Lessons from a Unique Doctoral Program in Ed Leadership
Delvin M. Dinkins listened closely — to students, to parents, and to colleagues. As a public school principal, he kept hearing calls for change, and he stepped up to the plate.
"Leaders are challenged more than ever to deliver on their schools' promises of an education for the 21st century. But delivering on this promise is next-to-impossible without the tools, infrastructure, or public confidence," says Dinkins. "Leaders, more than ever before, have to figure out ways to reach all kids and teachers in spite of — or because of — the circumstances in which they learn and teach."
Dinkins, a principal in Pennsylvania's Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, chose to further his leadership potential through the Mid-Career Doctorate Program at Penn's Graduate School of Education. Among the first of its kind in the nation, the program is designed for experienced, working educators who are interested in leadership for transformational change in public and private schools.
Launched in 2002, the Mid-Career Doctorate Program appealed to Dinkins "because I always understood that I could contribute to the lives of people beyond the walls of my classroom and outside the oval of the track where I coached."
A confessed "fan" of Penn, Dinkins says he appreciated the program's "smart, innovative structure." The program is organized in curricular modules that address four main themes: instructional leadership, organizational leadership, evidence-based leadership, and public leadership.
"I knew that the University's insistence on academic excellence and GSE's commitment to practitioner inquiry would challenge and energize me," says Dinkins, who was in the program's first graduating cohort in 2005. "I also understood from the start that the program would offer a degree of rigor and create the kind of intellectual community that I would appreciate."
Dinkins wasn't disappointed. The cohort structure, a distinguishing feature of the program, offers unique peer support during 36 months of coursework and dissertation writing, and keeps alumni of the program in closer touch after they graduate. And Penn's key assets — superlative faculty, interdisciplinary study, and urban location — complement the professional and life experiences the students bring to the table.
"Our students are the glue between theory and practice," says Johanek. "The program honors students' deep desire for intellectual work that isn't separate from practice. Our students explore how to carry that out into their own schools and districts."
Most students in the program accede to influential administrative positions even by graduation, and enjoy increased prospects for career advancement. (Some 70 percent of the students have advanced professionally since starting the program.)
In addition to his responsibilities as a principal, Dr. Dinkins has become director of electronic learning and career education for his district. He credits the Mid-Career Doctorate Program for the distinctive skills he brings to his new leadership position.
"The Mid-Career program emphasized for me good critically reflective practice," he says. "More than ever before, I have the strong presence to ask hard questions, make painful — and painfully obvious — observations, and push thinking."