Exploring Educational Ecosystems through the Lens of Intermediary Organizations: Insights for Policy and Practice

Learning Ecosystems and Leadership November 17, 2021

As the research and work on educational ecosystems has grown, we now recognize a growing global trend that has positioned “intermediary organizations” in an oversized ecosystem role. Through their direct work with schools, especially the most vulnerable schools, these organizations – which include NGOs, philanthropies, and for-profit agencies – straddle the larger ecosystem and the local schoolhouse, becoming conduits of external leadership resources into schools. In this report, the authors unpack their research into mature non- system intermediary organizations and their important role as an educational ecosystem builder. By exploring the activities and relationships of these organizations within the broader educational ecosystem, this research also sheds light on how other similar organizations may better consider and gain access to the kinds of ecosystem relationships and resources that are likely to prove important to their work and have a positive impact on schools and students.


Shelby Cosner

Professor and the Director, Center for Urban Education Leadership

Shelby Cosner is an expert on leadership for school improvement, the development of organizational capacities that support improvement, the preparation and development of educational leaders, and the use of continuous improvement to transform leadership preparation and development. Cosner’s work has been widely funded by organizations and foundations (e.g. U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, The Broad Foundation). Her work appears in a broad assortment of journals and books. She has designed curriculum and design/led large-scale leader development programs for school districts, regional and state offices of education and professional associations, and nations throughout the globe. 

Sam Whalen

Research Director, Center for Urban Education Leadership

Sam Whalen is a quantitative and qualitative methodologist with expertise in program evaluation and the design of robust data infrastructures for use with evaluation and continuous improvement. His areas of content expertise include school leadership preparation/development, professional learning, and school-community partnerships. His work appears in several journals, book chapters, and policy/research briefs. His most recent work examines CEO leadership for continuous improvement within the context of the Chicago Public Schools. Whalen has contributed to the development of a wide assortment of leader development materials and has consulted with organizations throughout the US for the design of data infrastructures to support evaluation and continuous improvement.

Meagan Richard

Research Assistant, Center for Urban Education Leadership

Meagan Richard is a fifth-year Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She is also currently pursuing an M.Ed. in Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment. Richard received a Doctoral Fellowship from the College of Education upon her entry to UIC, and since that time has received multiple national recognitions for her work. Her research centers around equity-oriented forms of school leadership in urban settings. In particular, her research promotes a holistic view of school leadership in which school leaders work within and outside of the school to promote justice for students, families, and the community in which students live. Her work appears in several journals, book chapters, and research/policy briefs. Her dissertation examines the intersections of neoliberal educational market policies with equity-oriented school leadership practice in seven school districts across the United States.

Martha Hebert

Researcher, Center for Urban Education Leadership

Martha Hebert is a qualitative researcher with expertise in school leader preparation and development. She often serves as project manager for CUEL projects. She has contributed to a wide assortment of past CUEL research and development projects.  Her work appears in journal articles and policy briefs. Hebert has also contributed to the design and development of a broad assortment of school leader development materials and tools.