of Educational Administration, the Journal of School LeadershipLeadership and Policy in SchoolsUrban Education, Educational Management Administration & Leadership, the Journal of Research on Leadership Education, and Planning and Changing. Working independently and with various colleagues, Cosner has obtained over 14M in external funding (e.g., National Science Foundation/NSF, US Department of Education, The Wallace Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, the Jeff Bezos Family Foundation, the McCormick Foundation, the Lyle Spencer Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, the Finnegan Family Foundation, Children’s First Foundation, and the Qatar Foundation).

Cosner is an expert on the preparation and development of educational leaders and on the continuous improvement and evaluation of preparation/development programs for educational leaders. Prior to becoming the Director of UICs Center for Urban Education Leadership, she served as the Academic Program Director and Associate Program Coordinator for UICs Doctorate in Urban Educational Leadership. In these roles, she co-led program redesign and implementation over a multi-year time frame using improvement science/inquiry cycles. This program is nationally recognized as a model principal preparation program, and it has received national awards and recognitions for its program quality including UCEAs 2013 award as an Exemplary Leadership Preparation Program (one of two programs nationally to receive this designation in its inaugural year; only 7 such programs have been identified to date) and the 2012 Urban Impact Award from the Council of Great City Schools. Through 4-year funding from The Wallace Foundation as a part of their $48M University Principal Preparation Initiative, she led UICs efforts to support two universities (University of Connecticut and Western Kentucky University) as these institutions engage in work to improve their principal preparation programs. In 2021, The Wallace Foundation again selected Cosner to lead UIC’s team in its work to mentor two universities (University of Texas-Austin, and Portland State) as a part of the foundation’s 5-year $102M Equity-centered [Leadership] Pipeline Initiative project. She also evaluates principal preparation and development programs for state departments of education and for universities.

Cosner has particular expertise related to the design and testing of leadership learning designs (two current projects are funded by NSF and the William T Grant Foundation). She has expertise with the design of developmental visions that narrow and clearly define leadership practices being cultivated for development. She is regularly sought to design curriculum materials and developmental resources for the development of school and system leaders and for the leadership coaches and principal supervisors, who support school leader development. In this work, she has served as a curriculum developer and trainer of trainers for research/development centers, state departments of education, regional educational offices, state superintendent/principal associations, and national Ministries of Education. Most recently she has worked with Qatar’s Ministry of Education to design and provide a year-long hybrid leadership team development experience for school leadership teams in Qatar. She has served as the leadership learning design context expert for 4 federally funded projects in the state of IL totaling 31M. In the state of Wisconsin, she supported the design and pilot implementation of Wisconsin’s state-wide principal evaluation system. She also consults with school districts throughout the US to provide development for school boards, senior/district-level leadership teams, senior leaders, school leadership teams, principals, and teacher leaders. Her work in these areas often focuses on leading cycles of inquiry and data use to inform organizational improvement and diagnosing/cultivating organizational resources that support improvement—such as teacher and leadership teams.

Cosner is currently serving in several elected national leadership roles in the US. She is currently in her second term on the Executive Committee of the University Council for Educational Administration. In this work she is co-facilitating the organization’s study and promotion of equity-oriented leadership preparation. She is also the chair for the AERA Special Interest Group, Learning and Teaching in Educational Leadership (LTEL)

Cosner has received multiple awards for her teaching including UICs Council for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award in 2009 and UICs most prestigious career achievement in teaching award, the Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2016. In 2018, Cosner received national recognition by UCEA when she was selected for the organization’s Master Professor Award. Cosner is a former principal and district-level leader.