Interview with David Title, Ed.D. - Chair of the Department of Educational and Literacy Leadership at Sacred Heart University

About David Title, Ed.D: David Title is Associate Clinical Professor of Educational Leadership and Chair of the Department of Educational and Literacy Leadership at Sacred Heart University (SHU). In his role as Chair, Dr. Title oversees all degree and certificate programs within the department, including the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership with a focus on Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. He administers the department budget, evaluates department faculty and assigns them to classes, manages student-facing issues, and ensures all department programs are accredited and continuously evaluated and improved.

Since coming to Sacred Heart, Dr. Title’s research interests have focused on higher education faculty development. SHU’s leadership has established a priority of providing its students with high quality instruction. Calling on his work as a 15-year superintendent of schools in systemic improvement, and specifically Instructional Rounds, Dr. Title and a departmental colleague, Dr. Kristin Rainville, initiated a plan for faculty development titled Faculty Peer Coaching. In this model, faculty members from different colleges receive training in the elements of effective instruction, as well as how to observe each other and give feedback in a constructive, non-evaluative manner. Six pairs of peer coaches meet twice each semester as a Community of Practice to share their learning.

From this work, Dr. Title and Dr. Rainville, along with Dr. Cynthia Desrochers of California State University Northridge, have published two books on that topic, authored several articles, and presented at multiple national conferences, including the American Educational Research Association (AERA), which includes researchers from around the world, and the POD Network, which is a coalition of faculty and educational developers in North America. Dr. Title’s research falls under the umbrella titled Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).

Dr. Title earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1979 from Dartmouth College, where he majored in History with an Education minor and also earned a Teaching Certificate. While working as a high school teacher, Dr. Title earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Dr. Title earned an Ed.D. in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1990.

Interview Questions

[] Could you please provide an overview of Sacred Heart University’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership? How is this program structured, and what key learning outcomes can students expect? How does the curriculum optimally prepare students to take on leadership roles in schools and other diverse organizations?

[Dr. David Title] Our Ed.D. follows the principles of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED), culminating in a Dissertation in Practice. The main goal of the program is to develop practitioners who can use research to address a complex Problem of Practice in an organization, such as a school or school district. The program is designed so that students are prepared to successfully complete a rigorous, often mixed methods, dissertation based on the Improvement Science Framework.

Our coursework focuses on the whole child. Our content prepares practitioners to make a difference in student outcomes in not only academics but also in social and emotional learning (SEL). The SEL content includes 12 credits in SEL pedagogy and leadership, as well as 6 credits in trauma-sensitive instruction and schools. Outside of the 18 credits in SEL, students take a course in Social Justice for Leaders and Moral and Ethical Leadership. We are preparing leaders to achieve better student outcomes in a moral, ethical, and socially just manner. Leaders with competence in these areas can be powerful forces for positive change in whatever setting they choose.

[] Why did Sacred Heart University decide to join the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) Consortium in 2019, and how has membership with the Consortium impacted the development and evolution of the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program?

[Dr. David Title] Dean Michael Alfano knew of the Carnegie Project’s work before we started to develop our program, and he asked me to develop a Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning (SEAL) focused Ed.D. that followed the principles of CPED. He felt that the focus on a program that used scholarly knowledge to address real-world programs would be a good fit for the mission of the college and the university.

The Carnegie Project was an invaluable resource as I worked with faculty to develop the course sequences and content, as well as the framework for the Dissertation in Practice. SHU’s doctorate was developed “from scratch,” which enabled the faculty and me to design the doctorate without the difficulties encountered when trying to retrofit an existing doctorate to the CPED principles.

Once I became a CPED member, I attended all the convenings, and incorporated a number of elements from other institutions into the SHU program. For example, I learned about the model of dissertation advising that SHU currently uses from a discussion with faculty from Arizona State University. I learned about Improvement Science as the program’s signature framework from CPED-affiliated programs and am now a member of CPED’s Improvement Science Special Interest Group. Other learning from the convenings have been around framing a Problem of Practice, navigating the IRB process, and the unique needs of an online, cohort-based, interactive and student-centric program.

In 2024 we will have graduated our first two cohorts, a total of 30 students. I am interested in collaborating with other institutions using Improvement Science to publish a volume highlighting the most impressive dissertations that use this framework. This would demonstrate not just the academic rigor involved in completing an Improvement Science Dissertation in Practice, but also would show the impact that this work is having on practice.

[] Sacred Heart University’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership is fully online. Could you please elaborate on the online learning technologies that this program uses to deliver course materials and facilitate interactions between students and faculty?

[Dr. David Title] The Ed.D. in Educational Leadership began as a fully asynchronous program using Blackboard as the learning management system (LMS). SHU contracted Wiley Education for technical assistance so that each course had the same look and feel for students. Wiley Education course designers partnered with each faculty member to create a Master Shell for each of 17 courses.

Our Ed.D. is a cohort model with a Fall start date. The target is 15-18 students per cohort. They begin with an in-person Orientation in the summer and then begin the program in late August. We included a two-day Residency each summer on the Fairfield, CT campus in July. The program uses Fall, Spring, and Summer semesters, culminating with the Residency. The purpose of the Residency was to offer a chance for cohort members to see each other in person, as well as learn from experts they did not encounter in their coursework.

