Q&A with Visiting Professor Ozge Hacıfazlıoğlu

‘Feed your own soul’ and other lessons in leadership

Ozge Hacıfazlıoğlu on steps

The dogged global pandemic was no match for Dr. Özge Hacıfazlıoğlu, who found her way to Berkeley in January during the surging Omicron variant to take a position as a Visiting Professor in the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education’s Leadership Programs. Hacıfazlıoğlu is teacher, leader, and globetrotter with a doctorate in Educational Administration. She recently served as the vice president at Hasan Kalyoncu University in Turkey, where she formerly chaired the Department of Educational Administration and still serves as a faculty member. During her 20+ year career, Hacıfazlıoğlu has been a high school English teacher, professor, researcher, and lecturer at international conferences. She’s engaged in collaborative research with Syrian refugees in Turkey and in researching the resilience of women leaders. Hacıfazlıoğlu is married and has two sons, a fourth grader (who is now enrolled at Berkeley Arts Magnet, and high school senior (who is applying to colleges in the United States).

Özge, why UC Berkeley?

Berkeley was my first choice and my last choice because what they do here was completely in accordance with what I do in terms of my teaching ideas, in terms of my research priorities. Even the topics we have been studying are very much related. The Principal Leadership Institute was a perfect match for me.

Tell us something about your academic leadership roles in Turkey? 

I served in various leadership roles in higher education as a department chair, director, vice dean, and interim dean for more than 17 years. And most recently, I served as vice rector, which is like vice president in US universities. I was excited to contribute to an innovative research university, with 10 years of history, which hosts approximately 10,000 students. Having a scholarly background in higher education leadership gave me the opportunity to put my action research projects into practice. I enjoyed being actively involved in leadership duties while serving as path-breaker for the faculty and students. 

We had a lot of refugee students in the southeast part of Turkey because it’s by the Syrian border. Who needs help? Refugee students, refugee families. We had a perfect location in terms of making change in the lives of children and their families. I have worked there for four years, with half of my time in the vice rector role. My leadership role meant that I had to travel every week from Istanbul to Gaziantep—two beautiful and unique cities. I should also note that Gaziantep is one of the world's most acclaimed cities, located on the historical Silk Road, and famous for history, culture, art, and especially gastronomy. 

Recently, I decided to feed my own soul as a scholar, leader, and mother. Then I received the letter [from Rebecca Cheung, executive director of UC Berkeley's Leadership Programs, the day after making her decision to be on sabbatical]. This was a sign: ‘This is the perfect timing for you.’ Now I am employed as a Visiting Professor at UC Berkeley's School of Education. 

What called you to educational leadership?

I love teaching. I enjoy being a teacher, but I had to do something related to leadership as well. So having dual master’s degrees—one in leadership and one in literature—offered me that path of educational leadership. After completing my PhD, I pursued my post-doctorate education at Arizona State University, where I conducted my research on “Women Leaders in Higher Education” and contributed to the college by co-teaching in the Doctorate Program in Leadership and Innovation.

What drives you to conduct research?

I'm not doing research for the sake of doing research. I love doing research to make a change in the lives of children, families, and my students. So that’s why I always felt great joy in doing research. It's part of my life. Whatever I do, whatever step I take, I try to link it with my research and teaching.

What do you mean when you say “action research” and how will you share that concept with Berkeley’s leadership students?

It's not a routine and typical research. You collect the data, analyze the problem situation, and develop an action to make the change. Then you put the action in practice and write about it. The philosophy behind it is a more reflective practice and continuous learning and creating learning communities among the students and among ourselves. It’s like the double loop learning cycle, that we learn constantly. And although we enable our students to learn from one another, we also learn as being an active member of the community of practice. We are fully engaged with our PLI [Principal Leadership Institute] students’ Change Management Projects this semester. I believe this is a model that needs to be adopted and implemented in many parts of the world. I feel privileged to be an active member of the PLI, LEAD, and School Psychology faculty.

In addition to traveling the globe, you “travel” between educator roles. Why?

