The aim of graduate instruction in education is to provide the learner with tools and information that can be used in the course of professional development. The "grand master plan" outlined below details how I will be using the tools and information that I have gained in order to advance in my own career at the same time as I promote educational policies which are in the best interests of students.
Two elements are needed in order to obtain the maximum results from an educational program: (1) instruction in liberal arts such as critical thinking; and (2) instruction in specific subjects which are directly relevant to one's future endeavors.
I have received both of these in the course of my graduate education, with the result that I am well prepared to move forward in my career. My chief concern, as will be discussed in more detail below, is to see that the students with whom I work also enjoy both of these critical elements of education. At present, I perceive an imbalance wherein liberal arts instruction has overshadowed practical instruction in essential realms such as technology. Thus, as I seek to advance in my profession, I will be attempting to promote and implement policies which favor increased technological education at the high school level in my state.
Major Social/Educational Areas of Interest
I am a guidance counselor at a high school in New York state and intend to continue to pursue my career within secondary education in that state. The aim of secondary education is to prepare students to be productive and constructive citizens within a democracy. Students must be provided with the education necessary to make wise decisions as voters and to contribute to the economy as workers. These broad aims require that students receive instruction in the subjects generally designated as "liberal arts" as well as instruction targeted to functioning in the context of today's economy.
At present, the majority of well-paying new jobs require some measure of technological proficiency. Higher education also utilizes computer technology to an increasing degree. Students who leave high school without a firm foundation in technology are likely to be disadvantaged in their attempts to either secure employment or succeed in higher education. As use of technology in the wider social world also becomes more common, students who do not have the ability to utilize computer and internet technology effectively may also be disadvantaged as citizens in this democracy.
Kahn and Friedman (1998) stress the importance of utilizing educational technology in the service of "student participation, cooperation, and interest, and a school culture that is imbued with using computer technology to foster democratization." (p. 157). In their well-documented view, technological education can further such goals while the neglect of this aspect of education tends to reproduce existing inequalities in social power. They argue that "students should learn that they themselves can control computer technology, and by choosing wisely they have the power not only to promote their academic learning but to effect meaningful and ethical change in and around their lives" (p. 173).
Bynum (1998) also discusses the social and thereby ethical dimensions of computer technology. As he notes, "powerful technologies have profound social consequences" (p. 274). Bynum provides a sketch of historical failures and developments of ethics in relation to computing as well as a summary of outstanding unresolved issues in computer ethics. Among those outstanding ethical issues is the use of computers for purposes of global education and information distribution. What is clear from Bynum's overview is that students who emerge from secondary education without sufficient knowledge of computer technology will be ill-prepared to face the future.
Forcier (1999) provides an extensive discussion of the historical and social contexts of computer use in the United States noting, as have the authors above, that knowledge of the long-term social effects of computer use in education remains an unresolved issue. While computers have very successfully been used to enhance education in schools serving low-income students, computers remain considerably more available to students attending private schools or public schools in affluent areas. While as many as a third of households in the United States now have computers, this statistic is also skewed in favor of the affluent students.
If steps are not taken to increase the access of low-income students to computers, existing gaps in educational attainment are likely to widen rather than narrow due to the influence of computer learning. Students already disadvantaged by racial and economic inequality are likely to be even more disadvantaged by a lack of access to computers. Those disadvantages include not reaping the benefits of computer-based instruction as described above as well as not developing computer skills commensurate with those of their more privileged peers. Since both workplaces and institutions of higher education now rely heavily upon computers, the latter factor may be particularly damaging.
On a more positive note, Forcier (1999) also notes the numerous ways in which educational computing has been used to adapt instruction to the requirements of students with special needs. Special computers and educational programs have been devised for students with a wide range of physical and cognitive disabilities. Bilingual programs have been used to aid the learning of English as well as to aid the learning of other subjects by students for whom English is a second language. Computer learning programs have also been devised to allow gifted and talented students to make the best of their individual abilities. However, the issue of access arises here as well. Private schools and relatively affluent public school districts can afford to provide their students with special needs with such computer resources while public schools serving low income communities generally cannot.
In summary, technological education is necessary to provide all students with the information and experience needed to succeed in employment or higher education. Furthermore, technological education provided as a basic element of education in public schools can help to offset social and economic inequalities associated with class or disability. As an added benefit, technological education allows gifted students to express their gifts more fully while at the same time helping students with learning difficulties to circumvent those difficulties.
For all of these reasons, I believe that technological education must be a basic component of the high school curriculum. Thus, I am alarmed by the fact that the high schools in my state appear to be moving away from technological education in favor of renewed emphasis on conventional subjects such as English, social studies, math, general science, and physical education. In today's fast-paced world in which technology is becoming ever more important, I consider this to be a dangerous development which must be addressed immediately.
