Sharon Robinson

Sharon Robinson

President & CEO, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)


Learning takes courage.

In all the discussion about student learning standards and teacher effectiveness, I have concern that we give too little attention to this reality of learning. Teachers are tasked with creating safe places for students to attempt challenging learning objectives. Each student starts with some level of deficiency and must attempt to perfect knowledge and skills associated with the objective, often with imperfect results. Teachers help students reflect on their effort and inspire subsequent effort. Without that, students would likely repeat previous errors and have little understanding of how to improve. In the case of students who have significant learning challenges, the ability to encourage repeated effort that is informed by skilled instructional scaffolding and inspired by the students’ courage will be productive. Sincere effort to learn is cultivated by artful, respectful and insightful guidance from teachers who understand how to support learners who are willing to take another chance to be wrong.


The best teachers help students discover their own questions.

Amid the work happening around implementation of the Common Core State Standards, the work of the assessment consortia, and staff professional development, the imperatives of instruction are too infrequently part of the discussion. The Common Core State Standards establish a refreshing perspective about learning outcomes where content mastery is not the objective. Rather, content mastery is the basis upon which application of content is put to the test. Teachers will have the challenge of helping students discover and use content that is essential to solving problems. In this process, students will gain the invaluable ability to discover what is worth learning and why.


Every important project will benefit from genuine involvement of the people most greatly impacted by the outcome.

This lesson has served me well on occasions of challenging organizational change. Leadership does not require knowing all the answers; it does require knowing how to solicit and coordinate the contributions of those with essential knowledge and interest. While serving as assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education (1993-97), my agency, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, was reauthorized. Implementing the reauthorization required reorganizing the agency and, thus, reassigning offices for a large number of staff. Upon completing staff assignments to the new work groups, I asked the federal employee union to work with managers and staff to develop the office assignment plan. The plan was developed in a manner that resulted in a high degree of ownership because preferences and conflicts had been resolved among those who had the most at stake. Our reorganization was accomplished without a single grievance. My big take-away from the very rewarding experience of public service is awareness of the depth of personal satisfaction that is derived from helping others be successful, even when it means that I must get out of way.


Respect work and the productivity of every contributor.

It is important to help all those in any enterprise understand how they contribute to organizational success. In AACTE, I admonish our small staff to get everything done “faster, cheaper, and better.” Our staff takes this challenge to heart and works to address it every day. As a result, ideas for improvement are offered on a regular basis, and these suggestions are regularly implemented. The little things add up to an impact far greater than the sum of the parts. Faithfully acknowledging these contributions, both privately and publically, offers staff a respectful, encouraging environment that, in turn, facilitates further productivity for all.


Just when it looks like all is right with the world, that is the exact moment to ask, “What needs to get better?”

In teaching and in organizational development, success is the foundation for the challenging opportunity. Any sports star will freely confess that they are always trying to get better. This should be the case for any profession, especially in education when the work directly impacts the student learners who will guide our future.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


Sharon Robinson, Ed.D., was selected as AACTE’s top executive in 2005 and assumed leadership of the association in April of that year. In selecting Dr. Robinson, AACTE’s board of directors acknowledged her strong commitment to high-quality teaching, rigorous scholarship, and diversity in the nation’s teaching workforce. A lifelong civil rights activist, Dr. Robinson has waged a personal crusade to realize the nation’s moral and professional responsibility to educate and maximize the potential of minority and disabled students.

Dr. Robinson was formerly president of the Educational Testing Service's Educational Policy Leadership Institute. While at ETS, she also served as senior vice president and chief operating officer, and as vice president for teaching and learning and for state and federal relations. Before joining ETS, Dr. Robinson was assistant secretary of education with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement. She also held a variety of leadership positions at the National Education Association, including director of the National Center for Innovation, NEA's research and development arm. Just prior to joining AACTE, Dr. Robinson served briefly as interim deputy director of the National PTA's Programs and Legislation office.

Dr. Robinson received her doctorate in educational administration and supervision from the University of Kentucky, where she also earned her bachelor's and master's degrees. In 2002, she completed the renowned Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program.

She serves on the board of trustees for Alfred Harcourt Foundation, and on the board of directors for the Center for Teaching Quality, the Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, and Jobs for America's Graduates. She is past chair of the Diversity Issues in Measurement Committee, National Council for Measurement in Education.

Dr. Robinson’s private business interests include service on the board of directors for Corinthian Colleges, Inc., a publically traded provider of post-secondary educational services; Management & Training Corporation, which operates Job Corps centers and correctional facilities; and Sable Uplink Communications, a company that operates independent satellite uplink communication trucks.

Among her many awards are an honorary doctorate from the University of Louisville, the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Kentucky, the Award of Appreciation from the National Head Start Association, the Founders Award from the National Commission for African American Education, the Teacher for America Award from the Rockefeller Foundation-supported Recruiting New Teachers Inc., and the Woman of Distinction Award from Girl Scouts.