LLEP

EDLR Student Researchers Stand Out at Conferences

Lisa Sepe at UCEA conference 2017
Neag School Ed.D. student Lisa Sepe presents on the topic of exploring teacher collaboration to support diverse learners at the 2017 UCEA Convention, held last month in Denver. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Sepe)

The 31st annual University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) Convention was recently held on November 15-19, 2017 at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel in Denver, CO. This year, six students from the University of Connecticut’s Department of Educational Leadership presented their research. Daron Cyr, Jonathan Carter, Shannon Holder and Alexandra Lamb represented the Learning, Leadership and Educational Policy Program, while Scott Hurwitz and Lisa Sepe represented the Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) Program.

The UCEA Convention engages participants in discussions about research, policy, practice and preparation in the field of education with a specific focus on educational leadership. This year’s theme was Echando Pa’lante: School Leaders (Up)rising as Advocates and (Up)lifting Student Voices, and the intended discussion was centered around encouraging opportunities for reflective dialogue regarding the educational contexts that students, teachers, principals, and superintendents will be facing within a changing national climate and its impact on educational policy.

Such an opportunity has a meaningful impact on the development of doctoral students as researchers in addition to their professional advancement. Scott Hurwitz, a third-year doctoral student pursuing his Ed.D. and the current principal of Gideon Welles School in Glastonbury, CT, commented on the experience saying,

“Presenting at conferences like UCEA affords us the opportunity to collaborate with university faculty and leadership scholars around the globe. We are able to share our research and receive feedback that informs our current and future work.”

Hurwitz’s presentation was titled, “Institutionalizing School Security: A Case Study,” for which he utilized two branches of institutional theory, logics and myths, and symbols to analyze the organizational shifts that took place in Connecticut schools following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He worked on this research with the Department of Educational Leadership’s Dr. Sarah Woulfin and Dr. Jennie Weiner, who he said, “...served as guides and mentors,” in helping him produce relevant and robust research. Hurwitz is an accomplished researcher, who recently defended his Capstone proposal in October 2017. His proposal examined the how school leaders frame policy specifically around Connecticut’s anti-bullying policy.

Shannon Holder at UCEA conference 2017
Ph.D. student Shannon Holder presents at the annual UCEA Convention in Denver last month. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Holder)

  Shannon Holder, who is a third year doctoral student in the Leadership and Educational Policy program presented two projects at this years UCEA conference. Her first presentation was titled, “The Sheff v. O’Neill Decision and Interest Convergence,” where she analyzed the ruling using Derrick Bell’s (1980) Interest Convergence principle which suggests the interest of Blacks in achieving racial equality will be accommodated only when it converges with the interests of Whites. Her findings revealed two themes: interests converge in the court documents, and interests have diverged since the case was decided. Holder’s second presentation was titled, “Teacher Sensemaking in the Detracked High School Classroom.”  This qualitative study of high school teachers examined how they made sense of a detracking reform. Sensemaking theory is utilized to analyze participants’ conceptualization of detracking. Holder found that participants tended to have different definitions of detracking and as participants transitioned to teaching in a detracked environment those definitions became increasingly amorphous. These findings signal that teachers may create definitions of detracking that diverge from its formal intentions with implications for policymakers and practitioners.

Like Hurwitz, Holder had previous exposure to UCEA as they both presented at the 2016 conference in Detroit, MI. Jonathan Carter, a 2nd year Ph.D. student in the Leadership and Educational Policy program was a newcomer to the student research scene as the 2017 UCEA Conference was his first time presenting research with the Educational Leadership Department at UConn. His research, titled, “Supplementing the core curriculum in a university principal preparation program,” looked at an improvement initiative undertaken by one university’s  principal preparation program to develop a supplemental workshop model to address identified gaps in the core curriculum. Carter was guided by EDLR’s Dr. Richard Gonzalez. As a researcher, Carter found the entire experience valuable to his development saying, “The feedback from other scholars in the field was very useful and will help guide our revisions as we prepare the paper to submit for publication.”

The UCEA conference was one of three academic conferences that the University of Connecticut’s Department of Educational Leadership students had the opportunity to present at this past year, including the The Harvard Graduate School of Education Student Research Conference in which six students attended and presented their research and the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting where five different students were able to present at.

Chelsea Connery, a second year Ph.D. student in Leadership and Education Policy, who attended the Harvard Conference offered a sentiment that all of the student researchers could identify with as she explained,

“Attending conferences such as these, being around motivated and like-minded individuals, can be reinvigorating, which is important, especially in the current sociopolitical context; it can re-foster your hope and resilience.”

