The FWSU Story: “Paging Doctor Teacher; Paging Doctor Teacher” FWSU Teachers Pursue Doctorates in Education

Last year, four FWSU teachers made a decision that would change their educational lives. Amy Gray and Karen Lehning from GEMS, Jensen Welch from BFA, and Denette Locke from Fletcher Elementary decided to move their learning to new heights; they applied and were accepted into the Southern New Hampshire Doctoral Program in Education. FWSU could not be prouder! 

The University describes the program like this: “The Southern New Hampshire University Doctorate of Education degree is designed to develop Scholar-Practitioners by advancing participants’ knowledge of leadership theory and practice, their understanding of approaches to organizational development, and their ability to effectively implement research methodologies and disseminate associated findings. SNHU’s Ed.D. program is offered as a regional cohort model, with hybrid courses occurring in a condensed weekend format during the Spring and Fall academic terms and a week-long residency each summer.” Those courses began last spring for our 4 teachers, and their journey is well underway.

As outlined in the program description, the program helps prepare “a new generation of transformational leaders to engage and lead positive change in education organizations and education systems.” As with their Master’s Program, SNHU program uses a cohort model for the Doctoral program, which helps to guide the development of the participants as “scholar-practitioners” in three areas: leadership theory and practice, organizational development, and research methodologies.

Our teachers really value the cohort model. The four of them can support each other here in FWSU, along with the other cohort members who meet regionally in Essex. Our teachers are able to apply their learning to their current work. All of them serve in some leadership capacity in their teams, schools, and across FWSU. The program is truly innovative, which makes it particularly attractive and a good fit for FWSU educators. And as anyone in a cohort model will tell you, the bonding with your colleagues unleashes support, creativity, and well, even some fun!

I asked each of the teachers what attracted them to this program at this time in their teaching career, since typically it’s administrators who pursue doctorates. Here is what they had to say:

Amy Gray, Grade 8 Math Teacher at GEMS: “I get asked frequently why I decided to do this. Most people are wondering what I’m going to do with that degree. And, I do have goals, but that’s not what it’s really about. For me, education is all about personal transformation.  Learning is a journey, a journey I love and have always wanted to travel. In fact, that’s why I teach. What other job asks you to be a lifelong learner? As far as the EdD program, I wanted to do something that would push my learning to the next level and really challenge me. And, it certainly is!”

Karen Lehning, Math Content Leader and Interventionist at GEMS: “I chose to pursue a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership through Southern New Hampshire University because I was looking for an opportunity to grow professionally in a challenging and supportive environment. Pursuing this degree has allowed me to think critically about complex educational issues that will impact both current and future students. My hope is that this program will transform my practice as an educator and provide me with new ideas, resources, and perspectives to support the efforts of educators and students in this district.”

Jensen Welch, BFA Fairfax High School Math Teacher and Proficiency-Based Learning Support: “I’m pursuing a doctorate in education because I was looking for an opportunity to pursue ‘something next’ and the SNHU Doctorate Cohort was being formed, so I jumped at the chance. When friends and family ask me how I am able to do all of the work and be away from family for most of a weekend a month, I explain that the topics and theories we are studying are so fascinating and interesting and engaging, that the extra effort and time are worth it.”   

Denette Locke, Fletcher Elementary Instructional Coach: “Originally I was not sure that the timing of the doctoral journey was right for me because of my crazy, wonderfully busy personal life, caring for a parent, and my own professional responsibilities. Those reasons also sparked why I should be starting the journey, too, kind of weird really! When Jensen and Karen both reached out to me after the Profile Weekend and said ‘you would be perfect for this,’ knowing the value of a cohort model and having colleagues reach out to me sparked me in moving forward. The cohort, the model of the Ed Leadership program, and the fact that I am a ‘scholarly practitioner’ in this journey makes it make sense to me. I love learning…I love the opportunity to make connections to both my professional and personal lives and I love growing, challenging myself and using my brain muscle!”

These four outstanding educators, who also just happen to all be skilled math leaders, have captured the most essential reasons why teachers pursue doctorates, reasons that we need to pay attention to in designing professional learning for all educators: personal and professional transformation of practice, challenging and supportive environments, complex and engaging issues to address, the motivation and inspiration of a cohort model, and valuing teachers as “scholarly practitioners” and researchers. Dr. Wendy Baker, SNHU Executive Director of Advanced Studies and one of their doctoral professors, summed it up this way, “FWSU doctoral students are deepening their work as educators by designing original research into an area they’re passionate about within their school setting. Their tireless pursuit of the scholar-practitioner lens has already changed their outlook on their work with classrooms and colleagues. We can’t wait to see where their studies take them next!”

I couldn’t agree more — these teachers are truly challenging themselves to actualize “a belief in what is possible.”

Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

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