Faculty & Staff

Shelby Cosner, PhD

Associate Professor

Shelby Cosner is an Associate Professor of Educational Organization and Leadership in the Department of Educational Policy Studies. She is also a Faculty Affiliate at UIC's Center for Urban Education Leadership and at the University of Chicago's Chicago Consortium on School Research. Her research interests include organizational change, school reform and improvement, leadership for school improvement, principal preparation/development/evaluation, and principal preparation program improvement.

She is an applied qualitative researcher whose work draws heavily from the organizational sciences, sociology, social psychology, and management. Her recent work appears in such peer-reviewed journals as Educational Administration Quarterly, the Journal of Educational Administration, the Journal of School Leadership, Leadership and Policy in Schools, Urban EducationEducational Management Administration & Leadership, the Journal of Research on Leadership Education, and Planning and Changing. Working independently and with various colleagues, Cosner has obtained over 6M in external funding (e.g., US Department of Education, The Wallace Foundation, The McCormick Foundation, The Lyle Spencer Foundation, The Broad Foundation) as PI or Co-PI for various research or development/research projects.

Cosner has served as the Academic Program Director and Associate Program Coordinator for UICs Doctorate in Urban Educational Leadership. In these roles she co-led program redesign and implementation over a multi-year timeframe using improvement science/inquiry cycles. This program is nationally recognized as a model principal preparation program, and it has received national awards and recognitions for its program quality including UCEA's 2013 award as an Exemplary Leadership Preparation Program (one of two programs nationally to receive this designation in its inaugural year ) and the 2012 Urban Impact Award from the Council of Great City Schools. She teaches a variety of leadership, school organization, and qualitative research methods courses for doctoral students in the Department of Educational Policy Studies. Cosner has received multiple awards for her teaching including UIC's Council for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award in 2009 and UIC's most prestigious Career Teaching Award, the Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2016. 

Cosner is recognized as an expert related to leader preparation, development, and evaluation. She has particular expertise related to leader learning designs and leadership coaching. She is regularly sought to design curriculum materials for the development of school and system leaders. In this work she has served as a curriculum developer and trainer of trainers for research/development centers, state departments of education, regional educational offices, and state superintendent/principal associations. She supported the design and pilot implementation of Wisconsin's state-wide principal evaluation system and she is currently leading the design and implementation of a multi-year federally funded principal development program for the Center for the Study of Education Policy. She consults with school districts throughout the US to provide development for senior/district-level leadership teams, senior leaders, school leadership teams, principals, and teacher leaders. Her work in these areas often focuses on leading cycles of inquiry and data use to inform organizational improvement and diagnosing/cultivating organizational resources that support improvement--such as teacher and leadership teams. She is also recognized as an expert related to principal preparation program improvement and evaluation. Through funding from The Wallace Foundation, she is currently leading UIC's efforts to support two universities (University of Connecticut and Western Kentucky University) as these institutions engage in work to improve their principal preparation programs. She also evaluates principal preparation and development programs for state departments of education and for universities.

Cosner is a former principal and district-level leader.


2005 - PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

Research & Teaching Interests

Co-Principal Investigator: Developing organizational capacity to improve K-8 mathematicst teaching and learning. The National Science Foundation DRK-12 Level III Implementation and  Improvement Teaching Strand. $4,554,546, under review. 2018-2011. PI is Allison Castro and additional Co-PIs include Ben Superfine and Yue Yin, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Principal Investigator. Exemplary partner: University principal preparation initiative. The Wallace Foundation. $370,000/funded. 2018. See project website (via link below).

Principal Investigator. Improving instruction through data use on teacher quality. The Lyle Spencer Foundation, $85,654/funded 2017-2019.

Principal Investigator. Exemplary partner: University principal preparation initiative. The Wallace Foundation, $400,000/funded 2016-2017. See project website.

Principal Investigator. Developing principal practice for the leadership of school-wide cycles of inquiry. The Chicago Leadership Collaborative, Chicago Public Schools, $6,000/funded 2015-2016.

Principal Investigator. Strengthening leadership preparation pedagogy and content to cultivate leadership practices of consequence to struggling schools. The Wallace Foundation/Educational Development Center, $3,000/funded 2014-2015.

Co-principal Investigator. Systems approach to school leader pipeline development.  U.S. Department of Education, $1,908,447/funded 2014-2017. Principal Investigator Steve Tozer and additional Co-principal Investigators Sam Whalen, David Mayrowetz, and Jen Olsen, Center for Urban Educational Leadership, Department of Educational Policy Studies, and Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Principal Investigator. PK-5 mathematics instructional improvement: Common Core for all learners. McCormick Foundation, $450,000/funded 2014-2017. Additional Principal Investigators David Mayrowetz, Department of Educational Policy Studies and additional investigators Kathleen Sheridan and Cathy Main, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago. Read project article.

