Your browser is unsupported

We recommend using the latest version of IE11, Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

Photo of Cosner, Shelby

Shelby Cosner, PhD

Professor and Director of UIC's Center for Urban Education Leadership

Educational Policy Studies

Pronouns: She/her


Building & Room:

3444 ETMSW


1040 W. Harrison St. (M/C 147), Chicago, IL 60607

Office Phone:

(312) 413-8249


Shelby Cosner is a Professor of Educational Organization and Leadership in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and the Director of the UIC Center for Urban Education Leadership (CUEL). In 2018, this center received national recognition by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for its expertise with continuous improvement. Beginning in 2019-2020 CUEL established a Research Practice Partnership with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) called C2. The goal of this partnership is to positively contribute to the 5-Year CPS Equity-oriented Vision. Cosner’s research interests focus on leadership for school improvement, activist and equity-oriented school leadership, and how school leaders cultivate capacities for improving schools/student learning with varied sorts of pursuits and challenges in mind. Her work also pays close attention to leadership preparation and development as well as the continuous improvement of preparation programs. She has examined school leader development in a wide assortment of national contexts. She is actively engaged in researching and cultivating leader development programs and infrastructure in the Global South and Middle East.

Cosner is an applied qualitative researcher whose work draws heavily from the organizational sciences, sociology, social psychology, and management. Her work appears in such peer-reviewed journals as Educational Administration Quarterly, the Journal of Educational Administration, the Journal of School LeadershipLeadership and Policy in SchoolsUrban Education, Educational Management Administration & Leadership, the Journal of Research on Leadership Education, and Planning and Changing. Working independently and with various colleagues, Cosner has obtained over 14M in external funding (e.g., National Science Foundation/NSF, US Department of Education, The Wallace Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, the Jeff Bezos Family Foundation, the McCormick Foundation, the Lyle Spencer Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, the Finnegan Family Foundation, Children’s First Foundation, and the Qatar Foundation).

Cosner is an expert on the preparation and development of educational leaders and on the continuous improvement and evaluation of preparation/development programs for educational leaders. Prior to becoming the Director of UICs Center for Urban Education Leadership, she 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 time frame 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 UCEAs 2013 award as an Exemplary Leadership Preparation Program (one of two programs nationally to receive this designation in its inaugural year; only 7 such programs have been identified to date) and the 2012 Urban Impact Award from the Council of Great City Schools. Through 4-year funding from The Wallace Foundation as a part of their $48M University Principal Preparation Initiative, she led UICs efforts to support two universities (University of Connecticut and Western Kentucky University) as these institutions engage in work to improve their principal preparation programs. In 2021, The Wallace Foundation again selected Cosner to lead UIC’s team in its work to mentor two universities (University of Texas-Austin, and Portland State) as a part of the foundation’s 5-year $102M Equity-centered [Leadership] Pipeline Initiative project. She also evaluates principal preparation and development programs for state departments of education and for universities.

Cosner has particular expertise related to the design and testing of leadership learning designs (two current projects are funded by NSF and the William T Grant Foundation). She has expertise with the design of developmental visions that narrow and clearly define leadership practices being cultivated for development. She is regularly sought to design curriculum materials and developmental resources for the development of school and system leaders and for the leadership coaches and principal supervisors, who support school leader development. 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, state superintendent/principal associations, and national Ministries of Education. Most recently she has worked with Qatar’s Ministry of Education to design and provide a year-long hybrid leadership team development experience for school leadership teams in Qatar. She has served as the leadership learning design context expert for 4 federally funded projects in the state of IL totaling 31M. In the state of Wisconsin, she supported the design and pilot implementation of Wisconsin's state-wide principal evaluation system. She also consults with school districts throughout the US to provide development for school boards, 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.