I'm a research-oriented professor. I worked at one of the most prestigious schools in Istanbul. I taught at the high school in the IB program. I taught the Theory of Knowledge class. People again thought that I was a little bit crazy because with that workload. They said, ‘How come you can allocate time to teach for the high school students?’ But it was a very nice learning journey because being a part of the school and teaching is a valuable experience that allowed me to stay connected with the teachers. If you are one of the teachers, the conversations are different, the experience is different. I have also served as a visiting scholar at one of the most prestigious schools in Switzerland since 2019. I have always felt the excitement of being an active researcher for LASER (Leysin American School Educational Research). I was lucky to find time for skiing in Swiss Alps.  

Some of your research has focused on the resiliency of women in leadership. Are you able to listen to your own lessons?

My research was about investigating and collecting stories of women leaders in Turkey and the United States and …. how they maintain balance.  I learned a lot while collecting my data, doing analysis, and writing the article… If you take a leadership role, you have to know when to stop and to look around. You have to look in the mirror all the time for your own wellbeing. Otherwise, as I was reminded by my post-doc supervisor Dr. Clark, ‘If you cannot feed your own soul, then you cannot feed the soul of your student teachers.’

Do you perceive any differences so far between your students in Turkey and students in the United States?

Interestingly, when I had my first meeting last week, the students echoed my students in Turkey. Their stories of resilience in Covid are very much similar to what I have heard in Turkey as well. That's good because it’s the language of the educators and it's the language of the science, which is common in all parts of the world. That's why I felt so comfortable with them.

What will you teach and hope to contribute while at Berkeley?

Because of my commitment to combining theory and practice and my focus on using my educational leadership and research skills to make positive change with high social value, I am very excited to serve as a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Education. I will be delighted to initiate new ideas and innovative ideas into the [newly launched LEAD doctoral program] to make a change in the lives of school principals and teachers who are in the program. I believe School Psychology (PhD) and Ed Leadership students who are enrolled in my course will complement each other with their strengths through telling, re-telling and reflecting their research stories. Learning the research process through storytelling is very meaningful. I hope I will enable them to tell their stories, share their stories, and then revisit their stories and revise their stories. Most of the time, when you ask students to write it down, they feel reluctant to write. But when you ask them to tell the story, they tell the story. This is what we like as human beings.

You’re doing a lot of international work simultaneously. It must be busy! 

Yeah, I'm busy. I say I'm extremely busy. Let me tell you, it's good for me. It's good for my health. I have lots of wonderful friends from different parts of the world. Like yesterday, I received calls from Boston, Salamanca, and Leysin. I have been the “outreach coordinator” on ISATT (International Study Association on Teachers and Teaching) Executive Committee since 2017. ISATT has opened paths for me to collaborate with international scholars and teacher educators for more than 20 years.  I have taken active roles at schools, including teacher training, principal training and school development projects in national and international contexts. I also serve as the Vice President for Turkish Green Crescent since 2021 with the aim of helping children and families.

Why is an international perspective so important?

We have the tendency to be in our rooms. So we have to open our doors to the international arena, whether it’s in the United States or Europe or in Turkey or Middle East. It doesn't matter. But we have to open the doors so that people collaborate with each other. We have to model internationalization in our daily lives because in this United States, you have people from various backgrounds and various countries, nationalities within one nation. This is a practice in which we embrace cultures, we embrace differences, but at the same time find common spots to work on.

What do you plan to do while in Berkeley—besides work?

In the Bay Area, I hope I will allocate more time for my sports activities, like walking and riding a bicycle because I always wanted to ride a bicycle in the city. In Instanbul, you can ride by the beautiful Bosphorous, but you should go out very early in the morning before the traffic hits! Also, I will travel and spend more time with my family, especially my son [Ozge's younger son is in Berkeley and the older son still in Turkey with her husband]. I have given hundreds of seminars on balance, but the way I maintain balance is questionable. That is so ironic. I hope I will have time to enjoy the beauty of California because I was raised in a neighborhood—Izmir—by the sea in Turkey. I'm a sea person. I love living in the United States. I lived in Arizona and Boston before and now I look forward to having great time in sunny California! I hope I will also find time for wind surfing and skiing. I've always loved living in the United States and just connecting with the people. And here people are full of life, which is what I love most.