My overall vision regarding this particular issue is of a program of education which is balanced between technical education and liberal education. This is not a new vision. As far back as 1907 John Henry Cardinal Newman was promoting the idea of finding the proper balance between abstract education and practical education. Then, as now, the ideal was to provide instruction which would foster general skills like reading, writing, mathematics, and critical thinking while at the same time developing the practical skills needed to earn a living and participate in the wider social and political world.
My specific vision for New York state secondary education is of high school classrooms in which technical education and liberal education are undertaken together rather than seen in opposition to one another. The benefits of technology should be used to enhance liberal education. In this way, no time need be taken away from liberal education in order to provide instruction in technology. Technology would be seen by educators as a useful tool and this concept would be implicitly passed along to students, who would need to learn to use that tool in order to further their education.
The use of technology in education has the potential to strengthen various cognitive capabilities. This shows that technology education should not be counterpoised against liberal education, as if they were rivals. Increased technology education may, in the long run, improve performance in all subject areas, including those traditionally associated with the liberal arts education. In addition, technology may be deployed in order to offer students with different learning styles (Dunn & Dunn, 1978) different educational experiences within the same classroom.
Many strong examples of this vision may be found in the realm of mathematics education, where educators have been most quick to realize the potential benefits of integrating technology into the classroom rather than viewing technology education as a separate entity. Indeed, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2000) has put out a set of Principles and Standards for School Mathematics which include the appropriate use of technology within the context of instruction in traditional subject areas such as algebra and geometry.
In my vision, such principles and standards are adopted in relation to all subject areas, so that learning in all subject areas is enhanced at the same time as technical skills are developed. It is my hope that this vision will be ultimately embraced by the New York State Board of Education and implemented in all high schools in the state.
Leadership Concepts and Strategies
One may argue about the components of leadership and whether or not these may be learned. However, one must admit that knowledge of the system one hopes to affect through one's leadership may be acquired and is critical. Thus, whatever one's leadership style or theory, one must concede the importance of gaining pragmatic knowledge of the environment in which one exercises leadership. Therefore, the first leadership concept, which I have already begun to implement with regard to my vision, is learning about the policy environment. I have learned what I need to know about the procedures needed to implement policy changes at individual schools and within the district in which my school is located. I am in the process of learning about the formal and informal politics involved in education policy decisions at the state level in my state.
In my view, the most important leadership strategies are modeling, motivation, initiative, and perseverance. The most effective leaders lead by example and are able to motivate others. Leaders must also be willing and able to initiate action and then to persevere until the aims of the action are obtained.
In the context of my vision as articulated above, each of these strategies will be important. I will need to take the initiative to promote and implement my vision and must be prepared for many years of effort in seeking to bring that vision to life. Because I will want other educators, as well as parents and (to a lesser extent) students to join me in pressing for the necessary reforms, and for the funding to pay for those reforms, I will have to model the behavior which I would like others to emulate. Finally, I must find ways to motivate those I hope to mobilize in the service of my vision. In doing that, I will draw heavily on my knowledge of the components of motivation, being certain to call upon intrinsic motivation whenever possible but also recognizing the more limited efficacy of extrinsic motivation. It is easy to see how each of these elements of motivation may come into play for each of the groups of people mentioned above.
Assessment of Personal Growth
In pursuing this course of study, I have experienced significant personal growth. The horizons of my concerns have significantly expanded. Because I began as (and still am) a guidance counselor, I was initially less concerned with the components of classroom education, feeling these to be in the realm of the teachers. However, my studies in conjunction with my work experiences have led me to realize that I, as a guidance counselor, must be intimately involved in crafting policies concerning classroom education. I cannot help students to move into careers or higher education if their growth has been thwarted by a ill-advised emphases in the classroom curriculum.
My progress through this course of study has helped me to determine what I might do to impact the problems I have perceived while at work. In addition, the program has fostered my confidence so that I now believe myself to be capable of initiating the kind of reform I envision. This increased confidence is due not only to learning in specific topical areas but also because of a general improvement in my ability to reason through problems and envision solutions. I do believe that I have become a more "powerful thinker" and I know that my thinking can continue to grow more powerful so long as I challenge myself with new information and ideas.
I will first discuss my specific plan for promoting and implementing the vision described above. I will then discuss how my own career progress fits into that strategic plan.
In order to promote increased technology education in my state, I must begin where I currently do have the power to create change: at my own school. I will begin by obtaining permission and funding for a demonstration study concerning the use of technology in the mathematics classroom. This area was selected because there is already a great deal of general support for the use of computer-facilitated instruction in mathematics and because, of all teachers, math teachers are most likely to support my aims. The demonstration project will involve the use of computer-facilitated instruction in basic algebra. Assessments of the project will include not only measures of achievement in the subject area but also measures of improvement in critical thinking and technological competence. This will show that, as noted above, technical education can add to, rather than take time away from, instruction in traditional subject areas.
While soliciting support for and then implementing this project, I will be actively promoting the idea of technical education in my conversations with educators, parents, and students. I will be sure to have on hand copies of documents such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2000) guidelines, in order to have ready access to support for my arguments. I will also seek to obtain media coverage of the project's results, so that support for my vision among the general public will begin to build.
