Skip to main content

Doctoral program graduates first cohort of leaders

April 23, 2009

Sinking 20 free throws out of 20 tries is impressive; graduating all 20 students admitted to a doctoral program is practically unheard of. But that is exactly what Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership (CTEL) has accomplished with its first cohort in the Ed.D. program in Leadership and Innovation. Members of the inaugural cohort, who started the program in the fall of 2006, will receive their degrees at ASU’s May 13 commencement ceremony.

“Of course the credit for this 100 percent success rate ultimately goes to the 20 outstanding individuals in our inaugural cohort,” says Suzanne Painter, director of the Ed.D. program, which is based on ASU’s West campus. “Their accomplishment is testament to their commitment to their own success and to that of their colleagues in the program.

“CTEL faculty members also have worked with great diligence, designing the new program, getting it off the ground, and spending countless hours working with students on their dissertation projects,” Painter says. “Their dedication is remarkable.”

CTEL’s Ed.D. program emphasizes collaborative work among students and professors. Students admitted to the program are practicing leaders in educational settings, from elementary schools through community colleges and universities. The doctoral program provides students with repeated practice at implementing changes in their work settings and analyzing the results of those changes.

Students conduct much of their work as part of “Leader-Scholar Communities,” small groups of students mentored by two professors. Leader-Scholar Community members support one another as they design, implement and evaluate applied research projects to bring about positive changes in their workplaces.

“In the profession of education, the way we make change is through teamwork,” says Christopher Clark, a CTEL research professor, who played a significant role in the development of CTEL’s Ed.D. program. “Sometimes you’re a leader and sometimes you’re a team member who works to support a leader. The Leader-Scholar Community model is designed to develop leadership and teamwork skills that will prove valuable to our graduates throughout their professional careers.”

Students say this model enables them to connect what they are learning in the doctoral program to what they practice in their schools, making the work that they do relevant and meaningful.

“We support each other and push each other in our community of practice,” said one student in response to a survey conducted by CTEL. “The Leader-Scholar Communities are the key to the success of this program, and I think that is why we remain so intact. No one has dropped out and I don’t think we would allow each other to drop out.”

Strong relationships have developed not only among students but also between students and CTEL faculty. “The relationship will be lasting between the university and the school system. It builds the bridge so that the research we do affects the schools,” says another student survey respondent.

Results of this survey, and an in-depth description of the Leader-Scholar Community concept, are the focus of an article in the journal Educational Researcher. “A Signature Pedagogy in Doctoral Education: The Leader-Scholar Community,” published in the April 2009 issue, was co-authored by CTEL faculty colleagues Kate Olson and Christopher Clark.

Clark says the CTEL Ed.D. program places an unapologetic emphasis on helping leaders make a difference in a local setting. “The traditional doctoral dissertation aims to add original and generalizable knowledge to an academic field. In contrast, our dissertation process fits into the context of our students’ roles as real-world educational leaders. These individuals aspire to make a positive difference in the day-to-day, local settings in which today’s educators are working,” he says.

Deborah Holgate, a middle school language arts teacher in Page, Ariz., conducted a dissertation project that sought to improve the English language reading comprehension of 14 middle-school Navajo students. Holgate’s results showed that strategies of explicit instruction, which concentrated on five reading skills, and social integration through dialogue with one another were effective in helping the students develop reading comprehension skills, particularly in the areas of content and meaning, while increasing their English development in social learning groups.

For her dissertation project, Guadalupe Ley Hightower, a director of instructional support programs in the Tolleson Elementary School District, established a Community of Practice (CoP) among seven teachers to respond to a recently implemented state mandate that students who are English language learners receive four hours of English language development (ELD) daily. Results showed that the CoP was an effective tool for professional development among the teachers. It helped the teachers learn strategies from each other and articulate and implement the ELD policy. Hightower also found that professionalism among participating teachers played a key role in the CoP’s success.

“Ultimately we want to get our Ed.D. graduates committed to the habit of taking innovative actions, studying the results, and then repeating the cycle,” Painter says. “After being the pioneer students in the program, members of this first cohort will continue to be pioneers as alumni. We hope they will maintain the professional connections they have established in the program and will serve as mentors to current and future students.”