Still Relevant?


Q&A with Dr. Julie Hannah, Assistant Professor for Instructional Leadership at Samford University.

If you are in education, you are well aware of the need to continue to learn. Whether your knowledge continues through certifications, endorsements or a master’s degree, the emphasis placed on constant learning is always there and widely regarded. For many educators, of the three named, a master’s degree is at the top of the list in attainment.

In a 2015 article by Inside Higher Ed’s Colleen Flaherty, first time graduate school enrollment was up and the largest enrollments were in the field of education and business. The article cited report findings from the Council of Graduate School and the Graduate Record Examinations Board where it stated “some 73.1 percent of all students were enrolled in master’s degree or graduate certificate programs.” (“Going Back to School,” Inside Higher Ed, Sept. 17, 2015).

With this in mind, SEEN thought it was only fitting to delve into the topic of master  p.32 –  degree programs and what you, the prospective student, should look for when considering a program. Samford University’s Dr. Julie Hannah, Assistant Professor and Director, MSE for Educational Leadership, shares her views on finding a good master’s program, why master’s degrees are still important in professional development, and how having a master-degreed educator impacts a school/district.

SEEN: What expectations should a teacher have going into a master’s program? What should you look for when applying to a program?

Dr. Hannah: Candidates for the master’s program should look at several aspects:

  • Faculty qualifications and experience as K12 practitioners
  • Learning experiences that are rooted in K12 practice (relevant and real world) and reflect authentic problem solving skills
  • Opportunities to move through the program with a cohort
  • Post-graduation success of former students

SEEN: Are educators’ master’s programs better structured if the program provides more theoretical vs. practical approaches? If so, why? If no, why not?

Dr. Hannah: At Samford University’s Orlean Beeson School of Education the goal of our master’s program is to prepare teachers and leaders to improve the K12 learning environment. This involves the candidates doing their own review of educational research related to current problems or issues (theoretical) and having opportunity to enact some of those ideas into practice (practical).

SEEN: What does having a master-degreed educator mean to the principal and the superintendent (how does this affect grants, funding, etc. for the school/school district)?

Dr. Hannah: Many funders request the qualifications of the faculty in the grant proposal. The assumption is that if there are many faculty members with advanced degrees, there is a climate of high expectations. Having been the principal of a school with very few teachers with advanced degrees and another which had almost 100 percent with advanced degrees, I noted a significant difference in the desire to continue to learn how to better instruct in the classrooms.

SEEN: Why is a master’s degree still important to pursue— even if your state doesn’t increase your income for obtaining your graduate degree?

Dr. Hannah: Educators have chosen a field of work that is about continual learning. The formal experience of a graduate program fosters deep reflection about student and adult learning. I believe parents, community leaders and the business communities expect educators to change their classroom practices based on the needs of the students, which is ever-changing.

SEEN: The availability of an online education has changed the higher education landscape forever. In terms of online education for the “educator,” what do you see being the benefit of online programs/certificate? Any challenges? What’s the future?

Dr. Hannah: Obviously, online courses accommodate the busy lives of educators. Samford University continues to strive to meet the challenge of creating an online environment that allows candidates to collaborate and problem solve the complex issues of education.

SEEN: Are school districts receptive to graduate degrees pursued online when it comes to looking at hiring credentials?

Dr. Hannah: Districts are receptive to online advanced degrees that are from respected universities who are well known for quality and rigor in their face-to-face programs.

SEEN: Ideally, any educator or administrator is looking to see how to best implement what they’ve learned in their academic studies in their classroom environments. In your mind, what should be done to set the graduate student up for success once completing the program?

Dr. Hannah: Samford University’s Orlean Beeson School of Education ensures candidates are taught by successful K12 practitioners; engaged in curriculum and learning experiences that challenge their thinking and provide opportunity for putting the ideas into practice; and work in collaborative groups throughout the program. In addition, when a university can partner with a school district, the content and experiences for the cohort can be customized for their particular needs. This also creates a partnership that benefits the candidate such as opportunities for mentoring, involvement in real work at the district and school level.

Dr. Julie Hannah is an Assistant Professor for Instructional Leadership at Samford University.  She joined Samford University in August 2015 after retiring from the Alabama State Department of Education as Director of the Office of Student Learning.  Previously, she was a teacher, principal, and district administrator in the second largest school district in Alabama.  As an adjunct professor for Samford University, Dr. Hannah prepared aspiring principals and teacher leaders to lead schools toward innovation and improvement.

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