Following the successful implementation of the demonstration project, I will seek to make the use of technology in math and science classrooms in my school routine. I will move from there to seeking to implement the use of technology in social studies and English classrooms. I will work with the administrators at my school to promote the school as a model of balanced education wherein technical education is integrated with liberal education. This will motivate administrators to more strongly support the plan and will provide support for the next phase discussed below.
Having made changes at the level of the individual school, I will next seek to make changes in district policy, using my school as a positive example. This process will begin while changes at my school are ongoing, since I will be sure to report on these changes to the district school board. In so doing, I will form relationships with any school board members who are already friendly to the idea of increased technical education at the high school level. By the time that I make a formal proposal, members of the board will have received ample documentation drawn from the research literature as well as examples drawn from our school. I will suggest not only that changes in local policy be made but also that we seek to promote our district as a model of balanced education wherein technical education is integrated with liberal education. This will help to motivate school board staff and school board members while at the same time laying the groundwork for the next phase of the plan.
Having implemented changes at the district level, I will seek to implement similar changes at the state level. This will involve lobbying board of education members as well as members of the state legislature. Different arguments will need to be deployed with different targets. For example, education professionals may be more motivated by research findings while politicians may be more motivated by the idea of gaining a good reputation for our schools or providing businesses in the state with workers who are more prepared to take existing jobs. The question of funding will, of course, be a concern but at the state level there is the chance to obtain federal funds which have already been earmarked for the expansion of computer technology in public schools.
This will be an extensive effort in which the input of educators and citizens will be very much needed. Therefore, at the beginning of this phase, I will initiate the creation of a grassroots organization and will also seek to involve the teacher's union and the state and local parent-teacher associations; the input of current students and recent graduates will also be sought. The ultimate aim is a statewide mandate for the blending of technical and liberal education and the funding to implement the technical elements of the blend.
Of course, this is a very expansive aim. One must always have more moderate aims which would still be considered success. In this instance, I would consider success to have been achieved if technical education is integrated into math and science classrooms. Since all students are required to take at least some math and science classes, this would ensure that all students are exposed to at least enough technical education to allow them to function in the worlds of employment and higher education. Conversely, I would not be satisfied with outcomes in which technology is reserved for the library or a lab which teachers might or might not elect to use. All students must be exposed to technical education or we will have failed in our mission to prepare them for employment or higher education.
My own career development will evolve along with this project. I intend to stay at my current school during the first phase, with hopes of receiving excellent evaluations as a result of my work on the project. I hope to become known to the local school board through my efforts to promote the project and eventually to obtain a staff position at the district school board, which I would then hold through the phase of the project which concerns the local district. Looking years ahead to the statewide phase of the plan, various career scenarios present themselves to me. On the one hand, I might hope to move into a policy making position with the state Board of Education or with the more general Department of Education. On the other hand, if the grassroots organization becomes large enough to support a paid director, I might wish to assume that position from which I might move into another non-profit organization concerned with education policy.
I have experienced significant growth as a result of my course of study and am prepared to put the tools and information I have gained to use in the service of a plan which will improve public education in my state. I truly believe that the successful implementation of this plan would result in high school graduates who are significantly better prepared to either enter the job market or pursue higher education. I also believe that this plan could help to offset longstanding educational inequalities associated with economic class. If the state mandates and funds technical education for all, then low-income students will finally have access to the technology which upper-income students have come to take for granted.
This "grand master plan" involves personal career growth which is closely linked to the attainment of substantial improvements for students. This is as it should be. As a professional in the realm of education, I cannot hope to advance unless my activities really do benefit those who are the real reason that my workplace exists: the students. This plan shows, however, that it is possible to work for the students while still reaping rewards for oneself. In seeking to promote a plan which will benefit students, I will implicitly be promoting myself as a person to work on such a plan. Thus, my interests and the interests of the students will be in harmony.
I am very grateful for the ways in which my life has been enhanced by education. Through the pursuit of this plan, I hope to offer the students of today the same opportunity to obtain meaningful and well-paid work.
Bynum, T.W. (1998). Global information ethics and the information revolution. In T.W. Bynum & J.H. Moor (Eds.), The Digital Phoenix: How Computers Are Changing Philosophy, pp. 274-91. Oxford: Blackwell.
Dunn, R., & Dunn, K (1978). Teaching students through their individual learning styles. Reston, VA: Reston Publishing Company, Inc.
Forcier, R.C. (1999). The Computer as an Educational Tool: Productivity and Problem Solving. New York: Prentice Hall.
Kahn, P.H. & Friedman, B. (1998). Control and power in educational computing. In H. Bromley & M.W. Apple (Eds.), Education/Technology/Power: Educational Computing as a Social Practice, pp. 157-73. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2000). Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.
Newman, J.H.C. (1907). The Idea of a University. London: Longmans, Green & Co.
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