Education is undergoing radical changes, and the roles and responsibilities of educators are changing, too. While technology is driving much of the change, it's not about to replace the need for strong curriculum and passionate practitioners. In fact, the passion that inspires people to teach has never been more important, according to Southern New Hampshire University's Associate Dean of Online Education Programs Dr. Danny Tanguay.
To understand the changing face of education, Tanguay said, is to understand not only the qualities of a good teacher but the qualities of a leader. "It's not about having a position of power. It's about the ability of an individual to go above and beyond what is normally required of a teacher," he said. "It's someone who doesn't see it as a job, someone who's doing it because they care."
More Than a 9-to-5 Job
Michael Boutselis '16 earned his Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with concentration in Education Leadership. A high school English teacher in Manchester, N.H., he personifies the modern teacher leader and echoes Tanguay's sentiments. "To commit to it in a way that's going to have the most impact, you're committing nights and weekends," he said. "It's way more than a 9-to-5 job."
As an online educator teaching English as a second language to children in China and other countries around the world, Aubrey Thompson '17 also earned her master's in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in education leadership. "My favorite thing about teaching is that moment when a struggling student has a major breakthrough, like 'finally, I get it!' For me, that is what teaching is all about," she said.
With more than a dozen years teaching technology to middle-school students in Derry, N.H. to her credit, Kimberley Tufts has also taught at SNHU for the past six years at the bachelor's and master's degrees program levels. She's also lent a hand in enhancing some of the university's technology courses and is currently an instructor team lead, where she said, "I support and coach current graduate education instructors."
As a leader in education, she is especially passionate about sharing her love of technology. "Currently, I am a mentor to one of my former SNHU students who was recently hired as a middle school technology teacher. It is so rewarding to see her thrive and implement not only what she learned with me but to take it one step further as an independent technology educator. I could not be more proud of her."
Here's how these educators, from Tanguay to Tufts, weighed in on a variety of topics, including the essential leadership qualities, the growing role of technology and the far-reaching career benefits of a focused in educational leadership.
On The Qualities of a Leader
Asked whether teaching is a job or a calling, Tanguay was unequivocal about the answer. "I think teaching is very much a calling," he said. "You're molding lives. You're molding minds. At times, it's going to be very rewarding, and other times it will be ... discouraging. So to me, that's not a job. It's definitely a calling."
Boutselis agreed wholeheartedly. "For the best teachers, it is a calling. The teachers who are going to make the biggest impact are those who can't imagine doing anything else," he said. "For me, that's a teacher who isn't just there showing up at the start of school and leaving at the end of school. It's that teacher who comes to the soccer game, shows up at the school play, interacts with kids beyond the walls of their classroom."
What Boutselis describes is exactly what sets teachers and teacher leaders apart in Tanguay's mind. To him, the difference comes down to one's willingness to go above and beyond. "As a teacher I'm expected to go in, take the curriculum I have, develop the lesson plans, develop the various activities my students are going to do, grade my students' work, make sure my students are engaged with the lesson, make sure they're learning and then, when needed, advocate for them to make sure they're getting what they need," he said.
"An educator leader takes the curriculum and tries to improve upon it. They ask, how can I make this curriculum align with what is actually happening on the outside? Then how do I take that curriculum and make sure I've outlined an instruction that's going to address all the individual learning needs in the classroom?" Tanguay said.
For Thompson, being an educational leader "is all about remaining on the cutting edge of education. What new tools are out there just waiting to be used in our classrooms? What teaching techniques might meet the needs of our students in a more effective way? What can we do to ensure the health and safety of our students? Answering these questions should be both the duty and passion of an educational leader."
On The Purposeful Use of Technology
Because, by definition, today's teacher leaders have to go above and beyond what's required of "a normal teacher," Tanguay cautions against becoming overwhelmed. He said the key to avoiding this - and to creating the most effective teaching methods - is to rely on the various tools and resources available, technology being chief among them.
As certified Technology Integration Specialist with the State of New Hampshire, Tufts said, "Technology today is ubiquitous. Our students are now exposed to technology from a young age. The sooner we begin discussing digital citizenship and ethical uses of technology the better."
