Why I’m Going to Grad School

Hello, and welcome to Episode 75 of the Planning Period Podcast, your #EdBreakroom. I’m your host, Brad Shreffler.

This week on the show, it’s just me. If you’ve been listening to the show for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard me say I would never go back to school, never get my masters. And yet, last week, I completed my application and signed the paperwork to get my Masters In Educational Leadership from National Louis University. Given that this is Episode 75 of my podcast (that is still insane for me to believe) and that this big thing is happening, I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain my decision, and go solo talking about what it means for me and the future of this show. I want to start by reading my entrance essay that I wrote for NLU. It outlines a good bit of my journey and explains how I was pushed to this point. I am a professional educator that has spent the last ten years of my life dedicated to education and the advancement of not only students but teachers. Out of the last ten years of my career I have spent four of them outside of the classroom supporting the development of teachers. I have spent the last four years of my nearly ten year teaching career out of the classroom. During that time, I have been the Digital Instruction Coach, or Digital Integration Specialist, at a high school and middle school. I started this  journey as an English teacher at a large high school in Central Florida, as a member of the Digital Curriculum Leadership team the year before we launched one-to-one digital program. Without being asked I became the unofficial leader of that team. My peers realized quickly I not only had a clear vision for what a successful launch would look like, but that I had the ability to plan for that and make it a reality. If I am being truthful, it was the first time I realized that I had the right mindset, expertise, and passion to handle a leadership role in a school. After the first few months of attending district trainings and building professional developments to deliver back to the staff, I began to realize that this initiative wouldn’t be successful without someone on the school level dedicated to making this initiative happen. I expressed this belief to my principal and added that I felt like I was the right person for that role for the following school year. He agreed, and we created the role of Digital Instructional Coach. During that first year, I successfully launched a one-to-one program from the ground up with the largest high school in the state, and one of the top ten largest high schools in the country. To date, it is one of the greatest accomplishments of my professional career. In my three years at that high school I built and ran professional developments on all instructional aspects (not just technology), ran new teacher mentorship, built a student-run technology support program that is now replicated in many high and middle schools in the county, presented at multiple conferences, including the largest technology conference in the world (ISTE), and was heavily courted to bring my skills to a middle school nearby to help launch their one-to-one initiative. This is how I ended up being at the middle school I am at now, the largest middle school in the country, with nearly 3000 students. Coming to middle school has certainly had its challenges, but the majority of the time has been filled with hard work and a genuine sense of accomplishment. I work with an amazing leadership team, great APs and the best principal I’ve had the privilege of working for. They are a huge driving force for why I have decided to go back and get my master’s degree. I always said I would never go back to school, didn’t want to be an administrator, and was happy as a coach. My peers refused to accept that, and have regularly pushed me to consider going back and challenged me to see the ways in which it could be an opportunity. I have listened to their points, agreed with many of them, and while I still wouldn’t commit I started to consider the possibility. Fast forward to this past Thursday morning, I was telling my principal, Andrew Jackson, about a success I had working with one of our PLCs and getting them to change their practice. After I finished explaining the impact I was able to make on the process, he began trying to compel me again to get my master’s and joining the administrative world of education. This time, he found the magic bullet to push me into action, a social issue that I am passionate about: our ailing education system. Most people I know, educators and non alike, tend to believe that education is broken, or at the very least that there is something definitely flawed with it. The data even supports this, as the United States is consistently in the middle of the pack for educational systems world wide. Despite this general understanding, what continues to bother me and drive my desire to help grow and change the system is that no one is asking the big question: How is education broken? This question was the impetus for me starting my own educational podcast, where each week I sit down (virtually) with another education stakeholder and ask them, among other questions, “What is the biggest problem facing education today?”. To date, I’ve released 75 episodes of this podcast, and not one of my guests have been prompted to answer this question before, which is terrifying to me. How can we, as professionals and leaders in this arena, begin to address the problems in education if we have not gone to the trouble of naming them? From my perspective, one of the biggest problems in education is that there aren’t enough quality candidates to meet the needs of our schools. We have a teacher scarcity, which is a well-known issue, but we also have an administrator shortage. We can fill the positions, but not with candidates of true value that can understand the needs of an educator professionally, personally, and emotionally. In this belief is where Mr. Jackson found the hole in my carefully constructed armor of refusal. He said, “There are going to be five new schools opening in the next five years in this area alone. That’s five principals and many more assistant principals, and you’ve seen first-hand there isn’t enough depth in that pool. People will get those jobs based on time-in-the-system and not quality. So when I see someone like you, who I know can do the job and do it well, but is refusing, that is a dereliction of duty.” That’s brings me to this moment, writing an entrance essay for National Louis University to be accepted into the Masters in Educational Leadership program. I will use this opportunity to evolve into an even better teacher, coach, advocate, and leader. A teacher who can spark creativity in my students, whether they are 13 or 31. A coach who can help teachers evolve and grow in not only their educational skills but in their empathy and passion for student well-being. An advocate who can speak to all education stakeholders for the needs of our students. And a leader who can bring the change to the system that we so desperately need. Never let it be said that I have ignored my passions, that I have let stubbornness stifle my potential or that I have abandoned my duty. I think this essay speaks to my intent very well. Let me add here on the show that Mr. Jackson was certainly not the only one to push so heavily against me. My dad, Bob Shreffler, former guest, has not stopped pushing me to go back to school for years. Nicole Mutters, my now AP, and dear friend, has always said I would eventually do it. Jackie Ihnenfeld had the admissions person from NLU at our school in 2 hours after I said I was actually considering it. It is going to take a village for me to get through this. The classes are one night a week, plus online work, readings, and practicum done at school. It will affect my life a lot, and is already requiring me to rebalance things. However, I’m determined to keep the podcast going. This is a project that I am so passionate about, I can’t let it go. That by no stretch means the program won’t affect the show. Any readings I do, and find useful, will result in me reaching out to the authors to be guests on the show. I also plan on doing monthly check-ins with my classmates to discuss what we’ve learned in our classes and how we think the program is going. If possible, I’ll ask the professors to join in. I will also be posting to the blog more. My plan right now is to publish all my papers written for the program here. Case studies, prompt responses, research papers, whatever, posted on my blog (with school and district names stripped for anonymity). So, there are changes coming for me and for the show. The goal here is to get into true administration. As many people have told me, I’m already doing the job of an AP, so I might as well get paid for it. I have the vision for it I believe, the ability, and the passion. Wherever this journey takes me, I’m excited. And I’m excited to bring that journey to the Planning Period Podcast as it continues on into the future. Until next week, consider what you’re hesitating to do, and just do it.

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