There can be few roles in life where a single person can have such a profound impact as that of an educator. Great educational leadership is almost universally accepted as a positive influence throughout our lives. Indeed, many successful people will often point to an individual teacher, professor, or coach who they will claim categorically changed their lives for the better.
Dr. Teri Marcos, professor of educational leadership at National University, remembers with total clarity the moment she met that inspirational educator who convinced her to follow what became a lifelong passion for education.
“I took an introduction to teaching class as a sophomore,” says Marcos. “I was 19-years old and just fell in love with the curriculum and instruction.”
The driving force behind this passion was a professor called Dr. Armstrong — a man that Marcos was not only totally inspired by but also had aspirations to emulate.
“In his class, I had this thought, ‘I want your job,’” says Marcos. “I just fell in love with the entire curriculum that he was teaching and so did very well on the course.”
Marcos believes that Armstrong’s passion and energy for his subject were infectious and students couldn’t help becoming totally absorbed by his teaching.
“He absolutely believed in what he was doing and he had a passion for what he was teaching,” says Marcos. “He had great energy across the classroom and as a result as students, we also had great energy.”
Marcos took the energy from Armstrong’s class and invested it into a career in education which to date has spanned a total of 39 years. She spent the first 20 years of her career in junior high school teaching world cultures, geography and American history at the 8th-grade level.
“As soon as I stepped into a junior high school I knew that these are the kids I loved, these are the parents I loved, and this was the level I wanted to work at,” says Marcos. “So I stayed for 20 years and I became a school leader, administrator, and district office coordinator of gate programs (designed to promote higher-level thinking skills, cooperative learning, and leadership), and I just really enjoyed my time there.”
During this time she also worked as an adjunct professor in a higher education program where her talents didn’t go unnoticed by other faculty members.
She was offered a position as a program director for a private university in Los Angeles. It took a great deal of persuasion to encourage Marcos to leave the K-12 environment and enter the world of higher education.
“I said ‘no’ three times,” says Marcos. “They sweetened the pot each time and I said, ‘No, I’ve got to finish my career in the state teachers’ retirement system.’”
Eventually, she received an offer which she couldn’t refuse and has never looked back.
“I’m in my sixth year at National University now and I’ve been in higher education since 2000 — so 19 years in higher education,” says Marcos.
Despite this long history in education, Marcos doesn’t introduce herself as a teacher or professor.
“I’m Teri Marcos, learner, achiever, positivity includer, and WOO — which means winning others over,” says Marcos.
Marcos explains this self- assessment comes from using the CliftonStrengths assessment from the Gallup organization.
“Everybody knows about the Gallup Poll but they have an entire body of research around the individual,” says Marcos. “It stems from research into positive psychology by Martin Seligman in the 1960s and began this whole concept introducing the principals of ‘What’s right with me?’ as opposed to ‘What’s wrong with me?’”
According to Marcos, it is her attributes as a learner and an achiever that prepared her for a life in the field of education.
“I learned that perhaps the reason I was so inquisitive as a child is that my number one strength was as a learner,” says Marcos. “As I reflect back on this, this is why I loved school, I loved learning, I loved my teachers, I loved Dr. Armstrong’s classes on curriculum and instruction, and that really became the foundation of my entire future.”
Adapting to Change
After 14 years in a traditional, bricks and mortar university setting Marcos was ready for a change and was drawn to the innovative learning environments and culture at National University.
“I went through several levels of interviews and met with the dean and it was just very clear that National University was this amazing, remarkable organization. I was very excited,” says Marcos.
Innovations in online learning and National University’s unique four-week class system, creating greater opportunities for adult learners to access degree-level education in California while balancing work and family commitments, offered Marcos a particularly attractive opportunity to further develop her skills as a learner and an achiever.
The challenge of adapting her teaching methods from the classroom to the online environment didn’t faze Marcos at all.
“Innovation is always tied to change,” says Marcos. “I think inherent in any delivery model there will always be challenges and opportunities. However, the challenges and opportunities of teaching online are not unlike those of teaching face-to-face. Student engagement and motivation is always a huge piece of what we are very mindful of as faculty.”
Inspirational Educational Leadership
Another area of innovation at National University is the absolute support that faculty members receive to create new and exciting programs that push the boundaries of educational opportunities available to the university’s students. This includes the recent launch of the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Organizational Innovation which welcomed its first cohort of students in September of 2019.
Marcos credits the launch of the Ed.D. degree program to Dr. Judy Mantle, Dean of National University’s Sanford College of Education.
“Judy provided the faculty with these really flashy, bright green, 3” x 5” cards at one of our fall assemblies and said ‘Dream,’” says Marcos. “So people dreamed and we all wrote what we would like to see the school doing on those cards. I believe 75% of the faculty responses came back saying, ‘Let’s start an Ed.D.’”