Cosner is currently serving in several elected national leadership roles in the US. She is currently in her second term on the Executive Committee of the University Council for Educational Administration. In this work she is co-facilitating the organization’s study and promotion of equity-oriented leadership preparation. She is also the chair for the AERA Special Interest Group, Learning and Teaching in Educational Leadership (LTEL)

Cosner has received multiple awards for her teaching including UICs Council for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award in 2009 and UICs most prestigious career achievement in teaching award, the Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2016. In 2018, Cosner received national recognition by UCEA when she was selected for the organization's Master Professor Award. Cosner is a former principal and district-level leader.

Selected Grants

Principal Investigator Examining Equity-oriented Enhancements, to the Clinical Experiences of Aspiring Principals: Work of the C2 Research Practice Partnership. William T. Grant Institutional Challenge Grant, funded by William T. Grant Foundation,, Bezos Family Foundation, and Spencer Foundation ($650,000). 2023-2026. Co-PI Yue Yin and Kathryn Chval, University of Illinois Chicago; Devin Swartley and Allison Tingwall, Chicago Public Schools.

Principal Investigator, Strengthening School Leadership in High Churn Schools, The Chicago Public Education Fund ($400,000/funded). 2023-2025; Examining and Cultivating Developmental Approaches to Strengthen Early Childhood, Leadership in Urban Elementary Schools through Leadership Coaching, Chicago Children’s First ($100,000/funded). 2021-2022. Co-PI Cynthia Barron, University of Illinois Chicago.

Principal Investigator, Diagnosing and Addressing Network-level Leaders Learning Needs Through C2 Research Practice Partnership, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation and Anonymous Funder ($1,200,000/funded), 2019-2026., Co-PI Cynthia Barron, University of Illinois Chicago.

Co-Principal Investigator, Developing Organizational Capacity to Improve K-8 Mathematics Instruction. DRK-12 Discovery Grant Level III Implementation Teaching, National Science Foundation ($4,730,433/funded), 2019-2024., PI is Allison Castro and additional Co-PIs include Ben Superfine and Yue Yin, University of Illinois Chicago.

Principal Investigator, Examining Educational Ecosystems,, Examining Leadership Development in the Global South and Middle East ($113,130/funded), 2019-2021.

Principal Investigator, Equity-Centered Pipeline Initiative,, University Principal Preparation Initiative, The Wallace Foundation ($1,293,900/funded), 2016-2023.

Co-Principal Investigator, Systems Approach to Leader Pipeline Development. US Department of Education ($1,948,007/funded), 2014-2017., PI Steve Tozer and additional Co-Principal Investigators Sam Whalen, University of Illinois Chicago.

Principal Investigator, PK-5 Mathematics Instructional Improvement: Common Core for All Learners, McCormick Foundation ($450,000/funded), 2014-2017., Additional PIs David Mayrowetz, Cathy Main and Kathleen Sheridan, University of Illinois Chicago.

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., PI, Steve Tozer and additional Co-PIs Sam Whalen, Andrea Evans and David Mayrowetz, University of Illinois Chicago.

Co-Principal Investigator, Urban School Leadership Preparation,, Broad Foundation ($2,100,000/funded), 2007-2011. PI Steve Tozer and additional Co-PI Peter Martinez, University of Illinois Chicago.

Selected Publications

Superfine, B., De Voto, C., Castro-Superfine, A., Cosner, S., & Han, A(in press). How research practice partnerships learn how to develop goals for math and identify problems of practice. In S. Hayes & E. Anderson (Eds.), Continuous improvement: A leadership process for school improvement. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.


Cosner, S. & Alfadala, A. (2023). Post-pandemic national educational investments: School leadership development through innovative learning designs. Qatar: WISE Research Report, Qatar Foundation.

