When Olivet Nazarene University Adjunct Professor of Education Mark Eutsler, Ph.D., Ed.D., of Linden was assigned to write a course entitled, Strategic Thinking and Managerial Leadership, he didn’t have far to look for inspiration. He found it in the way North Montgomery High School Principal Michael Cox kept the school functioning last spring semester during the pandemic and communicated to parents.
The course is the capstone of the new Doctor of Education in Ethical Leadership online program in the university’s College of Adult and Graduate Studies.
“I was never in doubt about what was happening, why it was happening, and when it was happening,” said Eutsler, whose daughter was a North junior during the spring 2020 semester. “Mr. Cox’s communications were consistent, clear, detailed and always offered an opportunity to contact him with any questions.”
Eutsler credits Instructional Designer Maureen Hencmann of Denver, with whom he worked to write the course as its Subject Matter Expert, with the idea to present the topic as a case study.
“As soon as she made that suggestion, I thought of Michael Cox,” Eutsler noted.
Cox, who reviewed the course at Eutsler’s request, said, “I was very impressed with the design. Using real-life case studies immediately lends relevance and authenticity to the learning experience.”
In the first half of the course, student teams will work on solving a presented case study in a dynamic environment that an instructor can change to include contemporary challenges. In the second half, the teams will create a case study, which will be solved by another team, then critiqued by the original team. It provides experience with real-world issues, in a virtual meeting environment, that will hopefully serve them well in their careers and give them added value to their employers, Eutsler said.
Cox agreed that discussion of this course and the authentic experience it provided an applicant would be something that would set the applicant apart from other candidates in an interview.
Believing situations like the pandemic that require schools to abruptly change learning delivery environments will probably occur in the future, Eutsler explained that he sought to create a course that includes the hands-on experience of crafting solutions with colleagues virtually and include the doctoral students reaching out to stakeholders in their communities to assure solutions fit ethically with community standards.
Cox noted that the pandemic brought to the forefront inequities in access to adequate internet connectivity for many rural families, issues of food insecurity and a large gap in the ability to provide social and emotional support.
“Those skills are also transferrable to working on issues in a ‘normal’ environment, too,” Eutsler said. “In 20 years of facilitating associate degree courses at Indiana Wesleyan University in the College of Adult and Professional Studies and DeVoe School of Business, I have encountered a lot of students from industry like Caterpillar and Wabash National. Their experiences were similar — organizations brought in consultants to solve production challenges and rarely included the associates who would implement the ‘solution.’
“I firmly believe solutions best come from those most affected and that organizations should provide opportunities to allow this. An outside facilitator might be needed to coordinate a team, though a better solution would be to provide facilitator training, provide released time or a stipend to team members for extra duties, and allow, in the case of schools, teachers to create solutions. It saves money, time, and team members already know the context of their school and community.”
Cox added that “having students create their own case study in the second half of the course is a great way to increase their depth of understanding of decisions that have to be made quickly and ethically when emergencies arise, such as school shooter scenarios, death of a student or staff member, sudden funding cuts, natural disasters, and airborne contamination” to name some.
In a time when state education laws across the country relegate administrators and teachers to the role of state clerks in many of their functions, there is little opportunity for management, even less for leadership, and still less for critical and creative thinking, Eutsler observed.
That is why it is important for emerging education leaders to develop this intrinsic solutions-oriented literacy, Eutsler emphasized. Effective educational leaders — including teachers, who are leaders of student learning — are those who are nimble, adaptable and able to teach at the speed of need. Cox showed these attributes navigating the pandemic.