New EdS Course Creating District Leaders
The 25 Education Specialist students seated in a semicircle in a classroom on the Lincoln campus last summer came from urban school districts and rural, private and public. Some were principals with years of experience; others were in their first year and new to administration.
They talked like teachers meeting over coffee, acting as each other's mentor.
Light stuff at first; a question about how a school maintains sportsmanship at athletic events.
Then heavier topics. Student suicide. Misperceptions in the public that erode confidence in administration.
"For me, it's the days when I have to send a child home and my gut tells me it's not O.K. there --- and that decision clouds every other decision I have to make that day," one EdS student shared with the group.
The morning class - one of the first meetings of Doane's new EdS program -- passed quickly and the group is dismissed for lunch and time to "walk the beach." Students paired off to walk and talk, to listen and respond to each other using the words of their partners.
It's practice for down the road when they will have to "coach" their own leadership team but also make decisions that affect an entire school district, said Dr. Doug Christensen, professor of leadership in education. "Walking the beach" shows them the importance of being a critical friend for their peers, while experiencing what a life coach can do for their leadership thoughts and actions. We all need someone in our careers who we can call at anytime and say ‘I have to talk," said Christensen, the lead professor of the program that prepares leaders for schools at the district level.
For students like Chad Denker '93, '97E, '01E the program is living up to expectations. Denker had completed 24 credit hours toward an EdS degree with another institution when Doane announced its own program last spring.
Denker walked away from his credits to join Doane's first EdS cadre.
The EdS degree will eventually be the fourth diploma from Doane hanging on his wall - joining a bachelor's degree and master's degrees in Education in Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Leadership.
Returning for a fourth degree and a step beyond the master's was an easy call, said Denker, principal at Seward High School.
"I didn't feel like any other program was going to give me the pieces I needed to be a good superintendent someday. Doane's program is the difference between learning to manage (a district) and learning to lead it."
Denker is among 18 students in the program who earned Doane's EDL degree, a master's degree. The first cadre of the specialist program are principals, directors of programs, and administrators, driving in from places like Seward, Columbus, Plainview, Hartington, Omaha, Millard, Gretna and Bellevue.
"They expect a doctorate-level feel," Christensen said.
The program begins with classes that reveal the leader within. It's the foundation of everything EdS candidates will learn in the next 36 credit hours of coursework, he said.
"If you are not in touch with your values and beliefs, you will do things just for the sake of doing it, instead of getting the outcomes that make your district a better place for teachers and students to go to school, Christensen said. "...If you really understand (your values), you can trust that they are in place and that they will endure."
What sets Doane apart, Christensen said, is that it teaches not only budgets and procedures and skills, but also the caliber and integrity of leadership required.
"As a building principal, the students have learned that they must make connections with teachers and students because you are there everyday. However, if you are the superintendent and often in another building, how do you make those connections so people trust you?" he asked the class.
Students completed an exercise that matched an adjective with the first letter of each person's name. It's part of a lesson about relationships, how each leader will have to know much more about their staff than just a name.
Another exercise asked students to share situations that brought out strengths they didn't know they had. Students swapped stories ranging from a parent who became a single mom while her husband was deployed to a teacher who had to find a new job when the private school that employed him closed doors.
For Denker and other students one draw of the program is Christensen and his voice of experience.
"When you have a lead instructor like Christensen, it brings instant credibility," said John Schwartz '02,'05E, '08E assistant principal at Papillion-La Vista High School. "He has experience at the highest level of education."
Schwartz and Denker are among four students in the first cadre who will have four degrees from Doane when they complete the EdS.
Both were athletes at Doane; both met their wives on the Crete campus. Denker lived on campus for a total of nine years, first as an undergraduate, then as Resident Assistant and Director.
Both hope to become superintendents if the right opportunity arises. They shared a similar message about why they chose Doane four times: They loved their time at Doane and the doors it opened.