Archive for the ‘Doctoral Studies’ Category

As I Pronounced It, Trippingly on the Tongue

Last month I attended both the hooding ceremony and commencement ceremony for my doctoral program.  I was asked to speak at each event, which was a tremendous honor, if a bit intimidating.  

Below is the text of my speech at the 44th Annual Commencement Ceremony at Wilmington University on January 25, 2015.  There were actually three ceremonies that day, each one for two of the colleges at the university.  My ceremony was the last one of the day and was for the College of Education and the College of Technology.


Thank you for that introduction, Judge Farnan.

Members of the Board of Trustees, President Varsalona, Faculty and Staff of Wilmington University, Parents, Guests, and Friends, and my Fellow Graduates of the Class of 2015:

Welcome! It is my distinct honor to speak – briefly, I promise – on behalf of the graduating class of 2015.

I’ve worked in some facet of public education since I graduated from college in 1999, and as I think any career educator will tell you, teaching can be a very isolating profession.  Can be, but does not have to be, nor should it be.

One of the philosophies that drives the Educational Leadership doctoral program here at Wilmington University is that when it comes to leadership, you can’t lead by yourself.  True leaders work with others to build trust, relationships, and a sense of community, because that is the foundation upon which good work is done.  It’s true that too many cooks can spoil the broth, but if I can mix my metaphors for a moment here, none of us is as smart as all of us.

And isn’t that true of our time here at Wilmington University as well?  Every one of us here today had some kind of support system to help us on our journey, whether it was our parents, our partners, our professors, our friends, and especially our classmates.  These are the people who laughed with us and cried with us.  They believed in us when maybe we didn’t believe in ourselves.  They celebrated success with us – as we do today – and when we failed, they helped us to make sure that we failed forward, turning disappointment into an opportunity for learning and growth.

And that’s what I hope we all take with us moving forward from today.  As graduates of the College of Education and the College of Technology, we are all, in our own ways and in our own roles, trying to make the world a little bit better.  We leave here today with a great deal of knowledge and skill in our respective major areas of study, but let’s never lose sight of the fact that the relationships we create are not incidental to our work, they are the foundation of our work.  Because if we’re looking to leave this world a little better than when we found it, that’s how we’re going to do it – not by breaking off and doing great work in isolation, but by breaking down barriers and working collaboratively and cooperatively to meet any challenge and exceed all expectations.

Once again, my deepest congratulations, Wilmington University Class of 2015.

Unaccustomed As I Am to Public Speaking

Last weekend I attended both the hooding ceremony and commencement ceremony for my doctoral program.  I was asked to speak at each event, which was a tremendous honor, if a bit intimidating.  

Below is the text of my speech at the Hooding Ceremony for the Doctor of Business Administration and Doctor of Education programs at Wilmington University on January 23, 2015.  What I found most gratifying about this experience was not the applause – that’s an expected cultural norm – but looking out at my friends and fellow graduates and seeing the smiles and headnods as I was speaking.  That’s when you know you’re getting it right.

Thank you for that introduction, Dr. Mike, and welcome, faculty, family, and friends, to our doctoral hooding ceremony.  I promise to keep this brief, which will come as a welcome surprise to anyone who has heard me present in class or defend my dissertation.

Much of tonight has been focused on the achievements of the graduates, but I’d like to shift focus for a few minutes to the friends and family who are here with us tonight.  I think I speak for all the graduates when I say that we are grateful that you chose to join us here tonight.  While for many of you out there, this may be only your first or second visit to a Wilmington University campus, I imagine that nobody out in the audience this evening is entirely unfamiliar with the journey that we on the stage have made these past three years.  You have been our support system from the start, so it’s only fitting that you be with us here at the end.  You were there with us when we were writing papers into the wee hours of the morning.  You were there with us when we needed someone to watch our kids so we could attend class after a full day of work.  You were there with us when we picked our dissertation topic.  You were there with us when we picked our next dissertation topic.  You were there with us the first time our dissertation committee introduced us as “doctor”.  And you’re here with us tonight, as we approach the end of this very challenging, but very rewarding journey.  And for that, we thank you.

Speaking of the journey, I remember the start of ours, sitting in this very room for new student orientation on August 11, 2011 – I looked it up! – surrounded then, as I am now, by many of the men and women seated in front of me.  We’ve come a long way since that time.  Each of us has traveled a very unique path to get to this place tonight, but as fellow doctoral students, we’ve also shared a core experience that very few people in this world can say they have gone through.  Whether it was staying after class racking our brains over statistics, stressing over how to juggle our coursework with our jobs with our families, or just needing a fresh set of eyes to look at this latest rewrite of our dissertations, we have come up together over the last few years.  And in that time, the personal can’t help but to become very much enmeshed with the professional.  We have celebrated each others’ successes and we have comforted each other in times of need.  Regardless of where our travels take us, we will always be bound together in that brotherhood and sisterhood of doctors, and, I hope, also as friends.

In thinking about what I wanted to focus on in this speech, I thought about leadership and academics, but when it came time to put pen to paper, what I kept coming back to was people.  The people in our lives who made this possible.  The people with whom we took this journey.  And moving forward, the people with whom we will work and lead.

We all chose this path for different reasons: some of us wish to distinguish ourselves in private industry or the non-profit sector.  Some of us, like me, wanted to lead in K-12 or higher education.  Some of us are just really into funny hats.  Regardless of why we chose this path, let us never forget that with the prestige and honor of the doctorate comes the awesome responsibility of being exemplary leaders.  I am confident that Wilmington University has prepared us well for this challenge, and for that, I am grateful.  Thank you, faculty.

