Tonya Thomas, M.A. Educational Leadership and Administration, M.A. Curriculum and Instruction from Concordia University Chicago, IL

Student Spotlight: Tonya Thomas, Teacher Leadership Doctorate Program

Enrolled in the Doctoral Teacher Leadership Specialization program, we asked student Tonya Thomas to tell us about her experience thus far pursuing her graduate education degree at Concordia University Chicago.

What prompted you to work in education? What inspired you?

In college, I worked part-time as a teaching assistant in a daycare center on the southwest side of Chicago. Working with children seemed to suit me naturally, however, becoming an educator was not my first career choice. My initial career goal was to follow in the footsteps of my father in becoming an attorney.

After receiving my B.A. in Psychology, my first official job was as a community educator. Working with children and developing a curriculum became something I enjoyed. At the suggestion of a co-worker, I applied to a teaching program associated with Chicago Public Schools. Once accepted into the program, the rest became history.

My inspiration? Educational trailblazers such as Mary McLeod Bethune, Marva Collins, and my mother, who served as an educator with Chicago Public Schools for nearly 40 years. I have been blessed to have been inspired by some of the most amazing educators throughout my academic career. It was the love, compassion, and dedication of those educators that have inspired me and guided me throughout my teaching career.

What prompted you to pursue a graduate degree?

The desire to expand my knowledge base, become a proficient teacher leader, in addition to me being a natural, lifelong learner, were all deciding factors to pursue my doctorate degree and made the decision to return to graduate school the optimum choice.

Why did you choose Concordia University Chicago for your teacher leadership doctorate degree?

I chose Concordia University Chicago (CUC) to pursue my teacher leader doctorate because returning to CUC is like returning home. I obtained both of my master of arts degrees from CUC. The beautiful campus, camaraderie, support, and rich engagement among students, faculty, and staff, in addition to the servant leadership philosophy, made CUC the best choice to continue my academic pursuit.

What skills and/or knowledge do you hope to gain by the end of your program? What career goal are you hoping to accomplish?

I hope that by the end of my program, I have acquired the necessary skills that best support my colleagues in their effort to become more culturally aware and sensitive to the needs of the students, families, and school communities they have committed to serving.

As a teacher leader, it is critical to work with colleagues in a collaborative and respectful manner in the effort to make the coaching and learning process effortless. My career goal is to become a servant teacher leader who can successfully coach and mentor the next generation of educators by helping them see the value they bring to the profession and the hope they bring to the world as they educate and cultivate the mindsets of the greatest gifts to society – our children.

How will those skills help you with the current climate of education?

If we have learned anything during the pandemic, hopefully, it is the importance of having greater patience and extending grace and courteousness toward others. Many schools operated remotely during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. We witnessed economical, racial, and social disparities in school systems across the country during the remote learning process.

In navigating through such challenges, it became evident that students fell behind academically and that, as a result, there is a greater need for social-emotional learning support for students and school communities alike. Acquiring and enhancing greater communicative and collaborative skillsets and meeting districts where they are in the effort to help move them to where they need to be will be crucial as we begin to rebuild our educational communities.

What have you most enjoyed about your program so far?

What I have enjoyed most about my program so far is the compassion, experienced professors, and the rich exchanges between myself and my colleagues and cohorts in the program. The engagement, exchange of ideas, and respect for one another have been one that seems to expedite the timing of the eight-week course process.

Even though the program operates in an online format, the interaction amongst cohorts makes it seem like we are collaborating and engaging with one another in-person. An additional benefit to the program’s structure is that there are opportunities to continue to engage in a dialog if parties mutually desire and agree.

Another appreciated component of the program is the accessibility of the professors. I have yet to reach out to one of my instructors and not get a rapid, comprehensive response. The instructors have not only availed themselves to students but are more than willing to be supportive in all ways possible.

The entire team of the recruiters, advisors, and support staff are more than willing to support students accordingly. I am currently as satisfied in my doctorate program as I was in completing both of my master’s programs at CUC.

What has been the toughest part of your program so far?

I’m not sure I would use the term “tough” as much as I would use the term “challenging.” Although, in a good way! Because of the rich conversations that generate with cohorts, there are moments when it seems as if the eight-week timing of the course and the online format does not provide enough time to fully interact. There have been lecture topics in which my colleagues and I could have engaged or interacted as “thought partners” beyond the time allotted for the week’s topic.

What advice would you give to prospective students considering the same program at Concordia University Chicago?

My advice to prospective students who are contemplating CUC’s teacher leadership doctoral program would be: if your heart condition is such that you are ready to share knowledge, and skillsets that you have acquired over the years as an educator that have led to student and school community success, and have a desire to help up-and-coming generations of educators reach their best teaching and professional potential, then I encourage you to visit the campus, speak with program staff, and apply to become a member of the CUC academic community.