Faculty Interview: Alyson Adams, University of Florida

Dr. Adams is a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Florida in the School of Teaching and Learning and works primarily in advanced graduate programs for educators. She is also the Associate Director of Teaching and Teacher Education and the Graduate Coordinator. Dr. Adams been an educator since 1992 with experience in elementary and middle school, always in inclusive environments with a co-teacher. Her passion for collaboration and learning began with her co-teaching experiences, where she learned that working with a colleague was a lot more fun (and more powerful) than working alone. Since then, Dr. Adams has earned her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction and has focused primarily on teacher learning, professional development, teacher education, and school reform. Related to her professional service, she’s a trained facilitator with the National School Reform Faculty,  she’s on the Board of Directors for her state professional learning organization, and she’s on a team charged with refining professional development standards with the Florida Department of Education.

You are currently a Clinical Associate Professor and Associate Director of Teaching and Learning in the School of Teaching and Learning at the University of Florida, where you have taught and designed online courses on professional development, teacher leadership for school change, instructional coaching, curriculum design, data-driven decision making, and an online practicum. What’s it like designing for an online environment, and has it taught you anything about teaching and learning on a whole?

When we first began our online graduate programs in education at the University of Florida, I have to admit that I was reluctant and a bit skeptical. I wondered whether online courses could ever be as engaging as face to face instruction. What I quickly learned was that online instruction is in many ways even more beneficial because it works for so many different kinds of learners. Face to face instruction works well for learners who are assertive and can think quickly to take advantage of a course being taught in a specific time and place. Online instruction works for those types of learners, but it also works great for learners who need more time to process, who like to formulate their thoughts carefully, or who need flexible time and space to learn when they are ready and able to learn.

You also have a special focus on measurement and evaluation of professional development and the impact on teacher practice and student achievement. Considering formal education a form of professional development, how can candidates seek to make the most of the experience of earning an advanced degree online while also teaching–and how can they keep the progress going after completing a program?

My favorite online programs are those designed for full-time educators who can immediately apply what they are learning to their own contexts. Advanced graduate degrees can be a stepping stone to many new and exciting career pathways for teachers. Typically we just think about the next career step as the principalship, but there are many other ways teachers can lead beyond that, as curriculum leaders and specialists, coaches and mentors, and content-area experts. To continue to learn and grow after degree attainment, educators might adopt an inquiry stance where they see their current roles and contexts as a source of new learning and growth. When people continue to learn and grow, they find new opportunities in unexpected places.

 “Organizational change” is often a focus of EdD programs, and you’ve designed a class called “teacher leadership for school change.” How does “driving change” differ for teachers vs. for organizational leaders, and when is it more appropriate for teachers to work with administrators to drive change as opposed to on their own?

Teacher leaders are powerful levers for educational change because they can help to promote change that is both top-down and bottom-up. When change is driven by one leader at the top, the reform becomes connected to an individual and we all know what happens when top leadership changes – reforms, even good reforms, die on the vine. Instead, teacher leaders can embrace and shape improvements that make a difference and help the reforms become part of the culture or context.

You’ve published a number of journal articles on teacher preparation and professional development, particularly professional learning communities. How does formal education (such as an EdD) serve both of these needs, and does an online program sacrifice the social aspect of education?

Professional learning communities (PLC) can be powerful structures for educators to learn and grow together. Formal coursework can mimic a time-limited PLC, but the power of grading and evaluation impose a purpose that can overshadow more authentic learning experiences. Cohort structures that exist across semesters can weave together learning over time, and are powerful supports for online students.

Every education school and every EdD program is different. What do you think are some signature characteristics of UF’s college of education and/or the online EdD program offered?

Our online EdD program at the University of Florida is designed specifically for practicing educators who want to become practitioner scholars and lead informed change in their contexts. The program is cohort-based with participants working together as a community of learners to tackle common and individual problems of practice. Students meet on campus each summer for the first 3 summers to interact closely with faculty and colleagues. Our EdD courses specifically link theory and research to problems of professional practice within participants’ contexts and are taught by full-time faculty (not adjuncts) who also advise all dissertations directly. Students design dissertations around problems of practice in their contexts where they can have an impact. We have students from the US and overseas who all share a common interest in improving educational contexts and outcomes for all learners.