Co-principal Investigator. Cycles of innovation and continuous improvement: A university/district partnership to produce transformative principals. School Leadership Program Grant. U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement, $1,000,330/funded 2013-2017. Principal Investigator, Steve Tozer, Center for Urban Educational Leadership and Department of Educational Policy Studies and additional co-principal investigators Sam Whalen, Andrea Evans, and David Mayrowetz, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Senior Researcher. Examining pre-service preparation of school leaders. Finnegan Family Foundation, $30,000/funded 2013-2014. Principal Investigator Sam Whalen, Center for Urban Education Leadership, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Senior Researcher. Examining the principal residency experience and its impact on candidate competency, role, and identity development. Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, $200,000/funded 2013-2015. Principal Investigator, Sam Whalen, Center for Urban Education Leadership, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Principal Investigator. Examining school leader identity and competency development. The Wallace Foundation, $6,200/funded 2013.

Principal Investigator. Performance management accountability policy and sanctions: Examining productive organizational and school leadership responses. Faculty Scholarship Support Grant and Dean’s Research Support, University of Illinois at Chicago, $29,000/funded 2012-2013.

Principal Investigator. Examining the enactment of collaborative data practices in urban elementary schools. Faculty Scholarship Support Grant, University of Illinois at Chicago, $3,000/funded 2009-2011.

Co-Principal Investigator. Urban school leadership preparation, The Broad Foundation, $2,100,000/funded 2007-2011. Principal Investigator Steve Tozer and additional Co-principal investigator Peter Martinez, Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Senior Researcher/Director of Leadership Research. Partnership READ, Examining grade-level collaborative data use and the ways in which school leaders support collaborative practice enactment and development.  Chicago Community Trust, $1,500,000/funded 2006-2009. Principal Investigators Susan Goldman, Psychology and Education, and Taffy Raphael, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Selected Publications

Cosner, S., Leslie, D., & Shyjka, A. (revise and resubmit). Instructional transformation tied to standards-based reforms: Examining a learning-focused approach to supporting school-wide implementation. Leadership and Policy in Schools.

Cosner, S., Walker, L., Swanson, J., & Hebert, M. (revise and resubmit). Leadership coaching from a learning resource perspective. Educational Administration Quarterly

Cosner, S. (in press). Assembling the right team for implementing a continuously improving principal preparation program: Lessons learned at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In E. Hunt (Ed.), Reforming principal preparation at the state level:  Perspectives on policy reform from Illinois.

Cosner, S., Walker, L., Swanson J., Hebert, M., & Whalen, S. (2018). Examining the architecture of leadership coaching: Considering developmental affordances from multifarious structuring. Journal of Educational Administration. Retrieve at: https://www.emeraldinsight.com/eprint/VD2UR4B7CQNDGVSRC6IP/full

Cosner, S., De Voto, C., & Andry Rah’man, A. (2018). Harnessing elements of the school context as a learning resource in school leader development. Journal of Research on Leadership Education. Retrieve at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1942775118763872

Korach, S., & Cosner, S. (2017). Developing the leadership pipeline: Comprehensive leader development In. M. Young & G. Crow (Eds.), Handbook of research on the education of school leaders (pp. 262-282). NY: Routledge.

Cosner, S., & Marshall, J. (2016). Rethinking preparation program leadership in improvement-oriented contexts: Identifying new work demands, university responses and persistent challenges. UCEA Review, 57(3), 29-33.

Cosner, S., Tozer, S., & Zavitokovky, P. (2016). Enacting a cycle of inquiry capstone research project in doctoral-level leadership preparation. In V. Storey and K. Hesbol (Eds.), Contemporary Approaches to Dissertation Development and Research Methods (pp. 163-184). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Cosner, S., & Jones, M. F. (2016). Leading school-wide improvement in low-performing schools facing conditions of accountability: Key actions and considerations. Journal of Educational Administration, 54(1), 41-57.

Cosner, S., Tozer, S., Zavitkovsky, P., & Whalen, S. P. (2015). Cultivating exemplary school leadership preparation at a research intensive university. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 10(1), 11-38.

Cosner, S., Kimball, S., Barkowski, L. Carl, B., & Jones, C. (July, 2014). Principal roles, work demands, and supports needed to implement new teacher evaluation. Research on Urban Education Policy Initiative, 3(3), 1-19.

Cosner, S. (2014). Strengthening collaborative data practices in schools:  The need to cultivate developmental perspectives and diagnostic approaches. In A. Bowers, A. Shoho, & B. Barnett (Eds.), Using data in schools to inform leadership and decision making (pp. 67-93). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Cosner, S. (2014). Advancing a phase-based model of school leadership for the support of collaborative data practices as a school-wide improvement strategy. Journal of School Leadership, 24, 691-724.

Cosner, S., Tozer, S., & Smylie, M. (2012). The Ed.D. Program at UIC: Using cycles of inquiry and improvement to advance leadership preparation. Planning and Changing, 43(1-2), 127-148.

Cosner, S. (2012). Leading the on-going development of collaborative data practices: Advancing a schema for diagnosis and intervention. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 11(1), 26-65.