Relationships with people are the key to everything we will hope to accomplish with our shiny new degrees, in no small part because it was our relationships with others that helped get us here.  Please don’t forget that, and, my fellow graduates, please don’t forget us, and our time together here at Wilmington University.  Congratulations once again to the graduating doctoral students of the Class of 2015.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

From a blog post I wrote on 23 December 2013:

If nothing else, hopefully it will be an entry I can look back on this time next year, as I’m preparing to graduate, and laugh at, remembering that time I panicked unnecessarily and frantically spat out a blog post full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I remember very clearly where I was when I wrote this: in the same place I’m sitting now, on the leftmost cushion of my living room couch, feet up on the coffee table, in a semi-dark room lit primarily by our Christmas tree.  I remember it so clearly because of the emotions I was experiencing at the time: self-doubt, panic, and a sense of being overwhelmed that I have rarely felt before or since.  I had just recently had a meeting with my dissertation committee and was told that there needed to be major revisions to my proposal (maybe “overhaul” is a better word) before they would approve me to begin my research.  While I was expecting to have to make some revisions, what was described to me in the meeting was unexpected, to put it mildly.

A lot has happened in the year since.  As I’ve documented in multiple posts here, of course, I did make those revisions, conduct my research, and successfully defend my dissertation (you can read it here if you need help falling asleep) over the following months.

Additionally, I received a very nice compliment in the form of one of my committee members asking me to sit on future dissertation committees for qualitative studies because I “really get qualitative research” (I have to say, I really enjoyed this part of my research much more than looking at the quantitative data in my mixed-methods study).

I was also one of five graduating doctoral students asked to present their research at a poster session at my university’s Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month.  Oddly enough, two sick children and a lack of emergency child care kept me housebound that day, but I was still able to present due to some quick thinking and the magic of Skype and its screen-sharing function.

Finally, I was asked last week to give the commencement address at my own graduation ceremony next month.  This is an incredible honor, albeit an entirely unexpected one, so I’ll be spending some time during the winter holiday break sketching out some thoughts to share with my fellow graduates – a much better use of my time than the panicking and stressing that occupied most of my break last year.

So anyway, yeah, it’s been an eventful year.  I’m not laughing as I look back on last year’s blog post, because even with the perspective granted by distance, I still feel my concerns were well-founded, but I got through it – maybe not as quickly, cleanly, or efficiently as I would have liked, but I got through it.

Scrolling back through my archives, it seems I’ve been blogging about doctoral studies since early 2009, when I was bemoaning the lack of opportunities for study for people who were employed full-time.  I guess this revisiting of my panic post from last year is my way of putting a bow on this topic on this blog, at least for the foreseeable future.  It’s done.  I’m done.  Dr. Damian is in the house.

I mentioned in the spring that I’ve started a new leg of my career in that I am now an administrator in my school district.  Between finishing up the dissertation and starting a new job, time and energy for blogging have both been understandably scarce.

I have never liked the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but maybe since the end of my doctoral program JUST HAPPENS to come at this time of year, next month would be a good time to resume a more regular blogging schedule of 1-2 times per month.  It’s something I’ve been looking forward to, and while time and energy have been scarce, topics and thoughts have most certainly been in abundant supply.

A few weeks ago, I saw a link come across Twitter: it was John Spencer’s “Advice for New Bloggers“.  Perfect, I thought – I’m by no means a new blogger, but maybe a little structure and fresh perspective will help me jump start this thing for 2015.  I clicked on the link, eager for some bullet-pointed guidance, but what I found was this:

Write whatever the hell you want to write.

Instead of instruction, I got affirmation.  I’ll take it.  Happy New Year; see you in 2015.

Standing On the Shoulders of Giants

I included an Acknowledgements page early in my dissertation to thank all the people who have supported me in one way or another throughout my doctoral studies.  Since most of the people I thank will never read the thing, I thought I would reproduce that page here in order to thank them all in a more public venue:


So thanks to all at once, and to each one…
Macbeth, V.viii.75

I owe a debt of gratitude to a great many people for a great many reasons:

To my parents, who instilled in me from an early age the persistence and perspective that has guided me in all my personal, professional, and academic pursuits.

To the men and women of Wilmington University’s Ed.D. Cohorts 21 and 22, with whom I have shared laughter, frustration, grief, and joy over the last three years.

To my colleagues at Lawrence Township Public Schools, whose passion, professionalism, collegiality, and commitment to kids make going to work a joy.

To the faculty and staff of the Wilmington University Ed.D. program, especially program adviser Dr. Lynne Svenning, internship field adviser Dr. Sande Caton, and program administrative assistant Ms. Ann Gibason, all of whom have helped bring me back down to Earth when stress levels ran high.

To my dissertation committee chair Dr. Michael Czarkowski and committee members Dr. Pamela Curtiss, Dr. Tony Marchio, and Dr. Linda Frazer, for the unique expertise and guidance each brought to this study.

Finally, to the faculty and staff of Wellbrook School District, who gave so freely of their time to a complete stranger and without whom this study would not have been possible.


Of course, no expression of gratitude would be complete without the Dedication page that precedes the Acknowledgements:

This dissertation is dedicated to my wife, Stephanie, and my children, Dylan and Kiera, whose unconditional love and support have been instrumental in completing this journey.  We did this.  I love you all, forever and always.

Achievement Unlocked!

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing.  Over 200 pages and 30 PowerPoint slides later, today I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation, Sustaining distributed leadership: Lessons learned from a case study of Delaware middle schools.

I am both elated and exhausted.  If anyone needs me, I’ll be asleep for the next six months or so.

Periscope down…