There's nothing new about the idea that effective educational leadership significantly impacts learning. But these days, the need for professionals who can impact school improvement and student achievement may be clearer than ever before. The data prove it.
According to a Wallace Foundation study, "leadership is second only to classroom instruction" when evaluating initiatives aimed at improving student learning and the quality of schools. Another study—by New Leaders for New Schools—found that more than half of a school's impact on student gains can be attributed to both principal and teacher effectiveness—with principals accounting for 25 percent and teachers 33 percent of the effect.
It's not just principals who foster a positive and motivating culture for school personnel and students. From curriculum development specialists to special education administrators to superintendents and beyond, candidates at all levels of the educational system contribute to developing the right skills through continued education and professional development.
Academia offers a variety of models available to educate and train the next generation of school leaders. Among them, the online master's degree in educational leadership provides students with a more flexible path to developing leadership knowledge and skills while preparing them to meet certification or licensure requirements. Is this path right for you?
Our guide to earning a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership online answers the following questions:
Since online master's programs in educational leadership are designed for students looking to elevate their careers within education institutions, applicants typically have teaching licensure and several years of experience in the classroom.
Online masters programs come with a variety of benefits. Nearly all allow students to continue working full-time while completing their educational leadership degree. Designed to accommodate motivated and disciplined students, online master's programs in the field generally encourage self-paced study. Students can take courses that fit into their schedules and can usually access class materials and complete assignments at their convenience.
Online master's in educational leadership programs help students gain a holistic view of school leadership and management practices and hone their ability to oversee staff, develop and implement curricula, and help schools meet their long-term goals. Generally, core coursework explores topics such as leadership theory, community relations, curriculum design, school finance, school law, and education policy.
The curriculum at Mills College School of Education, for example, includes the following courses:
Because educational leadership is often regarded as a specialization, specializations within the field are relatively rare. That's especially true for online programs, which typically offer a more limited range of specializations than on-campus programs. There are some, however. For example, teacher leader is a popular concentration that prepares graduates to pursue additional roles outside the classroom, such as department chair, program leader, and curriculum specialist. Other concentrations may emphasize school administration within the elementary, secondary, and higher education realm and/or offer a principal licensure track, which prepares students to receive their principal's license after graduation.
Many programs, such as the online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program at Queens University of Charlotte, also include internships or practicum courses, which require students to complete supervised administration practice in a school setting. When completing their field experience component, students are often required to meet with advisors and mentors, online or face-to-face, at their internship site.
Typical admission requirements for an online master's in educational leadership program include a bachelor's degree in education or a related field. Since most programs are directed toward professionals currently practicing in education rather than those looking to switch careers, teaching licensure and classroom teaching experience are also necessary.
Many programs also offer a non-licensure track, which doesn't require teacher qualifications and classroom experience. The "degree only" path within the online master of art in educational leadership at Montclair State University is one example. Accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the program is designed for graduates who seek employment in various state and private agencies, community colleges, or overseas organizations that typically don't require teaching licensure.
Other admissions requirements can include:
Additionally, some schools require applicants to submit scores from the GRE, while others don't. Programs may also waive a GRE requirement based on factors including whether a student already holds a master's degree in the educational field, met a GPA threshold within their undergraduate, or has extensive experience within educational leadership roles.
Generally, online educational leadership master's programs take between 18 months and two years of full-time study to complete. Part-time students can expect to spend anywhere from three to four years. Some schools also offer accelerated online degree tracks, which typically can be completed in as little as a year.
Like other academic graduate programs, many do. Completing a thesis in an online master's in educational leadership allows students to produce a scholarly paper demonstrating how their knowledge of a particular topic has grown through their studies. Some programs require students to defend their theses before a departmental committee, while others read the document and provide a grade.
Some programs offer the thesis as an option within a broader capstone requirement. This can take the form of an internship, a project, a thesis, or other types of culminating graduate work.
Completing a thesis comes with numerous benefits, such as the potential to be published in an academic journal or stand out to employers for extensive knowledge within a particular subject. It's especially worthwhile for students hoping to continue on to a PhD.
A master's degree in educational leadership prepares graduates for teaching, educational administration, and other positions in a range of educational settings where decision making, organizational leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills are must-haves.
Employment opportunities are especially abundant within the private and public school systems, including elementary, middle, and high school. Education leaders also operate at the postsecondary level, within businesses, and at government-run educational organizations such as the U.S. Department of Education. Common careers include:
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