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Cindy Kratzer: ELP Lecturer Honored with UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award

By Joanie Harmon

UCLA alumna prepares principals and school leaders with skills for research and transformation in schools.

When SEIS lecturer Cindy Kratzer (’91, M.Ed., Educational Administration; ’96. Ph.D., Education) was asked 25 years ago to teach in the relatively new Educational Leadership Program (ELP) at UCLA, she was surprised, given that she had just recently achieved her doctorate. This spring, she was honored with the 2022 UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award, as presented by the UCLA Academic Senate Committee on Teaching and the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. 

Kratzer is recognized for her service at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies for preparing school leaders – many of whom are first-generation college students – to conduct educational research and to more effectively serve their own students, many of whom are from first-generation communities and families as well. 

Kratzer’s research interests include reading comprehension instruction; teacher change through professional learning communities and instructional coaching; lesson study; and student achievement. Her practical expertise focuses on professional development for teachers in literacy and reading instruction, facilitating professional learning communities, and using qualitative research methods in action research. 

Kratzer and her award will be celebrated at the ELP 30th Anniversary 5K Walk and Breakfast on Sunday, August 28, which will take place at UCLA's Drake Stadium. (Visit this link to register for this event and for more information.)

As the ELP celebrates its 30th Anniversary, the former classroom and music teacher looks back at her career and at the future of educational leadership from K-12 through university. 

How did you begin teaching in the ELP program?

I was a music education major at the University of the Pacific. I came out with my teaching credential and went on to get a multiple subject credential as well. My early years in the field were teaching elementary school and middle school, in regular classrooms as well as music. And then, when I started to move into more administrative responsibilities, I went to UCLA and got my M.Ed. and went on for my Ph.D.

I was there in the 1990s. Jeannie Oakes was my advisor. After I finished [my Ph.D.], Lynn Beck, my dissertation chair, had been one of the founding faculty of the Educational Leadership Program, and asked me to come back and teach a qualitative methods course in ELP. They were just getting started, this was only maybe the third or fourth year of the program.  I was fresh out of my doctoral program and started teaching in 1997 in ELP, with Cohort Three.

This year, we are starting with Cohort 30 in the fall. I’ve had the privilege of teaching all of these cohorts, and gradually increased to teaching three courses in all three years of the program.

How do you incorporate your classroom experience into your teaching at SEIS?

My work at UCLA has always been part-time, so I've always had a foot in the door of the K-12 world and in the higher ed world. In addition to teaching elementary and middle school, I really developed a passion for literacy and early literacy and reading. I was a literacy coach and coordinator in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district for many years and that continues to be a passion of mine, helping kids learn to read and helping teachers teach reading and literacy.

My higher education work has been primarily around teaching qualitative research methods and research design in the ELP. Sometimes those worlds actually connect, and I get to bring some of my K-12 experience into higher ed, and vice versa. 

A lot of the work I do now in K- 12 is around instructional coaching - helping teacher leaders and administrators coach each other or their teachers. I bring a lot of my qualitative research work into that, because a lot of the principles of of conducting interviews or doing observation in qualitative research very much transfer into how you coach teachers and administrators to grow and develop in their practice.

What are some of the greatest changes in education and in the needs of your students throughout your career?

I think one of the changes that has really been not so much a change, but awareness. I’ve been so encouraged by the way in which our graduate students are more and more concerned about issues of equity, access, diversity, inclusion, and social justice. Certainly, there was always a group of students who focused on that, but I feel like it's become more pervasive. Our ELP students, as well as students throughout the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, really are committed to making things better for everyone and addressing the inequities in the systems that they encounter and are personally involved with. The dissertations and research that are focused on those kinds of issues are really a fantastic thing that's happened over the course of my 20-plus years at UCLA. 

In terms of the needs of students, as we are trying to be more inclusive in who is admitted to a program like the Educational Leadership Program, we sometimes need to offer additional supports [where] probably always there was a need, but now it’s more intentional about providing more support. Many of our students are not only first-generation doctoral students but first-generation college students. We need to be more explicit about [the program's] expectations and the resources that are available to help. We want a more diverse group of students to go through our program and to be successful, and we have to provide the scaffolds and supports around what does it mean to do research, academic writing, supporting our students’ writing, and those kinds of things. 

And, of course, these last two years have been unprecedented in terms of the demands, with everything shutting down with COVID, having to switch to remote distance learning on Zoom, etc. So, it’s forced a change on all of us. Faculty had to adapt very quickly, but so did students. 

Our students are working full-time and getting a doctorate, and they were making those changes and shifts in their own job settings. Many of them are principals or student affairs officers or deans, and they were having to make those shifts in their workplace. I have admired the resilience of our students and am so appreciative of their commitment to their own education and in finding a way to be successful even in the midst of very difficult circumstances. Having to do all their data collection online rather than in person was a huge shift. We now know how to use [digital] tools, but that doesn't necessarily mean everything is easy.

There are still technological glitches that happen, and we have to adapt and give grace to one another, when things don't work in the way they're supposed to. They are leaders that are used to having problems to solve and so very little throws them for a loop. They just figure it out and keep going and that's very admirable in these times.

What attracted you to UCLA for your advanced degrees?

UCLA was the only school I applied to for my master’s and my Ph.D., I didn’t look anywhere else . I saw that it was the best, so I didn't want to go anywhere else. When you look around at the schools in the area, you can't beat UCLA’s reputation. It was stellar then and it’s stellar now. The School of Education and Information Studies is nationally ranked as one of the best in the country. I knew the names of some of the faculty and I had read their work and even had a chance to meet a couple of them before I entered the program. I was just so impressed and honored by the opportunity to work with premier researchers and educational leaders. 

What have been the greatest rewards of your teaching career at UCLA?

To be honest, I never was planning to become a faculty member at UCLA. I was rooted in the K-12 world. Lynn Beck asked me and I was terrified, thinking, who am I to start teaching in a doctoral program having just completed my own? But I loved it and continue to love the opportunity to work with professionals throughout the educational spectrum who are so committed to not only being excellent leaders but also doing cutting-edge research in their areas of interest and expertise. 

I’m not continuing a lot of my own research, but I feel like I get to learn vicariously through them every time I help a student figure out what they want to study. And then, I get the chance to help them along the way. I learn about so many different topics by reading the work of my doctoral students. It’s such a privilege and so exciting to hear about the amazing things that are going on in the educational and educational research spectrum. Teaching doctoral students is really [working with] the cream of the crop. They are super-motivated and super-committed to doing this good work and and making a difference in their fields. 

What is your greatest wish for future teacher educators?

Unfortunately, a lot of the challenges that the researchers were writing about in the 1960s and 1970s, are still challenges. We still have huge inequities and effects of poverty. Those are things that I just wish we could find ways to get past. 

Not all of that is going to happen through education alone. You've got other societal issues that you have to address. But through programs like the ELP and what the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies is doing in general, we can make things better for students of color, for students who are marginalized, for students of poverty who don't have access to some of the resources that maybe others of us had and were given almost as a birthright.

It makes me sad that we're still dealing with a lot of the same issues that we were dealing with you know, a half century ago. The students I work with in ELP [are] committed to that as well … to making things better for students of color, students who live in poverty, students who have learning needs, students who have language needs. That gives me a lot of hope that we can move things forward.

Photo by Hank Kratzer