Interview with Tracy Reimer, Ph.D. - Program Director for the Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration Program at Bethel University

About Tracy Reimer, Ph.D.: Tracy Reimer is the Program Director for the Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration at Bethel University. As Director, she serves students as an advisor and instructor, is responsible for MN Board of School Administrators (BOSA) accreditation, and oversees academic and administrative functions of the program, including curriculum, evaluation, faculty, and budget. Dr. Reimer facilitates principal internships and superintendent internships as the university supervisor and coordinates all license panel reviews. She teaches a variety of courses including EDUC805 Principles of Organizational Leadership, EDUC883 Scholarly Advancement in K-12 Leadership, and EDUC884 Applied Leadership. Dr. Reimer’s research agenda focuses on school leaders meeting the needs of students and families and includes research projects on culturally responsive leadership, equitable leadership, implementing PLCs in Beat the Odds Schools, and addressing the opportunity gap.

Dr. Reimer completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Elementary Education at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN. She earned her master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction and her sixth year certificate at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, MN. Dr. Reimer holds an elementary education teaching license, K-12 principal license, and superintendent license. Her Ph.D. is in Curriculum & Instruction; Literacy Education from the University of MN, in Minneapolis, MN.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of Bethel University’s Online Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students for a wide variety of roles in education superintendence, advanced academic research, curriculum development and assessment, and educational outcomes improvement in K-12 settings?

[Dr. Reimer] The Bethel Ed.D. program Leadership in K-12 Administration coursework integrates the Minnesota license competencies for principals, superintendents, and directors of special education, develops critical consumers and original producers of research, and includes an emphasis on personal formation. The program models a transformational approach, building the capacity of school leaders with the skills and knowledge necessary for effective school leadership as well as critical self-awareness.

The curriculum is comprised of two sets of courses–one set would be the competency courses, and the other set are the research courses. The research courses follow a progression that is part of our integrated approach to the dissertation. In these research courses, students learn the theoretical foundations of empirical research, and how to design qualitative and quantitative research studies in order to evaluate how educational programs and systems can improve across different channels. Students also learn how to conduct a literature review, explore different research designs, and critique diverse qualitative and quantitative research studies in the context of a post-positivist view.

The courses that students take in the Online Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration include Historical, Cultural, and Philosophical Issues Impacting School Administration, Principles of Organizational Leadership, and Curriculum and Instructional Management and Student Development. They also take classes in the Administration of Essential Educational Programs, Measurement and Assessment, Operations and Personnel Administration, Meeting the Needs of All Stakeholders, Leading in a Complex and Pluralistic Society, Resource Management in K-12 Education, Legal Issues in School Administration, and Leaders as Agents of Change. These competency courses prepare students for principal, superintendent, and/or special education director licensure in Minnesota. And those courses have K-12 and district superintendent competencies incorporated into them so that students have the knowledge and skills to pass their licensure exams.

[] Could you please elaborate on the online learning technologies that Bethel University’s Online Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration uses to deliver course materials and facilitate interactions between students and faculty?

[Dr. Reimer] Bethel University uses Moodle as its learning management system, and all courses are held asynchronously to maximize scheduling flexibility for students. However, some course instructors incorporate synchronous elements into their courses, such as synchronous discussions and assignments. The regular class discussions are conducted through forums on Moodle, and these are typically extensive and rich discussions that solidify peer-to-peer relationships as well as an expansion of learning outcomes.

Outside of classes, faculty interact with students frequently, often scheduling advising sessions via Google Hangouts and Zoom. Flip Grid and Google Docs are also used to facilitate learning, community, and conversation. Bethel University provides Academic Resource Center services, including synchronous tutoring and asynchronous feedback on assignments and dissertation writing. Additional supports include a Student Success Advisor available to answer questions and serve as an advocate and liaison to other university offices as well as two doctoral program librarians available to assist with research inquiries.

[] Bethel University’s Online Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration requires students to attend three one-week on-campus intensives (one each year that they are enrolled). May we have more information on this campus requirement, what the intensives entail, and how they enhance students’ learning outcomes?

[Dr. Reimer] Residency instructors and guest presenters are intentionally chosen in order for students to spend time with individuals who serve as public intellectuals impacting students, parents, colleagues, community members, and the world at large.

The first residency in our program provides students with a foundational overview of the historical and philosophical components of educational leadership. We bring in multiple practicing school leaders both within the state of Minnesota and outside of our state in order to give students a broad view of what leadership looks like across different contexts. We really see the community building and relationship building occur during that residency. When students go back online, that face-to-face experience helps them put a name to a face and also makes subsequent virtual sessions that much more rewarding because they have had that initial connection.

The second residency is focused on leadership in a diverse society. The instructors develop a safe space for courageous conversations around equity, cultural responsiveness, and adaptive learning, so that when our students go back to their schools, they can help cultivate similar environments there. The instructor role models how to have those difficult conversations and build a school culture eager to improve and better equipped to adjust to advances and demands in the field of education.

The third residency is Research III, which is taught by both a qualitative and a quantitative professor, who provide customized support and feedback for students as students work on the first three chapters of their dissertation. During the first week of residency, which is required, students refine their research questions and methodology. An optional second week is offered, and this is when students begin writing the components of chapter one, chapter two, and chapter three for their dissertation proposal. Students are provided a great deal of peer and instructor support.

