When Your Professional GPS Recalculates your Route from Principal to Professor

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While attending professional development conferences with elementary principals, we are frequently asked by these principal pals what they would need to do to get to where we are. Well – not geographically necessarily… but rather, professionally.  You see, we are elementary principals turned professors of education.

Together, we have 49 years of experience as educators.  Twenty-seven of those years were in the K – 12 school setting. During our K – 12 years we impacted approximately 1675¾ children. After some teaching experience, both of us pursued our Master’s programs, and with our why not attitudes we just kept going.

We met while attending classes for our doctoral degree. We were out for a walk to break away from our statistics class study group. From there, we just kept walking together in all aspects of life. Now we are together teaching in higher education and thus far we have impacted close to 3500 students.

When we took that step of faith to journey away from K – 12 education, we were fearful that we would lose touch with the reason we originally started this career – the kids.  With a little reflection we soon understood the impact of “leaving” – and changed the meaning of leaving to “reaching”…reaching learners in many more ways than we thought possible.  What we have learned from our teaching and administrative days in K – 12, we have learned two-fold from our career path of changes.

From Principal to Professor

Our sincere advice to principals who would like to take that same leap of faith and become a professor of education…JUST DO IT!! The time may not be right, but it rarely ever is when change happens.  Here are some steps to take for our aspiring professor pals:

Take lots of classes and when you think you are finished, keep going. Go for your doctorate. Why? Because we said so. If we can make it through the rigor (aka torture), you can too. 🙂 You can teach at the university level with your Master’s Degree, however, in order to be tenured and promoted in higher education, you must have your terminal degree. What? Terminal? No worries, this would be an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. and not a disease.

While taking classes, observe your professors closely. It’s just like a teacher candidate observing the classroom mentor, the principal observing the mentor principal. You will get good ideas or not so good ideas from this observation of professors. For instance, do the profs show up for class? Are they prepared? Do they just lecture the whole time? Are they on topic or off topic?  Do they seem to genuinely care about students?  This last one may seem trivial, but it makes all the difference in the world to a learner.

On-line learning is here to stay. Become acquainted with this style of teaching and learning regardless of your personal preference and philosophy. Blended learning is our personal preference. Both on-line and face-to-face add great depth to the teaching and learning experience.

Take that leap of faith. As a principal, you know your role. Becoming a professor will be something new again. You are out of your comfort zone, and the learning curve is straight up, however that climb is reachable. If you have the opportunity to become an adjunct professor, go for it. Try it out to see if it fits you. When we made the decision to leave the K – 12 system, we took a leap of faith. We believed God would put us where we needed to be.

Perks of the Professorship

Flexibility and freedom are perks of being a professor. The rigid principal schedule no longer controls you. You do not need to send out an email to your staff when you are going to use the restroom just in case they need to find you in an emergency.

If there is a major snow storm and you are unable to make it to campus, you have the flexibility to throw your class on-line. Sounds easy, right?  Actually – on-line preparations are more in depth and take some time; however, being safe in your home is a bonus.

Professional development and scholarship become more of a priority in higher education. We are encouraged to belong to professional organizations such as NAESP.  These memberships allow for conference attendance, and being able to network with professionals.  What’s even better?  Attendance at conferences is not only physical but mental. We actually get to “BE THERE.” We don’t need to answer emails via the iPad or answer emergency phone calls from the office administrative assistance or the superintendent while at the same time trying to listen to the keynote speaker. From these memberships in professional organizations, we continue to hone skills from practicing practitioners and share this valuable knowledge with our teacher candidates.

We are not sure if this would be considered a perk or a drawback, however, we get to stay involved with legislation at the state level. The Minnesota Board of Teaching and the MN Department of Education are two stakeholders at the state level that play a key role in what we do in our education program. Sometimes the decisions made by these two organizations drive our education department to have to make some drastic changes. Some good, some not so good.

Hand sanitizer does not need to be your best friend; however, we still encourage hand washing. Students at the college level are usually pretty good about covering their coughs – especially those in teacher education programs.

Drawback of the Professorship

Initially, the pay is not close to what a principal earns. In fact, while in the doctoral program, one advisor highly recommended seeking K – 12 Educational Administration because “there is more money in the principalship.”  True at times – especially at the beginning. Like all professions, experience and years will help this issue.

Similarities Between the Principalship and Professorship

Making connections and networking with ALL educators is a huge bonus of being a professor.  We stay in contact with teachers, principals, superintendents, and sometimes even school boards. We work side by side with the Southwest Central Service Cooperative. In addition to all these networks, we stay connected with the best of the best educators through Twitter, Voxer, and other Social Media platforms.

Serving as the instructional leader was one of our favorite parts of our principalship. As a professor, we still get to be involved with this. Professors get to teach and model instructional best practices. We also evaluate our teacher candidates. It is imperative to stay abreast of what is currently being used by principals in these areas.

Searching for, hiring, and retaining top notch teachers is just one very important responsibility of the principal. Professors are still very much a part of this process at the university level. We are expected to be on search committees to find new professors or new presidents, or new office administration. Reviewing resumes, making phone calls to references, and bringing candidates on campus are all part of our duties.

Student growth is of great significance at both levels. Academic achievement is always our goal as it is for the principal. Finding ways to help our students succeed is mandatory. Whether principal or professor, our goals are to help others reach their goals.  Finding joy by helping others is part of both worlds.

School and community involvement is also a priority for both principals and professors. It is expected for both parties to be visible and connected.  Both principals and professors support positive growth in the school and greater community.

Difference between Principalship and Professorship

As a professor we see more classrooms and more schools. We are impacting more schools by training future teachers. Principals impact one school while a professor impacts many schools locally and nationally. We also impact more students. Principals may have 300 – 1500 students in their buildings. We teach about 50 – 75 teacher candidates in a year, which then these candidates go out and teach 25 students each.

Whether a principal or a professor, our goals remain unchanged – to serve and support others and help them grow to become good people – better people than they were yesterday – great people.  Together we can accomplish so much more.

We encourage all our principal pals who are interested in becoming a professor to JUST DO IT. It is rewarding, flexible, and keeps you in contact with many different stakeholders in education. The professorship is truly a profession we both love.

Stay Calm & Take the Leap of Faith!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

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