Transforming Outcomes for Disadvantaged Youth
Prior to commencing in my graduate career at Michigan State University (MSU), I faced the challenge of attaining a 4.0 in my first three classes to ensure I could continue as a regular student in pursuit of my master’s degree. This was a requirement of MSU since my entry level grade point average was not quite at the overall 3.0 level needed to pursue a graduate degree, due to a less than stellar junior college career in my late teens. However, this was a goal that I embraced as a positive since generally I tend to focus more acutely when something seems unattainable, and because, honestly, I had no choice. The intended effect of getting straight A’s in those first three courses was the ability to remain a student and continue my journey to graduate from MSU with my master’s degree.
The first course that helped elevate my thinking towards becoming a transformational leader in my field was KIN 854: Legal and Administrative Issues for Administrators and Coaches. This class helped kick off my graduate career by demanding I develop stronger critical and scholarly writing skills that would enable me to thrive in a course filled with complex statute and intense readings dominated by legalese. I was informed early on what was expected of me in my graduate career with a strongly worded syllabus that emphasized lofty expectations, as affirmed in statements such as “This is a Master’s level class. Therefore, scholarly writing is expected. Please adhere to APA format for all papers and assignments.” The explicitly stated syllabus, along with a complex course book An Introduction to Sport Law and several challenging legal assignments set the tone for a course that will prove vital to my career in education administration.
One such assignment that helped my thinking relating to administrative issues was getting the chance to create a risk management plan in table format, which assessed risk levels in various venues related to specific seasonal sports and detailed types of control factors that needed to be put in place by administration to manage potential liability risks to the business. A key part of this assignment was to ensure proper documentation was in place to mitigate risk, such as operational manuals, references that detailed legal specifications for equipment, waivers, etc. The opportunity I got to create this type of plan has helped in my capacity to be able to assess a facility, such as my current office at the Department of Education, as well as agency controls in specific areas of concern, like personnel, to be able to make recommendations to help mitigate areas of risk for upper management.
Another assignment that helped develop my administrative capacity was my final essay, a moot court case involving a fictional family suing a university to recover damages for the child’s broken arm and concussion suffered as a result of a batted ball at a college baseball game. To successfully sue the university, the plaintiffs had to prove the four tenets of negligence: 1) Duty, 2) Breach, 3) Cause, and 4) Harm. Analyzing the details of the case and understanding the principles related to each of these elements has helped expand my perspective on potential workplace hazards and will prove beneficial once I transition back into field consultant work tasked to assess child care agencies and bring them into compliance with health and safety regulations. Developing a greater understanding of core administrative principles, such as ethics, crisis management, sexual harassment, consent, employment law, discrimination and equal opportunities in the workplace are essential components to become a competent administrator interested in comingling a productive work environment with one that limits liability risk. This type of knowledge is especially helpful in my career, as employment within a state agency that possesses powerful union representation for its employees requires a sensitive approach to the challenging task of creating a work culture that is both inspiring and supportive of its members, but also productive and efficient. Specifically, I was able to gain a greater context while currently employed as a consultant, one promotion away from potentially working in an administrator capacity, and added a greater understanding of what my boss’s organizational challenges are from a broader contextual standpoint. I also found myself developing greater analytic and problem-solving skills while engaged in the course content, skills which are vital to my current career with tasks that include analyzing legislative bills and writing detailed fiscal requests describing areas of impact. Overall the learning that occurred during this course that I found applicable in relation to the organizational dynamic at my current place of employment has helped me garner a better understanding of complex issues facing upper administration help in my desire to expand my perspective and become a greater organizational asset, one that can be drawn upon to offer suggestions on workplace improvements and solutions, and has already proven to be helpful to upper management during input discussions while formulating our agency’s strategic plan.
The second course that made an impact was KIN 857: Promoting Positive Youth Development in Sport, the content of which aligns nicely with my goals essay which highlights a desire to transition from my current consultant role in early child care policy to one in after school and safety. During this class I was afforded the opportunity to conduct research that will help me in my next role, specifically in the ways that extracurricular/after-school experiences help kids 1) acquire physical and psychological health habits, 2) create a positive orientation towards school and achievement, 3) facilitate getting along with others, including peers and adults, and 4) acquire appropriate value systems about rules and conduct. This learning, which involved sport research and theory, policy issues that influence positive youth development through sport, program evaluation techniques, and an increased ability to develop programs and strategies was instrumental in expanding my knowledge and practical thinking as applicable to creating best practices for after school programs to be successful in enriching young kids lives. Expanding my knowledge in these areas, along with additional socioemotional research indicating extracurricular/sports activities contributed to greater rates of learning experiences in positive developmental areas such as identity development, initiative, and teamwork/social skills that can impact a child’s life greatly when navigating from adolescence to adulthood will be invaluable as I look to help after school programs optimally redefine the structure of their extracurricular offerings.
