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Exploring the Role of Educators in Community Advancement: Using Your MEd Degree to Make a Difference

June 24, 2024

Teachers play a crucial role on the micro and macro level, impacting lives one at a time to help shape our collective future. Consider these figures from the National Center for Education Statistics:

  • The average teacher affects more than 3,000 students during their career
  • 54 percent of students say a teacher helped them overcome a difficult situation in their lives
  • 88 percent report that a teacher had a positive effect on them
  • 75 percent of students see teachers as mentors and role models
  • 83 percent of students say teachers have boosted their confidence and self-esteem

Charles Clarke, former Secretary of State for Education and Skills in the United Kingdom, puts it this way: “The two most important educational relationships any child will ever have are those with their parents and family, and those with their teachers.”

Despite the importance of teachers in children’s lives, significant barriers stand between many Americans and full access to a quality education. Those barriers include poverty, discrimination, and inequitable funding. The U.S. Department of Education is working with teachers and education leaders nationwide to mitigate these barriers by: 

  • Prioritizing college access and college completion
  • Ensuring equitable impact of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding for K-12 students
  • Investing in resources to help advance civil rights
  • Advancing equity in contracting and procurement
  • Advancing equity in grant process strategies

Access to educational opportunities isn’t just a national issue; it’s also global. The United Nations has set 17 sustainable development goals for 2030, including quality education, noting that “Progress towards quality education was already slower than required before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has had devastating impacts on education, causing learning losses in four out of five of the 104 countries studied. Without additional measures, an estimated 84 million children and young people will stay out of school by 2030 and approximately 300 million students will lack the basic numeracy and literacy skills necessary for success in life.” 

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How Educators Advance Their Communities Every Day

Teachers and education leaders drive their communities forward by working with and for students of all ages, grade levels, and abilities. Let’s break down some of the ways educators make a difference. 

Fostering Connection and Respect Among Students 

Education involves more than the three Rs, especially when teaching young children. School faculty and staff can help students build crucial social skills that prepare them for positive, ethical interactions with others beyond the classroom, especially in early childhood education. As the National Association for the Education of Young Children explains: “Because early childhood education settings are often among children’s first communities outside the home, the character of these communities is very influential in children’s development. Through their interactions, children learn how to treat others and how they can expect to be treated.” 

Building Relationships With Families and Support Networks 

Teaching can be extraordinarily demanding, as can parenting. However, both jobs become a little easier when educators make meaningful connections with parents, caregivers, and children’s supporters.

Those connections benefit students as well, of course, along with the communities they live in. “Family engagement happens when educators actively encourage families to participate in meaningful ways, and families support their children at home as well as at school,” the Iris Center reports, noting that a mutually beneficial relationship is:

  • Centered around student development and learning
  • Reciprocal, in that both schools and families benefit from it
  • Developed through trust and respect
  • Ongoing, in that it continues throughout a child’s entire time in school

According to Joanna Geller, director of Policy, Research, and Evaluation at the New York University Metro Center, educators should consider parents as a potential resource, not just one more responsibility to manage. Her advice for educators:

  • Invite parents to get involved and give them a meaningful reason to do so
  • Involve parents in decision-making when possible
  • Be present in the community
  • Help families meet basic needs
  • Provide services like interpretation, childcare, and meals during events
  • Explain how or why decisions are made
  • Provide time and structure for families to interact

“The sense of community is the main factor that leads parents to sustain their involvement over time,” Geller says. 

Contributing to Education Policy and Reform

Governmental education policies can greatly impact the quality and availability of education, whether at the district, state, or national level. Educators can work to impact those policies by providing insights and sharing their experiences with lawmakers and by working in research-related roles.

“This is a call to action for teachers: Use your voice,” Geoffrey Carlisle, an award-winning eighth-grade science teacher, wrote in EdSurge. “To overcome the numerous barriers preventing us from being involved in public policy, we need to use every tool at our disposal to be heard.”

