Concordia University St. Paul, MN

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Steve Emerson, Adjunct Faculty, Instructor for the M.A. Differentiated Instruction Program

What programs do you teach at Concordia University St. Paul? What drew you to this field of study? What keeps you excited about it? 

I have the privilege of teaching in both the M.A. in Educational Leadership and the M.A. in Differentiated Instruction programs. I was drawn to these areas because of the work I do as a principal in Minneapolis. I want to provide instruction to adults who want to better serve their students. This may be in a leadership capacity on their way to earning principal license or as a teacher who wants to grow and strengthen practice around serving all students by using differentiation strategies.

What keeps me excited about it is the students of our program. They are all educators who want to deepen their knowledge of their craft and want to better serve students. These educators are truly student-centered. The other part that makes me excited about this work is the collegiality of the Concordia professors that teach in the program. We meet frequently to learn with and from each other.

How will your program better prepare/equip educators for the current climate we’re in?

I think the differentiated instruction program provides critical learning for teachers around how best to meet the variety of needs their students have. One of the key outcomes we seek for students is that they demonstrate the ability to design, implement, and assess educational solutions to challenges educators face in the reality of multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, and multi-ability school populations.

In addition, we want students to explore personal curricular beliefs and theories that guide professional decision-making, reflective thinking, and adaptive expert strategies. I believe these key outcomes will strengthen a teacher’s ability to support student learning post-pandemic. For example, there is a mental health class as part of this program. My guess is that the post-pandemic return to learning will need teachers who are equipped to support students with mental health needs as a result of trauma students may have experienced during the pandemic.

What attracted you to Concordia University St. Paul to teach at? What sets them apart? 

Originally, I looked at Concordia as a place to teach because Dr. Oluwatoyin Akinde Fakuajo worked with me at my middle school to do her internship for getting her principal license. Dr. Akinde Fakuajo is a full-time Assistant Professor at Concordia who coordinates the M.A. in Educational Leadership program. I said to her, “If you ever need someone to teach ed. leadership classes, I am really interested.” A few months later, she called and invited me to teach a course. I absolutely fell in love with Concordia.  Concordia’s “responsive, relevant, real” mantra has always resonated with me. The students were amazing. And the faculty that I have gotten to work with and learn from have been outstanding. Concordia has a great system for educating adult learners, and, in particular, adult educators.

What is your professional background as an educator? 

I have been a K-12 educator for 35 years. My first 16 years of experience were as an English/Language Arts teacher and an athletic coach. For the past 19 years, I have been a school administrator. I have been a Dean of Students, an Athletic and Activities Director, a School Improvement Specialist, an Assistant Principal, and a Principal. I have been the Principal at Olson Middle School in Minneapolis since 2014.

My practice is aimed at ensuring students receive an equitable, rigorous education that prepares them to be global citizens. I have received three Star of Innovation awards from the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals for innovative practice around literacy, cultural relevance, and personalized learning. I have also received a Minneapolis Educational Leadership Award for designing a social-emotional learning project for middle school students.

I earned my B.A. in English from Concordia College in Moorhead. I earned my M.A. in Athletics and Activities Administration from the University of St. Thomas where I also earned my Doctorate in Educational Leadership. In addition to my adjunct faculty work at Concordia, I am also an adjunct faculty in the Education Specialist program at St. Thomas.

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

I grew up in poverty in Moorhead, Minnesota. My parents worked in extraordinary ways to pay the bills and raise three children. The one place where I felt validated and affirmed was at school in both academics and athletics. I had great teachers and coaches. I made the decision while I was in high school that I would become a teacher and coach. I wanted to give to others the great teaching and coaching I received. As I became more experienced as a teacher, I became more interested in leadership which led me to become an administrator and ultimately a principal. With that, I have now become interested in becoming a professor. It all started by having great teachers—so, I now have the responsibility (and privilege) to help teachers better their craft.  

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

More than anything else, I want students to meet their learning goals for the courses I teach. Students should know that I will push them to meet the rigorous demands of learning in an M.A. program at a pace at which they will be able to handle it. I am flexible and will work with any student who has specific needs based on life circumstances. I am easy to communicate with (a generous listener) and believe that adult education is truly a collaboration between students and faculty. My primary role is to facilitate student learning.

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

I think this degree is in high demand given the nature of where education is going. The emphasis on personalized learning as well as the differentiated needs of students call out for teachers to have strategies to meet students wherever they are at. I think teachers who are looking to become experts in differentiated strategies will strengthen their general education, special education, English Language Learner, and Gifted and Talented knowledge. They will leave the program with deep understanding of a specific area of interest as they decide on their Capstone project. Teachers who have a degree in differentiated instruction will be positioned to become teacher leaders such as instructional coaches and professional development chairs.

Is there anything else you would like to share?? 

The last thing I would like to share is that Concordia has been a phenomenal place to work. The students and the faculty all shine. Teaching in the M.A. in Differentiated Instruction program has made me a stronger instructor and a stronger advocate for teachers to see the benefits of earning this degree. I am both proud and grateful that I have the privilege to serve as adjunct faculty at Concordia University St. Paul.