Cosner, S. (2011). Teacher learning, instructional considerations, and principal communication: Lessons from a longitudinal study of collaborative date use by teachers. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 39(5), 568-589.

Cosner, S. (2011). Supporting the initiation and early development of evidence-based grade-level collaboration in urban elementary schools:  Key roles and strategies of principals and literacy coordinators. Urban Education, 46(4), 786-827.

Cosner, S. (2010). Drawing on a knowledge-based trust perspective to examine and conceptualize within-school trust development by principals. Journal of School Leadership, 20(2), 117-144.

Cosner, S. (2009). Building organizational capacity through trust. Educational Administration Quarterly, 45(2), 248-291.

Peterson, K., & Cosner, S. (2008). Teaching your principal: Top tips for the professional development of the school’s chief. In V. von Frank (Ed.), Professional learning for school leaders (pp. 5-9)Oxford, OH:  National Staff Development Council.

Cosner, S. (2006). School improvement models. In F. English (Ed.), SAGE encyclopedia of educational leadership and administration (pp. 904-906). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Peterson, K., & Cosner, S. (2006). School culture. In F. English (Ed.), SAGE encyclopedia of educational leadership and administration (pp. 249-251). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Cosner, S. (2005). Towards a human capital development strategy: Uncovering the approaches used by a high school principal to support teacher learning. In W. Hoy & C. Miskel (Eds.), Theory and research in educational administration: Educational leadership and reform (pp. 233-264). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Cosner, S., & Peterson, K. (2003). Building a learning community, Leadership, 32(5), 12-15.

Honors & Awards

Reviewer of the Year, Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 2016.

UIC Award for Excellence in Teaching (Career Achievement Award), 2016.

Teaching Recognition Program Award by the UIC Council for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, 2009.

David L. Clark National Graduate Student Research Seminar in Educational Administration and Policy, University Council for Educational Administration, 2003.

Professional Affiliations & Activities

Key Recent National Affiliations and Actitivies:

Guest Editor, Special Issue: Conceptually and Empirically Exploring an “Active Learning Pedagogy” for Principal Preparation and Development, Journal of Research on Leadership Education, Forthcoming Spring 2019.

Journal of Education, Editorial Board Member, 2016 to present.

Educational Administration Quarterly, Editorial Board Member, 2015 to present.

Journal of Research on Leadership Education, Editorial Board Member, 2015 to present.

University Council for Educational Administration, Publications Board Member, 2015 to present.


National Planning Team, American Education Research Association and University Council of Educational Administration, Development of a National Research Agenda on Educational Leadership Preparation Program Assessment and Evaluation, Beginning Spring 2018.

UIC Site Visit Leader, University Council for Eductional Leadership (UCEA) Curriculum Improvement Network, Program Design/Improvement Network, March 2018; The Wallace Foundation UPPI Faculty PLC, April 2018.

Advisory Board Member, Tennessee Transformational Leadership Alliance, state-wide incubator for state’s principal pipeline strategy and programs, 2017 to present.

Expert Consultant/Principal Preparation Program Evaluation, University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA), 2016 to present.

      Doctoral and Masters' Program Evaluation, University of Texas at El Paso, Spring 2017.

National Mentoring of Junior Faculty and Graduate Students in Educational Leadership, AERA Division A, George Washington University, Louisiana State University, 2016 to present.

Advisory Board Member, University Council for Educational Administration and New Leaders/National Project on the Evaluation of School Leadership Preparation, 2014-2015. | Read project report | Project's principal evaulation guide

Plenum Representative, University Council for Educational Administration, 2012 to present.

National Principal Preparation PLC Member and National Work Group Co-Leader, The Wallace Foundation/Educational Development Center,  2012 to 2017.


Executive Board Member, AERA SIG Leadership for School Improvement, 2011-2015.

Member, AERA SIG Leadership for School Improvement.

Member, AERA SIG Learning and Teaching in Educational Leadership.

Member, AERA and AERA Division A.


Key Recent Illinois Professional Affilitations and Activites:

Lead Curriculum Developer, Trainer of Trainers and Leadership Coaches for Principal and District Leader Development, Center for the Study of Education Policy, IL; federally funded through multi-year grants including Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) and Education Innovation Research (EIR); project impacts roughly 150 principals in high needs urban, rural, and suburban schools in IL and related school districts, 2017 to 2021.

Lead Designer and Developer, Professional Development for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Central Office Academic Chiefs, CPS, 2016 to present.

Lead Designer and Developer, Professional Development for various CPS Network Leadership Teams and Principals, CPS, 2016 to present.

Keynote Address at CPS Principals' Institute, CPS, Summer 2016. 

Co-designer and Developer, Professional Development for CPS Network Chiefs, 2015 to 2017.

Lead Developer and Trainer of Trainers, DuPage County Regional Education Office (ROE), Principal Development, 2015-2016.

Expert Consultant on Principal Preparation, Illinois School Leadership Advisory Council (ISLAC),  Spring 2015.  Read the report.