Tozer, S., Martinez, P., Barron, C., Cosner, S., Hightower, Z.,  Jackson, J., Mayrowetz, D., Whalen, S., & Zavitkovsky, P. (2023). Preparing principals for urban schools: The challenge of equitable outcomes at scale. In L. Gomez & M. Biag (Eds.), District-university partnerships for continuous improvement (pp. 262-297)Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Richard, M., & Cosner, S. (2023). Using cycles of inquiry to drive equity-oriented curricular improvement within one leadership preparation program.  In D. Fowler, J. Vasquez Heilig, S. Jouganatos, & A. Johnson (Eds.), Equity & access: An analysis of educational leadership preparation, policy & practice (pp 17-40). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Cosner, S., & Whalen, S. (2023) Supporting leadership preparation program improvement: Taking a deeper look at the design of improvement-oriented preparation program data systems. Chicago, IL: Center for Urban Education Leadership.

Cosner, S., & De Voto, C. (2023). Strengthening the developmental opportunity of the clinical experience in principal preparation: Leadership coach as broker and third-party influencer. Educational Administration Quarterly, 59(1), 3-39. Access at:

Richard, M., & Cosner, S. (2022). Using cycles of inquiry to drive equity-oriented curricular improvement within one leadership preparation program.  In D. Fowler, J. Vasquez Heilig, S. Jouganatos, & A. Johnson (Eds.), Equity & access: An analysis of educational leadership preparation, policy & practice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Cosner, S. (2022). Ongoing attention to teacher leadership and its development: Insights from the United States. In A. McKay, K. Redman, Z. Marzi, & A Miller (Eds.) Education reimagined: Leadership for transformation (pp. 40-43). Victoria: Center for Strategic Education. Access at: file:///Users/user/Desktop/cse-wise-education-reimagined-leadership-for-a-new-era.pdf

Cosner, S., Whalen, S., Richard, M., & Hebert, M. (2021). Exploring educational ecosystems through the lens of intermediary organizations: Insights for policy and practice. 2021 WISE Research Report. Qatar Foundation.

Richard, M., Cosner, S., & Salisbury, J. (2021). Social justice leadership in market contexts. In C. Mullen (Ed.), Handbook of social justice interventions in education (pp. 1-25). Switzerland. Springer International Handbook of Education.

Cosner, S. (2020). A deeper look into next generation active learning designs for educational leader preparation. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 15(3), 167-173. Access at:

Richard, M., Salisbury, J., & Cosner, S. (2020). The school-community connection: Social justice leaders’ community activism to promote justice for students. International Journal of Leadership in Education. Access at:

Salisbury, J., Richard, M., & Cosner, S. (2020). Merging schools and communities: Engaging in activist leadership beyond your school walls. In J. Brooks, T. Watson, & A. Heffernan (Eds.), The school leadership survival guide: What to do when things go wrong, how to learn from mistakes, and why you should prepare for the worst (pp. 131-153). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Cosner, S., Leslie, D., & Shyjka, A., (2019). Supporting instructional transformation tied to standards-based reforms: Examining a learning focused approach to school-wide instructional improvement. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 19(2), 252-270. Access at:

Cosner, S. (2019). What makes a leadership preparation program exemplary? Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 14(1), 98-115. Access at:

Cosner, S. (2019). Assembling the right team for implementing a continuously improving principal preparation program: Lessons learned at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In E. Hunt, A. Haller, L. Hood, & M. Kincaid (Eds.), Reforming principal preparation at the state level: Perspectives on policy reform from Illinois (pp. 205-206). NY: Routledge.

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, 56(3), 364-380. Access at:

Cosner, S., DeVoto, C., & Andry Rah’man, A. (2018). Harnessing the school context as a learning resource in school leader development. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 13(3), 238-255. Access as:

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

Cosner, S., Tozer, S., & Zavitkovky, P. (2016). Enacting a cycle of inquiry capstone research project in doctoral-level leadership preparation. In V. Storey & K. Hesbol (Eds.), Contemporary approaches to dissertation development and research methods (pp. 162-183). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

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

Service to Community

Co-Lead Developer and Professional Development Provider, Year-long development series for Chicago Public Schools Network Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs, Chicago, IL, 2020-2022. 