Within the framework of this course, and through the excellent course book, Joe Ehrmann's InSideOut Coaching, my knowledge base also grew as it related to transactional coaching versus transformational coaching, and how one’s body language, phrasing of words and competent structuring of developmentally appropriate activities can positively impact those followers within an organizational dynamic. The transactional coach is the person whose actions are defined by individual gain and taking from athletes, whereas the transformative coach is more concerned with giving to the athlete in the form of life skills and positive development. Being a more transformational leader involves applying principles that assist not only in efforts of impact with young athletes, but also are concepts that are directly applicable to my current work. Specifically, being a transformational leader is crucial when guiding agencies on programmatic policy impacts while delivering key technical assistance with the intent to improve agency performance. It also aids in my effort to evolve as a more supportive office presence and helping administration create a better, healthier work environment where all employees can thrive.
Finally, the third course that helped me evolve my thinking was EAD 800: Concepts of Educational Inquiry, which expanded my understanding of essential methods and domains of educational inquiry through a series of online hypermedia resources which allowed me to select from a variety of interesting readings to address specific essay questions. I thoroughly enjoyed this course format as structured by Professor Steven Weiland, sort of the academia version of the Choose Your Own Adventure books popularized in the eighties - coincidentally during my coming of age school years -, so much so that I have taken two other courses with Professor Weiland and will wrap up my graduate career in Fall 2018 with a fourth. The course format includes six essays, five of which needed to include a fully descriptive, researched essay response within 750 words, demanding a tightly constricted use of language to complete each highly technical writing assignment.
One assignment that helped expand my thoughts on education inquiry, specifically biographical and historical learning, was writing a paper on Philip Cusick’s Passion for Learning, where the author delves into a portrait narrative of seven distinct individuals and highlights several common “pillars” that lead to an educational evolution propelling each to prominence in American History. My subject choice was Abraham Lincoln, and specifically I gravitating towards the pillar of Work Actualizing Earlier Ideals, which encompassed specific principles such as strong work ethic, ambition, and autodidacticism that fueled a mentality towards success. As an adult fully immersed in my career, I see work ethic and ambition as either ingrained or not at this point, but autodidacticism, or the act of being self-taught, can be fully developed as part of a growth mindset set on troubleshooting situations, learning and growing. In that sense, as applicable to my career, developing a better understanding of common principles that led to success in life for famous historical figures can prove wildly beneficial in terms of structuring training programs that focuses on inspiring others to engage in internal reflection of questions critical to early child care policy issues in order to foster independent thought and new ideas that lead to improved outcomes. During research for this assignment I also learned about leveraging, or "the capacity of certain individuals to ignore areas of weakness and, in effect, to ask 'In which ways can I use my own strengths in order to gain a competitive advantage in the domain in which I have chosen to work?'". This is an interesting theory that helped me visualize how I can best approach my work, since prior to my graduate studies I always placed a higher emphasis on shoring up my weaknesses rather than ignoring them.
Another assignment that contributed greatly to my way of thinking about ways in which best to promote learning was Vivian Paley’s narrative of inquiry through storytelling, as highlighted in The Girl with the Brown Crayon. This type of practitioner inquiry, which emphasized how teachers and other professionals observe and think about what they do, helps to create a space to stop and look again at existing ways of working and can promote levels of critical reflection that are transformative in nature. Paley’s experience led to a self-awareness of her own limitations on knowledge and contributed to intensified dialogue that she then incorporated into her curriculum, expanding the learning potential for everyone involved, including herself, via fantasy roleplay. During this approach, the practitioner would where facilitate her students as participants in an observational give and take environment where she would look to guide the interaction, not control it. Just as Paley believed that teacher engagement would stimulate communal interest in her curriculum, learning through my studies to engage in a more open dialogue while in workgroups or delivering technical assistance to agencies is crucial to my efforts to improve programmatic performance in the field of early childhood education.
Overall, my master’s program has been a crucial element to my recent success in my career as I transition from an education analyst role into an elevated role of education consultant with more lead responsibilities to ensure early child care funding is appropriated in a manner consistent with its purpose and in helping improve programs to include quality child care for low-income infants, toddlers and school age children. Through the knowledge gained in my studies, I have helped in administration’s efforts to spark a paradigm shift in our organizational dynamics by becoming a more engaged employee while simultaneously inspiring and helping train my peers to become more effective in crucial areas of technical assistance, required by statute, for the purposes of guiding our local educational agencies responsible for ensuring a strong early childhood education for our state’s most disadvantaged youth in dire need of quality early learning care.