Career progression in the P-12 education setting doesn’t just begin in the classroom and end in the principal’s office. Recognizing that not everyone pursuing leadership in education has their sights set on becoming a principal, the state of Alabama changed the requisite School Administration Degree program and introduced what is now known as Instructional Leadership Degrees.
Dr. Dee Bennett, Program Director for the Instructional Leadership and Administration Program at Troy University’s College of Education, explains how the transition created opportunities for aspiring educational leaders to make a difference across the broader field of education.
“This change benefits students who don’t see themselves as a principal but want to pursue a master’s degree that facilitates their career progression,” says Dr. Bennett. “This route can lead to different opportunities throughout a school district. This includes central office positions, such as curriculum coordinator or special education coordinator. On the other hand, they might want to become an assistant principal and eventually go on to become a principal and maybe even later, a superintendent.”
Dr. Bennett explains that students in her program welcome the opportunity to follow their own goals.
“It gives them options,” says Dr. Bennett. “What is so nice about the programs at TROY is that they enable the individual to be competitive in multiple places in a school district where they can make a difference and succeed.”
What Skills Do You Need to be an Educational Leader?
Dr. Bennett believes leadership in education is all about building relationships.
“The unique thing in P-12 Education is that there are so many different relationships we have to build,” says Dr. Bennett. “We need to build relationships with the students, with the teachers, with the operations staff and the parents. When we think about the parents, it’s important to remember that we’re working with their most prized possession — their children. So building those community relationships is as important as building those relationships within the school.”
As an alumna of TROY’s College of Education now working as an assistant principal, Melisa Everett echoes Dr. Bennett’s belief in the importance of relationships.
“Instructional leadership is about creating a vision, garnering resources and working alongside the team to accomplish the goal,” says Everett. “The ability to have crucial conversations with compassion while focusing on the task is important. Being slow to react but intentional to resolve is part of my daily life.”
Everett uses the relationship-building skills she developed at TROY to manage many different aspects of her daily professional life.
“I lead by working with my teams to resolve and reduce truancy issues, support special education, schedule time and find resources for the ACT (American College Test), remediation, AP (Advanced Placement) and all things curriculum-related,” says Everett. “I even manage social media for our school.”
As an assistant principal, it is clear that Everett has a hectic schedule. Dr. Bennett explains that time management is one of the biggest challenges facing educational leaders.
“There doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do everything you want to do,” says Dr. Bennett. “One of the challenges for many of us coming out of a classroom experience is learning how to delegate and use staff in the capacity in which they are eager to lead.”
This transition can be difficult at times.
“When you’ve been in that classroom, and everyone’s leaning in on you as the teacher, it’s a shift in perspective,” says Dr. Bennett. “You have to let go and delegate and know that tasks have been delegated to very competent people. Leaders need to utilize their staff in a way that is successful for everyone. When we try to do too many things, our cup runneth over and we risk burnout.”
Educational Leadership Supports Positive Mental Health
According to Dr. Bennett, burnout is a significant problem in schools and educational leaders have a responsibility to protect themselves and their colleagues from its impact.
“One thing we are trying to do in our program is to promote awareness of a positive work-life balance,” says Dr. Bennett. “Many people are drawn to a career in education because they have a calling to help people. However, they must understand what resources are available, so they don’t try to reinvent the wheel.”
Everett explains how she has learned to cope with the pressures of work in the school system and find a positive work/life balance.
“Unfortunately, I am not great at setting time boundaries,” says Everett. “I am often too accessible throughout all hours of the day. However, we have a family agreement and they hold me accountable for being present with them. We have date nights and family weekends. My children play sports, which take up a great deal of their time outside of school, and I am committed to seeing every game and match. Being reminded about my commitment to them and their commitment to me, and knowing that I am loved even when I am struggling, helps sustain me when the pressure gets too much.”
Dr. Bennett highlights the availability of resources to help ease the stress.
“We are very fortunate in Alabama that our State Department is taking action in many different spaces,” says Dr. Bennett. “This includes building leadership teams, instructional coaches and quality mentorships as a way to support teachers in different spaces.”
By reducing the impact of teacher burnout, educational leaders can tackle one of the most significant challenges facing the educational sector.
“We’re hearing a lot about a teacher shortage throughout the United States,” says Dr. Bennett. “This also impacts the number of teachers available to move into leadership roles.”
Taking The Next Step Towards a Leadership Role
Everett explains how she saw her progression into a leadership role as a natural next step on her professional journey.
