"Schools need to be revolutionized": A Q&A with Dr. Toby Tetenbaum

Dr. Toby Tetenbaum is a professor in Fordham GSE’s Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy (ELAP) program. She recently discussed her background, research, and experiences at Fordham, and shares her recent reading list.

What is your background?

I have a PhD from NYU in Educational Psychology with a sub-specialty in Social Psychology, Research and Measurement. I have a post-doctorate from Harvard in the Psychodynamics of Leadership.

I have taught at Fordham University for 40 years, beginning in GSE’s Division of Psychological and Education Services (I am a licensed psychologist) and moving to the Division of Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy with a focus on the psychology of leadership.

In addition, I have worked in corporate America for 20 years in companies such as Conde Nast, Exxon, General Electric, Interpublic Group, and JPMorgan/Chase.

What are your academic areas of expertise and interest?

My areas of interest are focused primarily on people in organizations (leadership, team effectiveness, group dynamics) as well as change, particularly change that focuses on culture and moving organizations from 20th century legacy practices into the new 21st century world of innovation and entrepreneurship.

What interested you in that research area?

My husband read a book on Chaos Theory which he passed along to me. I began to read more in the area and eventually published a couple of articles on how the Newtonian paradigm impacted organizational structures and processes versus how the new paradigm of Chaos and Complexity impacted them.

The transition from one era to the next is generating tension and conflict between legacy workers who have spent most of their work life in the Newtonian era and today’s newer workers who are anxious to embrace the era of Chaos and Complexity.

What are a few insights you’ve gleaned from this research?

In working with organizations, including those in the Fortune 10, I’ve consistently found a paradox between managers being pressed on one side to “make the numbers” and, on the other side, “to innovate and take big swings.”

Unfortunately, the former requires rigorous risk management, while the latter requires experimentation and, inevitably, failure. Being able to engage in both in this highly competitive, fast global environment is generating a huge amount of stress and, in some cases, immobilizing workers.

What has been your most memorable experience at GSE?

My most memorable experience at GSE has been beginning the first Human Resources program in NYC over 20 years ago and seeing it gain an outstanding reputation. Its graduates are sought after by search firms throughout the area.

Note: The program moved from GSE to the Graduate School of Business as of 2014. Learn more.

What advice do you have for students applying to GSE?

Come prepared to work hard, learn, participate actively and have fun. If there is too much going on in your life to experience these 4 things, wait until you can.

If you could tell people one thing about Fordham GSE, what would it be?

Fordham’s GSE, especially the Division of ELAP, is committed to providing you with the best educational experience possible.

The faculty is extremely supportive of your learning and ensuring you graduate with the knowledge and skills you will need to be successful in your work.

While the program is rigorous, it is also enjoyable and the cohort structure provides peer support and life-long friends.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Educational Leadership and/or Education today?

The biggest challenge today is to prepare youngsters in K-6 with the intellectual and emotional skills they will need in the second half of this century.

Ironically, schools are the slowest institutions to change and providing Industrial Era knowledge and tools, as is occurring in most schools, is doing America’s children a disservice.

They need to be prepared for a world we cannot yet see but it will be one demanding a tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty as well as an ability to flex and adapt as change speeds up.

Innovation and entrepreneurship even for children as young as 5 has moved to the private sector as public schools have preferred using time for test prep and test taking instead. Schools need to be revolutionized; it’s too late for incremental change.

What do you like to do in your free time?

There really is no “free time” but in between teaching and consulting, I am an avid reader as keeping ahead of the curve with what is going on around the world is the best value I can provide to my students and clients.

I also continuously work on new courses and workshops to keep my work fresh. I am an A-Type personality when it comes to work; Work is my joy and I’m blessed to have always had a career I adore.

What are some books that you’ve read recently?

Duhigg, Charles. (2012). The power of habit. New York: Random House.
This book looks at how individuals and organizations form productive and non-productive habits using dozens of narratives.

Kahneman, Daniel. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Nobel Prize winning economist, Kahneman, describes two ways people think: System 1 Fast, intuitive and emotional – and – System 2 Slower, more deliberative and logical. Also explores the role of loss aversion, framing risks, cognitive biases, etc.

Kellerman, Barbara. (2012). The end of leadership. New York: Harper Business.
Kellerman describes how leadership and followership have changed over the last half century and criticizes the leadership industry as failing to actually grow leaders.

Murray, Charles. (2012). Coming apart: The state of White America, 1960-2010. New York: Crown Forum.
Murray looks at the differences between top and bottom economic groups in White America and the consequences of the differences.

Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books. This book proposes internal drivers (notably autonomy, mastery, and purpose) are the key to motivation despite business still employing external motivators.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Applicants who are unclear about their career goals or about Fordham GSE as the right place for them are free to e-mail me to set up an appointment to talk by phone or to meet when I am in for class.

Visit Dr. Tetenbaum’s webpage for contact information.

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