Leaders in K-12 schools face challenges. How can they address equity imbalances? How can they create a culture of leadership involving everyone? How can they learn from each other? How can they stay mission focused? How can do all of that while avoiding burnout?
Helping school leaders rise to such challenges is the passion for two faculty additions in the Department of Educational Leadership, who have enhanced the department's research profile in K-12 leadership studies.
Dr. Jonathan Eckert joined the faculty as Lynda and Robert Copple Chair in Christian School Leadership, and Dr. Bradley Carpenter joined the program faculty for the EdD in K-12 Educational Leadership. Both bring impressive research credentials to Baylor, as well as experience in the classroom. But neither is merely studying leadership; they are engaging with leaders in practical ways to find out what works and share their findings broadly.
Carpenter's work on equity was inspired while earning his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin. "I realized when conversations regarding race and equity came up, intense emotions would often surface, and while some people simply chose not to talk, people of color were often expected to carry the conversation. Also, students in our cohort found a number of professors were not necessarily adept or comfortable facilitating the difficult conversations pertaining to race and racism," he said. As a result of these experiences, he and a colleague — Dr. Sarah Diem of the University of Missouri — began studying how leadership preparation programs across the United States equipped leaders to realize an equity-specific consciousness. Carpenter incorporates elements of what they learned into his teaching in the Baylor EdD program, which offers preparation for superintendent certification.
Carpenter also conducts workshops for schools and districts, including one this spring in the Leander Independent School District (pictured, right), co-facilitated by Dr. Cherie Dawson-Edwards of the University of Louisville, where Carpenter held his first faculty appointment. For the first community session, Carpenter and Dawson-Edwards made 30 copies of the workshop materials, but over 100 people attended — a good challenge to have. The purpose of the sessions was to launch a conversation that could help LISD continue thinking and planning for equitable schools.
In addition to preparing equity-minded leaders, Carpenter's research focuses on the well-being of leaders. "Courageous leadership in today's environment is difficult, as leaders must confront many complex issues, and there is a physical and emotional toll," he said.
Carpenter is researching how principals and teachers navigate and respond to stress from a qualitative point of view. This research allows Carpenter to better understand the tools people use to confront the stressors of teaching and leadership. He believes that mindfulness can serve as one intervention for those overly stressed and at risk of burnout, and he's incorporating it into his Baylor classes.
"EdD students are the most amazing and challenged students in higher education; they are already leaders in their districts and trying to get a doctorate on top of district-specific responsibilities, with the same expectations for doctoral-level work as those of a full-time student," he said. "It helps to allow students to ground themselves through prayer or mindfulness, as such types of pausing can reduce stress and increase awareness. We study mindfulness as an approach to more intentional leadership."
An EdD graduate of Vanderbilt University's Peabody College, Copple Chair Dr. Jonathan Eckert is an active researcher in educational leadership, sharing a model he calls "Collective Leadership." In his book on the topic, Leading Together, he says that leadership must be collective for a school to become more than the sum of its parts. Through years of research surveys and hands-on workshops, Eckert has studied the development of school leaders — from classroom teachers to superintendents — and he says leadership is needed from educators at every level in a collective system of support to advance a school's mission and enhance student outcomes.
A former science teacher, Eckert says a great leader is "catalytic." In chemistry, he notes, a catalyst makes things happen. "A catalytic leader comes alongside and accelerates good work to help it grow," he says. "That is what good teachers do anyway, and that is what good administrators do for teachers."
Having spent a decade on the faculty of Wheaton College training future teachers, Eckert knows that many teachers enter the profession as a manifestation of their Christian faith. His work as Copple Professor at Baylor allows him to focus specifically on Christian school leaders through his role as the academic leader or the Baylor Center for Christian Education (CCE). While much of his research has been done in public school settings, Eckert says it applies equally to the Christian school setting.
Christian schools have an enhanced mission, he said, and leaders are evaluated on how they help the school realize that mission. And Christian schools face extra challenges, he noted.
"They are often trying to do a lot with limited resources," he said. "And they must spend time differentiating themselves in the market. The CCE brings them together to work on common solutions that work." This May and June, the CCE facilitated Virtual Learning Academies for hundreds of school leaders from nearly 20 states to redesign education for the 2020-21 school year in response to the global pandemic. Eckert is pictured (right) at the CCE's January event on the Baylor campus.
Eckert's work is expanding further, as the Department of Educational Leadership adds a master's program in 2021. The Master of Arts in School Leadership will allow working school leaders to complete the degree in 18 months through a hybrid curriculum of online and on-campus learning, offering dual tracks in Texas principal preparation or independent Christian school leadership. More info: Baylor MA in School Leadership