Carlisle lists several tools educators can use to impact policy:

  • Write an Op-Ed
  • Invite an elected official to your classroom
  • Testify at a public hearing
  • Apply to a teaching policy fellowship

Adopting and Implementing the Community School Model 

Some districts have gone all in on the concept of community connection. Community schools transform the traditional public school model by integrating the needs of the individual neighborhoods that surround them. According to the National Education Association, “Because learning never happens in isolation, community schools focus on what students in the community truly need to succeed – whether it’s services and supports like free healthy meals, health care, and tutoring, or systemic changes like shifts in school culture, policies, and approaches to teaching and learning.”

Interacting with Your Community in Everyday Life 

In a video, Joanna Geller advocates for educators’ being present in the community they serve. Living in the community where they teach provides educators with a front-row seat to the community’s overall needs and closer interaction with day-to-day life there. These experiences can inform how they teach, lead, and manage.

Educator Rann Miller, writing for Edutopia, offers advice for educators living where they teach

  • Learn about the politics and culture of the community by spending time there
  • Invest in the students and families of the community by spending some of your money there
  • Partner with community stakeholders; collaborate on developing and executing lessons and units
  • Take what you’ve learned about the community to your home community to decolonize the thinking of others

“Without an understanding of where we teach – the politics, economics, and culture of the community, and how systemic and institutional racism has shaped those things – we can’t understand who we teach,” Miller writes. “But if we commit to doing life with the community where we teach, we can strengthen our pedagogy, instructional practice, and understanding of the students and families we serve daily.”

Where and How You Can Make a Difference: Community-Related Jobs with a Master’s of Education 

Teachers exert a powerful impact on students wherever they work, one magnified by living in the community where they teach. As Teachers for Tomorrow reminds us, the valuable roles teachers play valuable roles that include passing along knowledge, inspiring students and parents, motivating students to pursue their dreams, and assisting in the holistic development of children.

Other education professionals can also have a powerful impact as well.  Anyone with an interest in changing communities for the better via education may want to consider becoming a: 

  • Life skills trainer
  • Admissions counselor
  • Career counselor
  • Camp director
  • Corporate trainer
  • School psychologist
  • Instructional designer
  • Recreation coordinator
  • Policy analyst
  • School principal

Learning and Location: How Our New Orleans-Based Campus Impacts the Online MEd Experience 

New Orleans has a rich, culturally varied history rooted in diversity, ingenuity, and joy. The city’s long-standing tradition of educational reform efforts informs Tulane University’s online Master of Education (MEd) program, providing students from all over the country the opportunity to build on its strengths and learn from its challenges. The degree program is grounded in the city’s culture and rooted in the school’s core values: 

  • Leading for a Better Tomorrow
  • Knowledge for Good
  • Unconventional Innovation
  • Inclusive Community
  • Collaborative Engagement
  • Inspiring Excellence

Students in Tulane’s MEd program use the lessons learned from a New Orleans-based university and apply them to impact their communities, addressing their unique needs. The culture of caring embodied by Tulane’s online MEd program manifests throughout the university, including other online graduate programs such as social work.

Become an Equity-Centered Leader: Why Tulane’s Online Master’s in Education?

Tulane allows students in its online MEd program to chart their own courses by focusing on one of four concentrations. All four emphasize inclusion: 

  • Equity-centered education leadership
  • Learning experience design
  • Teaching English learners
  • Special education

Scholarship opportunities cover a broad range of prospective students. Tulane offers a 20 percent scholarship for full-time educators, HBCU graduates, Tulane alumni, active and retired public safety personnel, and other groups. The program participates in the Post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program to provide extra funding for master’s students without an additional charge to their GI Bill entitlement. Some employers offer tuition assistance or reimbursement programs.

Graduate students in Tulane’s online MEd program take classroom lessons into the wider world via a site-based immersion project. The project may take the form of fieldwork, internships, or simulations. Students apply core equity and inclusive principles by testing concepts, strategies, and approaches in real-world contexts. The community focus extends to the faculty members of Tulane’s online MEd program, which was designed by active teachers, mentors, academic directors, and community leaders committed to creating a more equitable education system and supporting communities. 

Take the Next Step: Applying to the Online Master’s of Education Degree Program at Tulane 

Educators can make a positive change in the lives of individual students and in their communities. An MEd from Tulane provides the tools to make the most of those changes while advancing to specialized or higher-level roles. To learn more about Tulane’s online MEd program, contact an enrollment advisor or start your application today.

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