The Department is extremely proud of the research and work that our students continue to produce, and thankful for the brilliant and caring faculty that always support them.

Access the full 2017 UCEA Convention program at ucea.org/conference/program-2017

What Being a High School Dropout Taught Me About Teaching

Editor’s Note: The following piece — written by Neag School doctoral student Kristi Kaeppel — originally appeared on the UConn Graduate Certificate in College Instruction blog

Kristi Kaeppel
Kristi Kaeppel is a doctoral student in the Neag School’s Learning, Leadership, and Educational Policy program with a concentration in Adult Learning.

I recently began working on a project that looks at how teachers form their beliefs and conceptions of teaching. Like so much of learning, it seems teachers’ beliefs develop incidentally through experience and observation. Perhaps we model our beloved high school science teacher or we imagine ourselves rousing students from boredom a la Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society.”

When I got reflecting on my own conceptions of teaching, it struck me that so much of how I conduct myself as a teacher comes from having been a failing, disengaged student in high school. When I stepped into my first teaching role in Adult Basic Education, my main objective was to avoid creating the kind of educational environment I so loathed as a teenager.

“I spent a long time hiding the fact that I dropped out of high school. … I think I have finally overcome the stigma and can instead turn my early experiences failing in school into a strength.”
— Kristi Kaeppel, Doctoral Student

Two anecdotes illustrate my loss of faith in schooling that led, along with a slew of other factors, to my eventual dropping out of high school. Looking back on them now, they also make good case studies of what NOT to do as an instructor (especially the first):

  • It was sophomore year, and I was just starting to check out of school, but finally, we were reading a book that captivated me: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I hadn’t done many of the assignments all year, but I applied myself to an essay assigned on the book with rare enthusiasm and concentration. I was proud of my work and eager for feedback. When I got my paper back, I had failed with a note saying that it was “very, very, well-written” and that I must’ve plagiarized. And like that, I checked back out beyond return.
  • It was senior year. By this time I was merely a seat warmer in school on the rare occasion that I showed up. Again, there was a glimmer of hope in my high school English class as the teacher held up two books — Go Ask Alice, a (in my opinion) poorly written piece of anti-drug propaganda and The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, a masterpiece and (sadly for me since it features a depressed teenager) one of the books I most identified with. The teacher asked the class which one we should read. I think I was the only one who voted for The Bell Jar. This confirmed that I did indeed have nothing in common with my classmates and that I would be better off staying home and reading.
Empty Classroom
“I had curiosity and a love of learning. I just didn’t find a home for it in school,” says Kaeppel. (Thinkstock Photo)

Adolescent angst and arrogance aside, these two stories illustrate some teaching approaches I was determined not to replicate:

First, I would trust my students and give them the benefit of the doubt. I would not make accusations; I would listen and approach them with compassion. Even if someone does cheat, why are they cheating? What is going on with them that cheating is a viable option and how can I make authentic learning more attractive to them?

While the teacher in the second story did at least try to have a democratic classroom and allow student choice, I think one could go a step further by allowing even more autonomy and choice in assignments. If some people were drawn to one book and others to another, why not have book groups?

The larger point I took away from both of these stories was to always look for those signs of student interest and curiosity and try to kindle, not extinguish, them.

This is easier said than done. It was much easier to be the failing student with my head down in class who muttered insults about the class under my breath than to become a teacher and have one of the most important responsibilities in society.

“My goal as a teacher is to try and create those conditions where … natural-born, inherent curiosity can thrive.”

I spent a long time hiding the fact that I dropped out of high school. Now that I am in a Ph.D. program, I think I have finally overcome the stigma and can instead turn my early experiences failing in school into a strength.

Perhaps one difficulty for many instructors is that they were model students, and so it’s hard to conceive of the mindset of those students who appear lazy, disengaged, and unmotivated.

I was that person. But I had curiosity and a love of learning. I just didn’t find a home for it in school. My goal as a teacher is to try and create those conditions where that natural-born, inherent curiosity can thrive. If hadn’t been for my own experiences failing out of school, I may not have appreciated just how much potential and dormant academic interest can be concealed under the guise of an apathetic student.

Kristi Kaeppel is a doctoral student in the Neag School’s Learning, Leadership, and Educational Policy program with a concentration in Adult Learning. She works as a graduate assistant for the UConn Graduate Certificate in College Instruction (GCCI) program. GCCI is a nine-credit program for individuals interested in expanding their preparation in and understanding of college teaching.