Each year, during residency, a Research Showcase (recent graduates present their dissertations) is held, which supports students’ content knowledge, professional networking, and dissertation preparation.

[] Bethel University’s Online Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration requires the completion of a Dissertation. What does the Dissertation involve, what process do students take to complete it, and what kinds of faculty support do they receive during their work?

[Dr. Reimer] There has been a wealth of topics that students have explored in their dissertations. For example, one of our students researched how to establish and maintain faculty trust in the school principal. That was a topic that was really important to her, and to the work at her high school. Another student published a dissertation titled, “Factors that contribute to high school senior African-American males students’ academic success.” This project had elements of not only academic program optimization but also social justice and addressing inequities in the educational system.

As another example, rural Minnesota school districts often have a hard time retaining teachers, and one of our students conducted a study on the methods and strategies that districts and schools can use to support and retain teachers. The student presented his research findings at multiple state-level administrative organizations’ annual conferences. The research questions that students investigate are very much around how to address challenges that impact students’ learning outcomes and/or teachers’ experiences (which then in turn affects school outcomes).

[] Students of Bethel University’s Online Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration must also complete a comprehensive examination. May we have more information on this requirement?

[Dr. Reimer] The comprehensive exam is, in essence, two extensive papers. The first question students answer is, “What is your vision for serving as an educational leader in the future?” This question aims to have students elaborate on their personal and professional leadership styles, and how these styles have evolved through their courses and concurrent professional work. As a missional institution, we are interested in how students integrate their personal values and faith into their educational leadership. Within this question, we ask sub-questions around how students engage in personal leadership formation. What reflective practices do students engage in during their work in order to forge productive connections between the concepts and methodologies they learn in class, their professional goals, and their personal mission statement as an educational leader? How is their style reflected and translated in their work and service of others? In their response, we expect students to summarize and integrate their values in their leadership of educational institutions and to integrate scholarly sources in their writing.

The second question concerns the concepts and experiences during their doctorate program that became foundational to their current professional practices and future as a leader. While this question has some overlap with the previous question, the distinction is that in this question we really want students to specifically discuss how their thinking around particular concepts, issues, and problems developed through the course of classes, internships, projects, and peer-to-peer as well as instructor mentorship. We also want students to further discuss their leadership in the areas of diversity, inclusion, and equity, and to make an argument for how their leadership will encourage others and contribute to educational and cultural diversity.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in Bethel University’s Online Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while they are enrolled?

[Dr. Reimer] Instructors have extensive research experience and are well equipped to help students navigate their scholarly research projects. They are also active practitioners with track records as successful school leaders who exhibit the characteristics of humble confidence, compassion, empathy, and integrity which make them ideal mentors for our students. So it’s that combination of knowledge and the application of knowledge in school settings, as well as the personal characteristics that will lead development within our own students.

We make sure that our class sizes are small so there is opportunity for instructor/student interaction: our classes are never more than 28 students. Larger classes are split into two sections to ensure students receive personalized attention. The student-to-teacher ratio means that each of our students gets faculty support and can connect with classmates.

[] For students interested in Bethel University’s Online Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Reimer] A competitive application for the Bethel University Ed.D. program would demonstrate a passion for serving in K-12 leadership and a commitment to self-reflection and personal growth. Students’ history of academic performance, professional recommendations, and academic writing via a Statement of Purpose Paper are reviewed. In addition, each applicant is interviewed in order to determine how he/she will contribute to the learning of cohort members and how Bethel’s program can support his/her professional goal obtainment.

Because the most robust learning occurs within a diverse learning community, admits intentionally reflect and represent a variety of backgrounds: diverse school settings (public and private schools, charter and traditional schools, online and brick and mortar schools, etc.), positions (classroom/special education teacher, building/district administrator, counselor, psychologist, coach, intervention specialist, etc.), geographic regions (national and global), faith (Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Buddhism, and Muslim) and no faith traditions, race/ethnicities, gender, age, sex, etc.

[] What makes Bethel University’s Online Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in curriculum assessment, instructional leadership, K-12 program development, and other forms of educational leadership in primary and secondary school environments?

[Dr. Reimer] The complex, rapidly changing, and comprehensive culture of K-12 schools increases the need for advanced practitioners who can understand how to shape and support this culture to optimize learning environments for all students. To this end, all of our coursework focuses on competencies that prepare students to be principals, directors of special education, and superintendents who can approach school and school system leadership from a holistic and innovative perspective.

Another thing that makes us unique is how we integrate courses qualifying students for licensure into our program. Oftentimes, educators who want to earn their license must earn their bachelor’s, master’s, and then earn their Education Specialist degree before getting their doctorate. Our program allows students to go from their master’s to their doctorate while also earning their education leadership licenses. So we save them both time and money.

Additionally, I strongly believe our student-centric approach and emphasis on mentorship helps us foster a culture of self-awareness, diversity, and social justice. We have a unique environment where our professors meet with students one-on-one to really foster a strong connection and talk candidly about the challenges they face in their workplace, and to also see how their experiences as educators fit into the larger picture of local, national, and even global educational outcomes. Our faculty see each of our students as a person in addition to a student and a professional. We want them to have the technical skills, the leadership know-how, and the character and personal support to achieve their goals.

Thank you, Dr. Reimer, for your excellent insight into Bethel University’s Online Ed.D. Leadership in K-12 Administration program!