After the first cohort gave us feedback, we began to include synchronous, optional Zoom sessions for each course. The instructor has discretion about the number and length of these sessions, which are recorded in the event a student cannot make it. Some professors meet weekly for a 30-minute check-in; others meet three times a semester for 90 minutes at strategic breakpoints in the course. We now describe the program as “largely asynchronous,” as most content is delivered in that learning mode.

[] Students in Sacred Heart University’s Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership must complete a dissertation. What are the primary research approaches and methodologies that Sacred Heart University recommends students implement in their dissertation process? Also, how do faculty support and guide students during their completion of the dissertation?

[Dr. David Title] Following the CPED guidelines, our students complete a Dissertation in Practice. Our signature methodology is Improvement Science. Ordinarily, our students identify, analyze, and address a Problem of Practice in a school or school district. Typically, students use Action Research and a mixed methods design, but we have had students do a fully qualitative study. The dissertation process from start to finish is designed to span the last full year of the program.

In the Fall semester of their third year, each student submits a Dissertation Abstract of approximately four pages that outlines their Problem of Practice and the study site. Based on that information, the faculty members advising dissertations for that cohort review the Abstract and assign a Chair and Second Reader to each student based on research interests. The student selects the Third Reader, approved by the Program Director, to complete the Committee. This selection process matches students with the appropriate Committee members without the need for the student to ask faculty.

The first of four Dissertation Seminars begins in the Spring semester. Each faculty member serves as Chair for five students and Second Reader for five students, ensuring frequent and close contact throughout the dissertation process. The cohort meets weekly with all dissertation advisors for learning sessions throughout the three semesters.

Dissertation topics have included implementing restorative practices at an elementary school to improve the feelings of connectedness of Black students; a case study analyzing the impact of an affinity group for Black teachers in an urban school; addressing the issue of teacher stress and burnout using mindfulness; and mitigating educator implicit bias through professional learning and coaching in a suburban school district. All completed dissertations are posted on Digital Commons.

[] What role does mentorship play in Sacred Heart University’s Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while in the program?

[Dr. David Title] Faculty mentorship is an important part of our program. Our small cohort size makes for optimal faculty-student interaction. In most courses, faculty members make individual or small group appointments with students throughout the semester. As Program Director, I serve as the advisor for all doctoral students. Once the student is assigned to a Dissertation Committee Chair, that individual serves as the mentor until the dissertation is complete. Through the dissertation process, the Chair meets with each student individually once every two weeks for the first two semesters, then once per week for the final semester.

In addition, our program has a dedicated research librarian. Starting with the first semester, this individual is available to all doctoral students for help with research. As part of the first academic research course, each student makes an individual appointment with the research librarian to develop a relationship and learn research skills one-on-one.

We also have three Graduate Assistants who serve as mentors for all other doctoral students. These are students in their final year of the program. They offer additional one-on-one mentoring and workshops, host small group consultations, and conduct other outreach efforts.

We are part of the Holmes Scholars program. We sponsor four Holmes Scholars each year. This program is dedicated to the development of doctoral students of color, run by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). Our Holmes Scholars provide mentoring for other students of color in the program.

We have a dedicated online writing lab for doctoral students. One tutor is available to review student writing and conduct one-on-one writing consultations.

[] For students interested in Sacred Heart University’s Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. David Title] The SHU program is designed for working professionals with some leadership experience and a commitment to SEL and social justice. Leadership experience does not necessarily mean a formal leadership position. Teacher-leaders are welcome to apply. Most work in PreK-12 settings; the program welcomes applicants from all roles – some are school or district leaders, but others are teachers, social workers, and psychologists with school-level leadership experience. Experience may be in public, private, or parochial schools. We also have had successful students who work in regional education service centers as well as out-of-school time programs.

The essay is a key component of the application. Those interested in the program should pay careful attention to their experiences that demonstrate their leadership (in any role, in any area) and their commitment to SEL and social justice. In addition, quality academic writing is important, so applications should submit an essay free of grammar, spelling, and syntax errors.

The ideal student has served in a professional role in a Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 setting with leadership experience and a commitment to SEL and social justice.

[] What makes Sacred Heart University’s Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students who want to enter leadership roles in academic settings, as well as other organizational contexts?

[Dr. David Title] Our program’s emphasis on Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning is a key differentiating feature of our program. As schools and districts recognize that, to improve student academic achievement, they must address students’ social and emotional competence, graduates from our program will have a unique skillset that will differentiate themselves from others seeking leadership positions. Graduates from our program have advanced into leadership roles either within or outside of their current districts.

While our program is for practitioners, some of our graduates have gone on to teach as adjunct professors. In addition, several have had their work published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at national and international conferences.

Beginning in Fall of 2024, SHU will offer a second track in our Ed.D. Program. This track targets those seeking leadership roles in higher education. That track will be similar to the existing track in that it is based on the principles of the Carnegie Project, including an Improvement Science Dissertation in Practice. However, its core academic focus will be on higher education leadership, not SEAL.

Thank you, Dr. David Title, for your detailed insight into Sacred Heart University’s online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, and for your important research in and advocacy for educational practices that enhance social and emotional learning!