After starting her career teaching middle and high school English and history, Jessica Rigby turned to research, concentrating on understanding the role of school and district leaders in the implementation of policy, classroom instruction, improving teacher practice and focus on equity. She earned her bachelor's in history from Oberlin College, a master's in education policy from Stanford University and a PhD in policy, organizations, measurement and evaluation from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining the UW College of Education, she served as a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College.
Rigby recently answered questions about her first teaching experience, research agenda, books that have inspired her and more.
What drew you to education?
I wanted to be a teacher since I was in the second grade. I think it had something to do with marking up papers in red ink, which is an odd connection for me to make as I went to a hippy elementary school with no grades and certainly no red mark-ups. I first taught when I was 16 in a summer program called Summerbridge (now called Breakthrough), a program in which high school and college students teach underserved public and parochial school children in the summer. I was sold — I found a profession I was good at, in which I was continually learning, and in which I was working with others to push against historical inequities towards a more just society.
Describe your research and service agenda.
I take a systems approach to school improvement. That is, I am interested in how smaller units of teaching and learning are both influenced by and influence the larger organizational system. I use learning theory and organizational sociology to explore the learning needs of individuals within the context of policy implementation, concurrently attending to individual agency and the affordances and constraints of organizational structures. In my doctoral work at UC Berkeley, I studied first-year principals’ engagement with, understanding, and enactment of messages of instructional leadership. Most recently, I worked as a postdoctoral fellow on the Middle-school Mathematics and the Institutional Setting of Teaching (MIST) project at Vanderbilt University, a longitudinal mixed-methods study of the implementation of ambitious math instruction in four large urban school districts across the U.S. There, I focused on the role of district and school-site leaders in instructional improvement of middle-school mathematics. Moving forward, I am planning to attend to the learning needs of district leaders who support principals (and those who support principal supervisors), as well as the organizational structures that support their learning and their practice through design-research projects.
At the UW, I am excited to be a part of two specific programs: L4L [Leadership for Learning] and the Masters in Education Policy program, and I look forward to teaching in the Danforth program at some point in the near future.
What makes this work meaningful to you and why is it important for teachers, parents and others?
When I took my first organizational theory class, it was like a lightbulb went off — I suddenly had access to ways of thinking and talking about my experiences as a teacher in schools. I am hopeful that my academic research is helpful in a similar way to practitioners: making visible the often invisible structures that both hinder and enable practice and change can make improvement more possible.
What attracted you to UW College of Education?
I refer to this as my "dream job." Not only is the College filled with our fields' top scholars, but they are collaborative, warm and open. I feel supported, challenged and amazingly lucky to work here. I also like that I can go and look for the mountain every day!
What courses will you be teaching and what current/future courses are you most excited about?
In winter I am teaching two courses: Dynamics of Educational Organizations (550) and Educational Leadership for Instructional Improvement. In the spring, I'll be teaching a focused qualitative methods course, Observations and Interviews. Next year, I'll join the L4L teaching core.
What's something that students and colleagues should know about you?
I'm hoping to get a dog in the next handful of months! I'll be excited to go for dog walking meetings.
What are your favorite education-related books?
As a young teacher, I was inspired by both Freire's Letters to Cristina and hooks' Teaching to Transgress. Remembering that the day-to-day is connected to something bigger was, and is, so important to being connected to the work. Currently, I'm soaking in design inspiration from Design-Based Implementation Research: Theories, Methods, and Exemplars (Fishman et al).
Besides your work, what's something that you're passionate about?
I love doing things that get me out of my head — playing roller derby, hiking, backpacking, snowshoeing, etc.
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