Brenda Dean, Director of Institutional Effectiveness, Strategic Planning & Assistant Professor of Education, Carson-Newman University

Faculty Spotlight: Brenda Dean, Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning & Assistant Professor of Education

What program do you teach at Carson-Newman University?

The Carson-Newman University Education Department has offered graduate programs for almost 35 years. I work in the graduate program that includes students seeking master’s, educational specialist, and doctoral degrees. Most often, I teach doctoral candidates in the administrative leadership or curriculum and instruction leadership programs.

What drew you to this field of study?

I worked for many years in public schools as a teacher, teacher leader, school administrator, and district leader. During this time, it became evident that just like other professions, we needed to consider the growing research in our field to help solve the many issues educators face and attempt to solve each day. Educational problems are challenging to solve because these problems are so complex. Such cases cannot be solved without effective leaders who motivate others to work and achieve at high levels, help all organization members grow, build effective teams, and develop relationships and trust.

What keeps you excited about it?

This is the most exciting time to be an educator and to develop instructional leaders: we know more about how students learn and how we can empower children to reach their full potential.  Without question, teachers are most critical to those positive outcomes. However, the influence and role of instructional leaders are understood. While in previous days, the emphasis of leadership was on the management of people and things, the 21st-century school demands leaders who lead effectively as instructional leaders. Fortunately, these skills can be taught and authentically developed. That keeps me excited that with our practitioner focus, we are preparing capable leaders at all levels.

How will your program better prepare/equip educators for the current climate we’re in (specifically with COVID-19 and the move to online/hybrid learning)?

The Carson-Newman program is entirely online and asynchronous. Our current learning management system (LMS) is Canvas. It provides a robust platform for delivering content and interactions with the instructor and other members of the class. With the support of the university’s Online and Digital Learning Department and the Instructional Technology Departments, the program’s courses are well-organized and demonstrate the best online education practices. Participation in the program offers modeling of best practices for those delivering content in an online or hybrid format, expands understanding of actions and supports that students need and appreciate, and develops an understanding of a popular LMS.  While there are differences among learning management systems, understanding how one operates makes it easier to transfer that knowledge to another LMS operation.

What attracted you to teach at Carson-Newman University?

I worked as a public school educator for many years before coming to Carson-Newman University. During those years, I had the opportunity to screen, interview, and observe teachers and administrators. Without reservation, the Carson-Newman graduates were well-prepared, anxious to learn, increased their professional skills, and brought a heart of service to their work. When the opportunity arose to work at Carson-Newman, I wanted to be part of a program of excellence.

What sets them apart?

The Carson-Newman University mission statement guides everything that we do across the university and in department, program, and course. Our mission as Christian educators is to help our students reach their full potential as educated citizens and worldwide servant-leaders. Living this mission means that content delivery occurs at a high level of integrity. Still, the student’s development to become an informed citizen, who will lead with integrity and understand the importance of their influence on the future, is equally important.

What is your professional background (including degrees) as an educator?

I graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a B.S. in Biology. As graduation was nearing, I did not have a clear vision of the next step, whether that was work or graduate school. Someone suggested that I might want to think about teaching for a while, so I took education classes as electives and completed student teaching. I quickly found a job teaching chemistry, and I fell in love with teaching.  I loved my content, and I saw the influence that I could have on students and their futures. After a few years, I earned an M.S. from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in Curriculum and Instruction and, I eventually returned and became certified as an administrator.

Within a few years, a position opened at a neighboring high school, and I began working as an assistant principal. Then, I enrolled in the doctoral program at East Tennessee State University and earned the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Within a few months, I became the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. In addition to serving as P-12 instructional supervisor, I supervised the ESL program for almost 20 years.

During my tenure, when vacancies or leaves occurred, I assumed the responsibilities for the supervisors of instructional technology, special education, business, and career and technical education.  I am an associate professor at Carson-Newman and serve as the Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning for the University.

Tell us a little about yourself. Why did you become interested in education?

I married my college sweetheart many years ago and we have one daughter. My husband was an education major and a positive influence on my career choice to enter teaching.  After working as a guidance counselor, the assistant director of our local technical college, and supervisor of Career and Technical Education in a neighboring school district, he is now retired. We have one daughter who is a graduate of the Carson-Newman’s EDD program for educational leadership. She works as a professional staff member at a local community college.  My husband and I enjoy travel for pleasure and domestic and foreign mission work. I consider work in education as an extension of my Christian faith.

I became interested in education because I am people person. In education, I found the perfect intersection for me of content, people, learning, and helping others. In my classroom, I facilitated student success, and as a school administrator, I was able to facilitate teacher success in meeting student needs and pursuing excellence. As a district leader, that work enabled me to help schools move forward in meeting the needs of all students and meeting our moral obligations to each student, family, and our community.

What would you tell prospective students considering your program about yourself? What’s something that students and colleagues should know about you?

First, I want them to know that I consider it an honor to work at Carson-Newman and with them.  In these programs, they will receive a world-class education in a supportive environment. Not just me, but the entire faculty in the Department of Education is mission and student-centered.

Secondly, one of the most significant influences on my professional life is the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). They produce outstanding research and training programs. One of the goals of SREB is to improve the outcomes for students across the region which influences the training of principals and other leaders. Specifically, this is achieved through understanding the connections between school and classroom practices to student achievement, how effective instructional leaders work with teachers to implement continuous improvement collaboratively, and how to support faculty and staff in sound curriculum and instruction practices. I serve as the SREB national master trainer for using root cause analysis to solve problems. This work influences our program and courses. In previous generations, programs for principals and school leaders were very philosophical and theoretical. Our program is for practitioners who need real skills to apply to real-world problems they will face daily in schools. Our courses’ assignments are designed to be relevant to the candidate in their current and future work context.

My future students and colleagues should know that I enjoy my work and the people with whom I interact. They should know that I smile easily, and I am approachable. I model the professional demeanor that is critical to their success in the workplace. They will also find I am prompt to respond to their needs or questions, and I will provide practical feedback to improve their understanding and application of the content. Through this program, they will be poised and prepared for an opportunity as doors open. Finally, I measure my success by their success in this program and in achieving their goals.

What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing their graduate degree? How can people stand out in this field?

Now is the time! Life is always complicated, and one can always find an excuse not to pursue your goals.  Our program is designed in a way to make it manageable for working adults. Our faculty is adept at supporting working professionals with busy family lives and multiple responsibilities. During the Fall and Spring semesters, students take one course at a time.  The asynchronous design allows you to work during the week when convenient for the student. My advice is to begin as soon as possible; when opportunities arise, you want to be prepared.