Program Designer/Curriculum Developer/Professional Development Provider, Qatar Ministry of Education and Qatar Foundation. Year-long school leader development program for school leadership teams in Qatar, 2020-2021.

Curriculum Developer and Trainer of Professional Developers, Leadership Coaches, and District Leaders, Illinois State University’sCenter for the Study of Education Policy. Federally funded through $16M multi-year federal grant programs 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; development being examined through randomized control trial. Normal, IL. 2017 to 2021.

Professional Development Provider, UIC’s Center for Urban Education Leadership (CUEL). Summer institute provided to New Schools for Chicago Principals. Chicago, IL. Summer 2017.

Lead Curriculum Developer and Trainer of Training Team, Illinois State University’s Center for the Study of Education Policy. Year-long curriculum development and training of a team of professional developers who will be training school principals. Normal, IL. 2017-2018.

Executive Coach, Chicago Public Schools Academic Chiefs. Chicago, IL. 2017-2018. 

Lead Developer and Professional Development Provider, Year-long development series for Chicago Public Schools senior leadership team/academic chiefs and department leaders. Chicago, IL2016-2018. 

Co-Lead Developer and Professional Development Provider, Year-long development series for Chicago Public Schools network chiefs. Chicago, IL. 2016-2017.

Developer and Professional Development Provider, Grafton School District. Multi-year development of system- and school-level leadership teams. Grafton, WI. 2015-2017. 

Lead Curriculum Developer and Trainer of Training Team, DuPage Regional Office of Education (ROE). Year-long principal development institute. DuPage, IL. 2015-2016.

 Developer and Professional Development Provider, Green Bay School District, Multi-year redesign of central office administrative team, development of system-level leadership teams, and development of executive director/principal supervisors. Green Bay, WI. 2014-2016.

Lead Curriculum Developer and Trainer of State-wide Training Team, School Administrators’ Institute for Transformational Leadership (SAIL), Association of Wisconsin School Administrator. Madison, WI. 2014.

Professional Leadership

Chair, American Educational Research Association-Learning and Teaching in Educational Leadership (LTEL) SIG, 2022-2025.

Executive Committee Member, University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA), (two terms) 2019-present.

Center Director, UIC Center for Urban Education Leadership, College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2018-present.

Chair, Program Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Ex-Officio, American Educational Research Association-Leadership for School Improvement (LSI) SIG, 2010-2015.

Academic Program Director, Associate Program Coordinator, Ed.D. in Urban Education Leadership, Department of Educational Policy Studies, College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2008-2014.

Director, Leadership Research and Development, Partnership READ. College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2006-2009.

Notable Honors

2021, 2019, 2018, Reviewer of the Year, Journal of Educational Administration

2018, Master Professor, University Council for Educational Administration

2016, Reviewer of the Year, Journal of Research on Leadership Application

2016, UIC Award for Excellence in Teaching (Career Achievement Award), University of Illinois at Chicago

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


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

Professional Memberships


Member, Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Principal Preparation Advisory Group, 2022-present.

Member, Improvement Scholars Network 2021-present.

Member, American Educational Research Association-Improvement Science SIG, 2021-present.

Professional Learning Community Member, Wallace Foundation’s Equity-centered Pipeline Initiative Wallace Foundation’s ECPI Project, 2021-present.

Steering Committee Member, Carnegie Foundation’s I-LEAD, 2021-present.

Academic Advisory Board Member, Global School Leaders (GSL), 2020-present.

Leadership Team Member, Agile Leaders for Learning Innovation Network (ALL-IN), international network of thought leaders advancing a school leader research and development agenda for the Global East and South, 2019-present.

Member, Educator Preparatory Lab, National principal and teacher preparation improvement community, 2019-present.

Research Currently in Progress

Leadership development in India.

Developing organizational capacity to improve K-8 mathematics instruction.

Leadership coaching for leader development.

Activist leadership in big city schools.