However, it wasn’t enough to simply seek approval and design a fairly standard Ed.D. program. The spirit of innovation that runs through the National University demanded something different.
“Our dean received approval to offer the Ed.D. program and she began thinking ‘OK, they are a dime a dozen these other Ed.D.’s — you know, organizational leadership, organizational change — what will our niche be?’ She did some research and the idea of innovation percolated with her. This is her baby and we are all so privileged and just so blessed and grateful to be a part of it alongside her.”
According to Marcos, the Ed.D. in Organizational Innovation isn’t just for students following a traditional career path in education.
The program is designed to help leaders from all areas of life to become visionary change agents and problem solvers, helping them to co-create new solutions in a time of rapid change in our society.
“It’s multi-disciplinary and inter-agency,” says Marcos. “Within this first cohort, the admissions committee were truly amazed at the remarkable people applying to join our program. We have people in engineering, we have military, we have nonprofits, we have municipalities, we have business and marketing, we have government folks, and, of course, we have education — which runs the gamut from K12 all the way through to higher education. The typical student who takes this program is the mid-level manager or a mid-level director of a particular department or program and is involved in some kind of educational enterprise that is training other people.”
According to Marcos, the successful launch of the inaugural cohort has happened organically.
“Currently, we are only admitting students into this program from California,” says Marcos. “We will open that market very soon but we are not actively marketing the program. Despite this, the word is out and we have a tsunami forming. It’s a good problem.”
Despite the varied backgrounds of the students enrolling in the Ed.D. degree program, they all share a common thread of interest.
“The key that we are looking for is that is they represent an educational enterprise within which they are training other people,” says Marcos.
According to Marcos, another common thread running through all the students on the Ed.D. program is their incredible level of motivation.
“They are highly motivated,” says Marcos. “In fact, we call it the motivational inferno.”
This is something that Marcos never takes for granted.
“We are all really creatures of our environment and there is a responsibility above all else in education when we have naturally motivated people to never demotivate them. So we continue to fuel that motivational inferno. How do we do that? That’s an art form in education and it’s one of the most exciting places that we live.”
Making sure students take ownership of their education is the key to maintaining levels of motivation.
“We are not the deliverers of this program,” says Marcos. “We are the owners of a degree program that we will confer upon completion of requirements. It truly belongs to the student that walks into the classroom, the online environment, and brings their wealth of knowledge to the program. The building is empty until the people arrive. It is the people who make it the organization that it is.”
Why Study for an Ed.D. Degree?
When students already have a plethora of choices when it comes to advanced degree opportunities, why should they study for an Ed.D. degree over a Ph.D.?
“The Ph.D. is generally theoretical, it’s about the theories of particular applications of things whereas the Ed.D. is really about getting in there, rolling up your sleeves, and implementing and institutionalizing a real change around a real problem,” says Marcos. “So it is truly practitioner-based and coming from folks who are in these inter-agency enterprises who can say ‘Data exists, here is the problem, here is the problem statement, and here is how I plan as the Ed.D. candidate to operationalize this particular research question within my institution.’ So it’s an applied sense rather than a theoretical sense of research.”
This interconnection between the classroom and the workplace particularly excites Marcos. An Ed.D. degree is not just a means to an end (a qualification to land a specific job). It prepares students to develop practical skills that they will continue working on throughout their careers.
“The sky is the limit,” says Marcos. “There is no limit to what we can know, what we can do, and what we can co-create.”
To prove the point, Marcos highlights her own experience outside of the classroom.
“I’m involved in a plethora of professional associations, I serve on boards, and I’m also the president of a nonprofit organization,” says Marcos. “I see these really wonderful areas of intersection happening. I see folks who are remarkable in their skills and in their knowledge. I see this great energy for the co-creation of new delivery models and I see a great desire for people to be coached in particular areas. I also see a great desire for others to, in fact, coach people in these particular areas. This is why we created the Ed.D. degree program.”
The Ed.D. degree in Organizational Innovation is exclusively available online and has a single annual intake of students who join the program in September (the university is currently looking at plans to extend this intake to include a cohort starting in January). This makes the Ed.D. program different from the vast majority of degree programs offered by National University which typically operate over a rolling four-week system of classes, running throughout the year, and are available both online and in the traditional classroom environment.
“It’s a full three-year commitment,” says Marcos. “Students will be in courses nine months of the year with a month-long break every 12 weeks. So students starting in September will be in class during the months of September, October, and November and then off during December, and so on.”
The Ed.D. degree is a synchronous program, which means students must commit to attending class at a specific time every week. Despite being hosted in the online environment, students do have a chance to meet each other and faculty members during a three-day on-site orientation.
“We have just completed our first three-day, on-site orientation,” says Marcos. “This inaugural cohort of students walked in the door on the Friday with a big question mark on their foreheads and they left on the Sunday with a big exclamation point. They were so excited.”
To learn more about National University’s Ed.D. in Organizational Innovation visit the program page on our website.