Dr. Renee Akbar Trains Teachers for Success in Louisiana

April 9, 2024

Education inequality shows up in many ways. That’s why it’s critical that Leaders of Color alumni are working to increase equity by addressing different avenues for change. Dr. Renee Akbar, who has spent her entire career in education, is one of those alumni. She is working to support the development, education, and leadership of quality teachers in New Orleans through her work at Xavier University of Louisiana. 

At Xavier University of Louisiana, the only historically Black, Catholic university in the United States, Dr. Akbar is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and leads two programs: the Doctorate in Education Leadership program and the Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency program. These programs create pathways for certified and highly-qualified teachers into the New Orleans school system. The program also focuses on developing teachers of color and teachers who have deep commitment to the New Orleans community - two variables that Dr. Akbar and her team have found to be critical for success. These programs were developed as an answer to the departure of many educators from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and to the lack of teacher diversity.

As America struggles against a nationwide teacher shortage, Dr. Akbar and her team are working to surround educators with supports that help them succeed in their training and in those first critical phases of their teaching jobs. In the first year of the Teacher Residency program, aspiring teachers enroll as full-time graduate school students, while also apprentice-teaching. Residents attend graduate school classes as they work alongside a mentor teacher in a classroom throughout the week. In the remaining three years of the program, residents who successfully complete the first year move into classrooms of their own as full-time teachers. While working to complete their remaining Master’s degree coursework, they apply their skills and knowledge to the responsibilities of lead teaching. Importantly, they continue to access the network of support that they have built with their residency year cohort.

While the program was built with teacher supports in mind, there were lessons to learn along the way. For example, Dr. Akbar and her team learned that passionate teachers were leaving their program because they simply could not afford to do the program while not working. Dr. Akbar and her team adjusted by creating stipends to assist with living expenses. 

Dr. Akbar brings decades of professional experience to her work at Xavier University of Louisiana. She started as an elementary teacher in Tallahassee, Florida, where she obtained education degrees from Florida A&M University and Florida State University. Prior to that, she worked with a national educational laboratory that served Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama. In that position, she was a member of a team that assisted teachers to improve their classroom pedagogy for Black and brown children. That experience influenced her decision to teach teachers and school leaders how to effectively teach and lead Black and brown children to success. 

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