Instructor Spotlight: Cheryl D. Watkins

Instructor Spotlight: Cheryl D. Watkins

By Cheryl D. Watkins

What course do you teach?

I teach MS ED447 - Building a Culture of Learning. 

What do you do outside of teaching?

Currently, I provide workshops on topics related to education across the state, specifically race, equity and justice; emotional intelligence; and school/district leadership. I am also enrolled in seminary to become a chaplain in a hospital setting.

What brought you to Northwestern's MSEd program?

I was introduced to Northwestern's MSEd program by a colleague who was conducting workshops on coaching in education. It was her enthusiasm about the innovative approach to teacher leadership that paved the way for me to learn more about the program (and opportunities to join the team).

Why did you choose to teach this course?

I was attracted to the focus on teacher leadership, an area that hasn't been explored widely enough. The program, in its entirety, prepares teachers for roles beyond the classroom. I especially enjoy the creativity in teaching that it sparks, the approval that it fosters for those who love the classroom but who also wish to make a different, larger impact.

What excites you most about the students within the MSEd program?

There are a diverse group of students in the program and that's always exciting. They enroll in courses believing that they will learn a great deal from the professor. But, for me, I get a chance to experience them, their professional histories in education and learn from them. I have a chance to learn about their past educational experiences and that helps me to complete a composite of teachers in education.

What are the strengths of the MSEd program?

The professors in the program come with a wealth of experience that differentiates them from other professors. They intertwine their experiences with course content to bridge the gap between theory and practice, which for me is the strength of the program. Hearing stories about how the strategies outlined in textbooks come to life in a classroom or school make all the difference to me.

Any particularly memorable moments from your class at Northwestern?

I provide music, children's literature, and other textual references in my syllabus as optional items to explore to further connect students with the course content. I never really expect that students have time to engage in extra, outside reading, but it makes the content more lively if they do (and it's my secret hope that they will make the purchase to enhance their personal and classroom libraries...that their students might fall in love with the book). To my surprise, in the background of one of the student's Zoom work spaces, I see different books that she has purchased from the syllabus. She rotates them out! I love knowing that the course content and optional readings have an impact on students just as they have on me.

How can students make an impact on the field of education?

There is a need for students, those seeking leadership, to embrace the power they have to positively impact school culture and climate, which will ultimately impact the academic achievement of students. If they embrace their power, they can change the trajectories of their students.

What insight or advice would you give to an incoming first year in the Northwestern MSEd program?

Prepare to meet others whose experiences can help to bridge the gap from theory to practice, something that I believe is critical to identify success in teaching and learning. Be open to a different viewpoint supported by a need to facilitate equitable access needed for the academic achievement of students.

What advice would you give to graduating students?

It's the same advice I'd give a first-year student. Somewhere in between, from start to finish, we lose our way...become disconnected from our mission...our why. I would like for graduating students to remember what their role in education can produce. Be open to varying perspectives, anchored in the thought that equity is the foundation, but that justice in education is the "North Star." Finally, bridging the gap between theory and practice is critical to personal and professional success.

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