Spotlight on Partners Alumni: Deanna Rolffs

In this series of posts, we feature Partners “alumni” — former staff members and clients. We describe their current professional activities and how the skill sets and mindsets developed during their time with Partners are serving them today. This post spotlights Deanna Rolffs (she/they), who was a Partners staff member from 2012 to 2016.

What has been your path from your work with Partners In School Innovation to your current role?

After leaving Partners in 2016, I joined the executive leadership team of a nonprofit dedicated to housing justice, supporting people experiencing income inequality and racism in the home-ownership and banking systems. 

In 2018, I joined Design Group International’s community of practice that is dedicated to process consulting (walking alongside, listening, helping, and learning) instead of product consulting (selling, telling, and centering consultant expertise). My practice has centered around organizational change, leadership and team development, and anti-oppression.  

I was honored to become a partner at Design Group International in 2021 in addition to holding my own client portfolio. I’m dedicated to walking alongside leaders and teams in all sectors, supporting them to plan and implement the transformation and change that they seek.

What has been one of your biggest challenges, and what have you learned?

Leaders ask me critical questions daily, seeking support, tools, and resources to solve their knottiest leadership and equity challenges. I wondered if, in addition to working directly with clients, I could provide lighter-touch support to leaders by writing. In 2021, I wanted to start a blog but was petrified! Who was I to write a blog? What did I have to offer? 

I learned that I didn’t have to have all of the answers, but I love to hold brave spaces with adult learners. Before launching the blog, I traded coaching with Malika Amandi, the founder of The Center for Women’s Voice who helped me identify the WHY and HOW of my blog Leadership & Learning Letters. After eighteen months of blogging, readership is consistently growing, currently reaching 700 hits a month. 

My goals are to spark thinking, unpack the complexity of thorny challenges, share real-time scenarios, build community, and elevate liberatory frames with the end-goal of facilitating justice and equity education, practice, accountability, and outcomes. I encourage the readers of Partners’ blog to check out mine when they can. My 2022 Leadership + Frameworks series, including Leadership + Intersectionality and Leadership + Critical Race Theory may be of particular interest. Those interested in subscribing to my blog can do so here.

What one or two learnings from Partners have been most useful in your coaching work?

Everything! I credit my time at Partners with helping me become an authentic human dedicated to disrupting inequity. As a white, gender nonbinary person, this work includes ongoing learning about systemic racism, racial inequity, doing my own inside-out work, growing bravery, increasing comfort with discomfort, and learning how to be a white person working for racial equity. 

Partners protocols, resources and frameworks are gifts that keep giving, and I use them daily. Additionally, it was an honor and joy to serve on Partners’ Alumni Advisory Committee in 2021-22. The relationships I’ve built with Partners colleagues and school and district leaders continue to be the most life-giving. For example, I’m grateful to have just begun a 14-month project with a previous PSI district to develop an anti-oppression curriculum. I’m daily inspired by this generation of leaders who are working to do good, honest, messy, critical, liberatory, anti-oppression work. Talk about full-circle. Partners did that.