While youth may have had far earlier access to technology and comfort level older students took some time to possess, Tufts said there's a misconception that because youngsters have used it technology the majority of their lives, "they must be adept at using in the classroom." From her experience, she's found that in spite of the access, "they do not use technology to support their educational endeavors." That parallels across the board from middle school to graduate students. The focus then becomes a student-centered approach to technology integration, "allowing students to create an end project to show what they know," she said.
"At the end of the day, it is important to use technology for the correct purpose," Tufts said. "Technology is a tool and could never replace the teacher."
Boutselis finds all sorts of creative ways to integrate technology into the curriculum. "For instance, you can use Google maps and Google tours and actually take students to areas you might find in a novel you're reading," he said. "You can have interactive stuff where kids can touch or move things on smartboards. Any chance you can bring technology in and use it in a more purposeful way is good. It gets them much more engaged."
For Boutselis and many of his colleagues, the "purposeful" use of technology even extends to smartphones. "By allowing students to pull out their phones and use them for classwork, it takes that stigma, that taboo off of it," he said. "A lot of students will use phones for interactive polls in the classroom. So instead of raising your hand, you can select your answers from an app on your phone."
Given that technology is an integral part of our lives, it's only natural that it translate readily into the classroom. "Today's students have grown up in a sea of technology, so it's a medium they are familiar and comfortable with," Thompson said. "It also helps them learn skills that will be needed in most fields of work when they go looking for a job. Technology is a must in 21st-century classrooms."
It helps to put the technology into context, Boutselis said. "When it comes to presentations, for instance, I'll try to get them to understand the point of doing a PowerPoint or a Prezi or whatever it is. You know, why is that a benefit when you are presenting? And how are you going to carry that into the workforce?"
On Mastering Educational Leadership
According to Tufts, "an educational leader is one who strives to place students learning at the forefront of their day-to-day decision making. This leader is continually learning and striving to understand the student population they work with, adjust instruction and differentiate curricular needs to meet all socioeconomic and cultural differences."
Educators bent on moving toward a leadership position will benefit most from a master's program focused on education leadership, according to Boutselis. "Whether it's a department head or liaison or curriculum facilitator," he said, "it gives you that opportunity to get some leadership skills because the classes are based on how to be a leader in any realm, not just education."
But even those educators not on an administrative track will find the program valuable, Boutselis added, because it provides a broad overview of leadership roles, from the financial to the legal to the curriculum aspects.
"I remember bringing a lot of that practice into the classroom, how I was designing my unit, seeing the bigger picture of how your curriculum ties into the student experience over the next four years," he said. "That helps open the door for stronger conversations with colleagues as well. It also encourages conversation with other departments outside of yours."
Boutselis cited the practicum experience he received as extremely beneficial. "You know, having the opportunity to go in and intern with an administrator and really see what that job entails," he said.
And the job entails a lot. "This leader also continues to implement state guidelines required of them such as competencies, state and national standards and policies in their particular field," Tufts said. "The educational leader is also collaborative in nature and works with others to implement best practices. They share their passion for education with others. A true educational leader has a strong understanding of curriculum and instruction, pedagogy, technology integration and embraces change."
Thompson said she "learned a lot about teaching in a diverse classroom and catering to the needs of students from all kinds of backgrounds. No two students are alike - each one has a unique perspective based on their ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, parents, orientation, opportunities and other factors that they bring when they enter the classroom."
The challenge then becomes how to meet those needs while ensuring the curriculum needs are also met. "This degree program helped me to understand how we can meet the needs of so many students while covering required class material," said Thompson. "It was quite illuminating and very interesting. Anyone wishing to work in a position of leadership in the field of education needs the knowledge that this degree program has to offer."
The emphasis on educational leadership was especially important for Thompson. "The knowledge I gained from those courses, in particular, was incredibly eye-opening and informative. I learned how to do an annual budget for an entire school, which services need to be hired out and which services can be done internally, how to build a school-wide emergency operations plan, how to design an educational facility and so, so much more," she said.
In the end, of course, that's what success as an educational leader always comes back to - the commitment to go above and beyond, both in the classroom and the school community as a whole. As Tanguay said, "Students feel it, even virtual students."
Betty Egan '17 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn.