Nicole Brittingham Furlonge, a teacher, teacher educator and researcher who has held senior positions at several prestigious independent schools, became the new Director of Teachers College’s Klingenstein Center for Independent School Leadership on September 1st. Furlonge also joins TC’s faculty as a Professor of Practice in the Education Leadership Program within the Department of Organization & Leadership.
Furlonge, who was chosen after an eight-month national search, succeeds Pearl Rock Kane, who had directed the Klingenstein Center since 1980, not long after its creation. Kane will continue to serve as a full-time faculty member at TC.
Furlonge is no stranger to the Klingenstein Center. She has twice taught in its summer program, and her husband, Nigel Furlonge (M. Ed.’06), who this fall became Principal of the Upper School at New York City’s Fieldston School, is a Klingenstein alumnus. Both Furlonges previously served at the Holderness School in New Hampshire, where she was English Department Chair and Director of Teaching and Learning, and he was a History Department faculty member and Associate Head of School.
Prior to her work at Holderness, Nicole Furlonge was Chair of the English Department at Princeton Day School in Princeton, New Jersey. In previous roles, she served as English Master and Mentor Teacher at the Lawrenceville School, also in New Jersey, and English Department Chair and Director of Diversity at St. Andrew’s School in Middletown, Delaware. She earned her Ph.D. in English at the University of Pennsylvania, where she titled her dissertation, “On the Lower Frequencies: Listening and African American Expressive Culture.” She is the author of Race Sounds: The Art of Listening in African American Literature (University of Iowa Press).
“I’m honored and excited to have the opportunity to lead the Klingenstein Center, and to combine my practice in independent schools with designing learning experiences for adults and students,” Furlonge says. “Independent schools are very diverse in their individual missions and designs, but at their core is the notion of educating the whole person, not just through academic learning, but through an intellectual life that includes a focus on character – who one is emotionally and socially, and how one can make a positive impact on the world. The common thread of the Klingenstein experience is a focus on leadership as a habit of mind, and on the opportunity to be an educator-citizen who co-designs the school culture. That focus has grown out of Pearl Kane’s remarkable capacity to imagine, design and implement beyond what is – and that’s what I most want to uphold and build upon.”
“Independent schools are very diverse in their individual missions and designs, but at their core is the notion of educating the whole person, not just through academic learning, but through an intellectual life that includes a focus on character – who one is emotionally and socially, and how one can make a positive impact on the world."
– Nicole Brittingham Furlonge
Part of her own work, Furlonge says has been about creating professional learning cultures within schools, in which teachers model learning for students by continuing their own growth. She designed a summer institute for Holderness teachers on social and emotional learning and mind-brain education, addressing issues such as the rise in student anxiety and depression at all schools. She also worked with the school’s department chairs on how to mentor teachers, observe classrooms and provide feedback towards growth.
“I’ve drawn heavily on Ellie’s book,” she said, alluding to Tell Me So I Can Hear You: A Developmental Approach to Feedback for Educators, co-authored by Eleanor Drago-Severson, Professor of Education at TC with a dual appointment in Education Leadership and in Adult Learning & Leadership.
Furlonge also plans to focus on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. “Independent schools are committed to increasing access, but how can we ensure that educators coming through the Klingenstein programs reflect the diversity we want, so that the leadership pipeline is robust and diverse?”
A key to Furlonge’s approach in addressing all these issues will be her emphasis on listening. While her interest in that dimension is scholarly – her book has been called “a provocative and innovative meditation on listening as an interpretive, creative, and civic act that is foundational to twentieth and twenty-first century African American literature and American political culture” – it also comes from a more personal place. As Furlonge has movingly described in a series of pieces published in The Huffington Post, she was born to a white teenaged mother and a black teenaged father and given up for adoption (the couple did not stay together). As an adult, she separately tracked down her birth parents, experiences that challenged her to look past stereotypes she had not realized she held. Ultimately, she writes, she benefited from “a willingness to lean in, be curious and get proximate that allowed me to find family and to begin thinking more fully about how the story of race, class and gender in America is very much a family affair.”