I have been teaching at Salem State for six years. I obtained my master’s and EdD in language and literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and I teach courses in two primary areas: adolescent literacy and educational leadership. This aligns neatly with my professional history and areas of academic expertise. Before and during graduate school, I worked as a reading specialist, literacy coach, and drama teacher in the Cambridge public school system. I had always been interested in child development and originally wanted to work with first graders, supporting them in learning to read. However when my first principal looked at my resume, she asked me to work with middle school students instead. Thus began my professional career focused on supporting middle and high school students in reading, writing, and communicating within and across disciplines.
As I entered into my doctoral work, I simultaneously became a professional literacy coach. I was fascinated by the roles that coaches played in schools as informal leaders and knew that I wanted to explore this more academically. I loved working in public schools and was nervous about working in higher education because I worried that I would never see a teacher again! Ultimately, I applied for an educational leadership faculty position at Salem State because it seemed to perfectly marry my interests in studying formal and informal leadership roles, and how those roles can spur and foster instructional change in schools. When I first applied to Salem State I was encouraged by the university’s strong commitment to service-learning and by the School of Education’s commitment to building relationships with local and regional school districts. I realized pretty quickly that these relationships were not only encouraged, but valued. Over the past six years, I have been able to spend a great deal of time in local schools, working with teachers and leaders, as well as hosting our own Salem State students in cohort-based course experiences. These relationships with our K-12 partners are critical because they ensure that we remain focused on what is relevant to practicing teachers and leaders.
The bulk of my research and writing focuses on literacy leadership and how to cultivate school change (see, for example, my recent book Adolescent Literacy in the Era of the Common Core). I am currently working on a project seeking to better understand how schools and districts improve adolescents’ literacy achievement and content-area learning through the development of teacher leaders, professional learning communities, and collaborative inquiry cycles. I am interested in all of this from a systemic and organizational perspective, and so I am also working on a new book project about transformational leadership in schools across the country. I think that, as higher education faculty, we can too easily fall into the trap of thinking that all we need to do for undergraduate and graduate students is deliver a particular set of content. In fact, we are preparing teachers and leaders to work in schools of the future that we have not yet fully imagined. We need to equip our Salem State students with both technical knowledge and adaptive skills to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population of learners.
Opportunities for 21st Century Educators
Public education is more complicated than ever before. Teachers are being held accountable via standardized tests. The widespread adoption of the Common Core state standards is pushing the rigor of work across the board. New teacher and leader evaluation systems are encouraging and holding all of us accountable for ongoing professional learning. Most importantly, there is a marked increase in the diversity of our student population (e.g., greater differences in language, socioeconomic status, family expectations about education, etc.). Despite this complex terrain, I think that there are more opportunities than ever for teachers to take on leadership roles within schools. The line between administrators and teachers is blurring. There are opportunities for educators to be teacher leaders, coaches, and facilitators within professional learning communities. A great idea offered by the most dynamic principal will not take hold if teachers do not champion it and push it forward in the classroom. Teacher leaders are the engines that make schools run. This distributed leadership model creates many opportunities for current and future educators, and Salem State’s School of Education is focused on helping our students and K-12 partners adopt a leadership perspective across roles and levels.
What Inspires Me to Teach
While most faculty members will tell you that they became professors because they enjoy the balance between teaching and research, I have a slight preference for teaching. I would not be here if I could not teach. It is the relationship with students in the classroom that drives the other parts of my work. I think that helping to complicate students’ thinking is an important part of higher education. If you just want to learn a specific piece of content, there is no point in being here. You can do much of that technical learning online these days. The reason to enroll in a program here is to change the way you think. One of the most exciting parts of being in the classroom is the interaction between students and teachers. It is taking what seems like a straightforward issue and helping students to see a much more complex picture and really figure out what they think about it and who they want to be. At the School of Education we strive for transformation. Our courses promote and model teacher leadership. Our students participate in professional learning communities and work collaboratively to understand and solve organizational dilemmas. Our faculty and student relationships are strong and often continue well after a course or program ends. I am inspired by helping students to figure out their identities as teachers and ultimately, their identities as leaders. You can’t get that from a website.