Education is power. As the principal for Erdenheim Elementary School, André McLaurin witnesses the power of education every day.
This year for Black History Month, his school district hosted a woman who grew up in the South and was over 100 years old.
The speaker reflected, “Some folks had no idea that they weren’t supposed to be mistreated – they thought that was just how things were supposed to be,” McLaurin says. He remembers her telling the audience, “We thought we were supposed to go to a different water fountain, we thought it was okay to be mistreated. We just thought that’s how things were.” McLaurin adds, “Until we got educated!”
Because education is so important, McLaurin spent Tuesdays and Thursdays in class earning his Ed.D. in educational leadership from Immaculata—the first person in his family to do so. He is thrilled that his family, who has gone on this educational journey with him, can see the fruits of his labor. Most importantly, his two younger daughters.
While a student, McLaurin soaked up knowledge from his professors and benefited from class discussions with his peers, who were at different stages and roles within the education field.
“The opportunity to share experiences mixed with theory and research is something that I really appreciated,” he states. McLaurin thrived in Immaculata’s small-class environment where he could make connections with his professors that often carried over from one course to the next, which broadened his learning and made it easier to create connections between leadership concepts.
“I chose Immaculata for a couple reasons,” McLaurin says. “I like the feel when you’re in a class with a reasonable group of different professionals, aspiring for the same thing––having similar goals and a hard work ethic.” However, he admits, one of the biggest reasons that he enrolled at Immaculata, was that he could control his own pace with flexibility in the number of classes he took per semester, which made the workload manageable.
“I have a young family, so if I needed to re-shift my priorities, Immaculata provided the flexibility for me to do that where, at a larger school or in a cohort, it may have been a challenge.”
He explains that when he became principal at Erdenheim Elementary School four years ago, he replaced a person who had been in that role for 16 years. McLaurin immediately turned class theory into action while meeting with various members of the school community. He recalls that it was important for him to learn more about the community, and to do this, he needed to listen, develop an understanding and communicate his beliefs.
During his first year as principal, he took a communication class that would set the tone for the rest of his program.
“It was a perfect course for me at the time because it was all about communication, what different communication meant and how to interact with people with different perspectives.” During that semester, McLaurin also took a leadership theory course that increased his preparedness for his new position as principal. “I looked forward to those classes because I learned so much – here’s the research and theory—and I was able to go back into my actual setting and see how the different styles of communication impacted the people I interacted with,” he says. Similarly, McLaurin used different leadership styles that he learned in class when confronted with a myriad of situations.
After two decades in the education field, starting his career as an elementary school teacher in Charlotte, NC, McLaurin has seen a transition within young students today. According to McLaurin, the question educators need to ask is “What should school look like?” Recognizing that today’s youth is more diverse economically, emotionally and socially, educators need to understand that what worked years ago, may not meet the demands of teaching today.
McLaurin explains that 20 years ago, if a student wanted to do research, they went to the library, searched the card catalog, retrieved the book number, found the book, checked it out and wrote notes on his findings (and hopefully remembered to return the book on time). This process developed grit and resilience in the student since he had to follow certain steps, a structured process and respond to adversity to complete the project.
Now, learners click a link to find the information. McLaurin says that the lack of procedures or the ability to problem-solve in the moment creates challenges for current students when presented with assignments that demand extra steps or produce adversity. Many of the current teachers grew up with the card catalog system; students are more comfortable with digital learning. Teachers remember using paper maps; students depend on their phones to navigate. McLaurin laughs at the steps he used to go through just to order pizza––now there’s an app that delivers it to your door!
“It’s great how everything is so immediate and how our society has become super-efficient,” McLaurin notes. “But what that now requires is that our students are not confronted with these multiple steps or problems at a young age and the skills you develop in terms of resiliency and grit may not be present as much as a teacher would like to see in students.”
With two daughters, ages seven and five, McLaurin will be putting educational theory to practice for many years to come… witnessing the power of education!