“As a teacher, I had taken on many leadership roles at my school,” says Everett. “I am a relationship-minded person, and I knew if I ever got to a point where I was exhausted as a teacher, it would be too late to start the process of starting a new career. It would not be beneficial for my students. So, I pursued the instructional leadership degree with the thought of, ‘One day, maybe I’ll be ready to do something related.’ Administration in schools, to me, is a new career. It is not a promotion. It is something new altogether.”
According to Dr. Bennett, Everett’s experience is not unusual.
“On average, I would say we have about a 10-year track record of teachers coming back for these master’s degrees,” says Dr. Bennett. “As far as years of experience behind them, it’s an Alabama State Department requirement that an individual has at least three years of teaching experience. I think that experience is key. To be a successful leader, you need to know what people are going through and their experiences in a classroom before you lead and give advice about what to do next.”
How TROY Prepares Students for Instructional Leadership
TROY offers three educational leadership programs. These include two Master of Science in Education (M.S. Ed.) programs: a 30-hour instructional leadership and administration program which leads to Class A certification with the Alabama State Department of Education and a 18-hour Reduced Hour Option (RHO) instructional leadership and administration program for educators who have already achieved Class A certification in areas like secondary education, science, math, health or physical education.
“Once students have a Class A certification in instructional leadership and administration, they are eligible for our third program, an Education Specialist (Ed. S.) degree in instructional leadership and administration,” says Dr. Bennett.
Dr. Bennett explains that the Ed. S. degree is designed to equip students with the skills needed to become an expert in the field and competent to plan for continuous improvement within schools. It can also provide a boost for career advancement.
“The Education Specialist program is tied to a Class AA certification,” says Dr. Bennett. “Many of our students pursue the Class AA to be a little more competitive in those interviews for a new leadership position and a salary increase.”
Embedded Clinical Experiences
“We take great pride in our instructional leadership program preparing the next generation of leaders for their roles in modern school leadership,” says Dr. Bennett. “We work hard to provide real-life situations and clinical experiences that put students in a space to observe and practice what successful school leaders do in their school districts.”
Students are given the opportunity to do a residency where they engage directly with other teachers, the school principal and community stakeholders.
“Many of our students sit in on interviews with a school principal or a hiring team,” says Dr. Bennett. “This is often the first time they have participated in an interview from the recruiter’s perspective. When the interview is over, they engage in dialogue with the leadership team on the characteristics of a candidate and whether they would match the mission of the school.”
Students also develop a deeper understanding of the day-to-day management of a school beyond the traditional academic calendar.
“Our students often tell us that they didn’t realize how much work went on in school after the teachers had gone home for summer,” says Dr. Bennett. “There’s still a lot that happens with school leadership from the central office and in the trenches in a brick and mortar building, preparing for the next school year. For example, students can participate in making a master schedule, working on ordering supplies, textbook adoption, making sure the bus route is prepared and ensuring all of those teacher positions are filled.”
This leadership residency experience is something TROY students value and assists in their journey of educational leadership
“As a teacher, I saw education from kindergarten through to 12th grade,” says Dr. Bennett. “Despite this, I did not realize how much business management went into the operation of leading a school. I do brag about the fact that our instructional leadership program focuses on the business aspect of leading a school just as much as it focuses on the curriculum and the student achievement.”
In this respect, Dr. Bennett believes TROY’s instructional leadership degree opens the eyes of educators about the many facets it takes to operate a school.
Online Education Degrees
TROY’s instructional leadership and administration graduate programs are offered 100% online.
“The beauty of the online programs is we can work with students throughout the entire state of Alabama,” says Dr. Bennett. “We’ve recently had two of our Alabama educators who worked overseas, and we’ve been able to meet them at their point of need.”
TROY has had to adjust how the clinical experiences fit in with the programs.
“The clinical experiences are tied to the course you are taking,” says Dr. Bennett. “For example, in the human resources class, the student will be asked to sit in on an interview and interview the district’s HR director. This way, they are engaged in that content while they are in the class and not waiting until a semester later to apply the knowledge.”
While the online learning experience was new to Everett, she quickly adopted new learning strategies.
“As someone who likes to engage person-to-person, I had to find new ways to make connections with my peers and professors,” says Everett. “Sometimes with the written word, it can be difficult to interpret intent. So I had to be intentional in my word choice and find more creative ways to interact.”
Everett praised her professors for helping her navigate the online learning experience.
“The greatest asset TROY has is its faculty members,” says Everett. “The quality of instruction and the relationships I built with my professors kept me motivated. I was a full-time teacher and mom of three while working through this program. My professors were genuine throughout the program. They checked on me, encouraged me and even drove to my school to visit. Even in the online setting, I felt heard.”
Visit the program page to learn more about how the Graduate P-12 Instructional Support Certification Degree Program from TROY can help you achieve the educational leadership role that fits your goals.