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Systems Thinking, Antiracism Training & Other EdD Courses: What You Will Learn in a Doctor of Education Program

June 4, 2024

Education leaders, administrators, and teachers facilitate learning, but that’s hardly the extent of their impact. They also enable personal growth, nurturing students’ social and cultural identities so they can reach their full potential and effect change in their communities and their lives. By providing these essential services, educators influence not just students but also their families, communities, and the systems that surround them.

Such consequential responsibilities require educators with transformational leadership skills. In American University’s online Doctorate in Education Policy and Leadership (EdD) program, current education leaders prepare to excel in their roles by completing a robust, practitioner-focused curriculum anchored in four pillars:

  • Systems Change
  • Personal Leadership
  • Social Justice and Antiracism
  • Policy and Research

Graduates emerge ready to serve in senior positions in schools, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and more. If you’re an educator prepared to boost your impact and promote progressive education and positive social change, you could be a candidate for American University’s online Doctorate in Education Policy and Leadership (EdD) program. This article explores the themes and concepts that the curriculum covers.

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Systems Thinking Courses and Training 

Systems thinking—the process of problem solving by visualizing the interconnectedness among different parts of a system—is a valuable analytical tool that can improve classroom engagement and streamline academic organizations. It offers educators a holistic view of complex education systems, in contrast to analyzing each part as a separate entity. Consider a teacher with classroom management problems. This teacher could use systems thinking to identify interconnected areas influencing the problem, such as a need for special education teachers in the classroom or a reallocation of free time for children to take needed breaks. 

Systems thinking applies to all aspects of the education system. Teachers can use it to drive classroom instruction, school and district leaders can apply it to management and organizational decisions, and administrators can employ it to visualize a new approach to restructuring.

The EdD curriculum introduces systems thinking in its first semester. In Collaborative Inquiry through Systems Thinking, doctoral candidates are challenged to apply systems thinking to their organizations. The discussion continues during the first residency (of three), when students meet in person at the end of the first semester to further explore this methodology.

Antiracism Courses and Training 

In a 2021 study cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least half of all Black, Asian, and multiracial high school students surveyed reported experiencing racism in their lifetimes. Whether implicit or overt, racism in all its forms exerts a deleterious effect on its targets, practitioners, and society at large. Educators need to understand how racism manifests in educational contexts, from addressing one’s own implicit bias to remediating unfair practices and uneven systems that disenfranchise students and teachers of color.

AU’s EdD antiracism courses help educators combat racism in the curriculum, hiring practices, and financial barriers to success that racism creates. Antiracism training is introduced in the first semester and reinforced during students’ first residency. Antiracism, Equity and Inclusion in Education provides a clear understanding of this issue in the education framework. This important theme is woven through future coursework.

Education Policy Analysis Courses and Training

In the second semester of AU’s EdD in Policy and Leadership program, doctoral candidates critically examine educational policy. Students use their systems thinking training and antiracism courses to evaluate the effects of past and present policies and educational strategies on the education system.

Educational Policy and Analysis examines the impacts of federal, state, and local policies on PreK-12 education. Students interested in a deeper dive into policy analysis can pursue electives in semester 6 that further their understanding of education policy implementation and provide opportunities to consult with educational organizations on pressing issues.

Conscious Leadership Training 

Systems thinking, antiracism measures, social justice initiatives, and policy critique are all vital to improving education. However, none of these interventions can be effective without proper leadership. In AU’s EdD program, students learn conscious leadership, an approach that can help them communicate, innovate, and improve.

Conscious leadership is a leadership style focused on self-awareness and responsibility for one’s actions. Employees under conscious leadership tend to feel more supported, inspiring them to be proactive, effective, and productive team members, encouraging a culture that focuses on the best outcomes for the group. By embracing these traits, leaders create a growth mindset and a positive learning environment.

Conscious leadership is essential in education, where leaders lead by example, take responsibility, support their teams, and transform schools. Doctoral candidates learn more about this leadership style in Exercising Conscious Leadership, in which students develop a robust toolkit of self-reflective frameworks and practices to shift mindsets, behaviors, and practices to create a more just education system for all.

Research and Communication Skills 

The American University online Doctor of Education program provides professional educators with the research and communications skills necessary to enact positive change in the education sector. The curriculum combines an antiracist perspective with hands-on experience in survey design, data analysis, ethnographic studies, and communications tools to cultivate the expertise to investigate, evaluate, and present important data and findings. 

Problem of Practice: Your Original Research

Combining research and communication instruction with the four educational pillars of AU’s Doctor of Education curriculum, the program culminates in an original research dissertation called a Problem of Practice. 

This dissertation focuses on an emerging leadership or policy issue in the education field that resonates with the individual student. Utilizing the antiracism courses, leadership training, systems thinking, and research tools, students design and implement a project to uncover an innovative solution in their focus area. The dissertation experience and results should empower students to continue to challenge norms, ask questions, evaluate data, and develop solutions to continually improve the education system once they have graduated from the program.

Take the Next Step: Start Your Doctor of Education Journey at AU

The online Doctor of Education Policy and Leadership (EdD) degree empowers today’s education professionals to lead widespread, progressive change in education. With practical experience and theoretical knowledge, graduates emerge prepared for leadership roles in educational instruction, organizational leadership, and policymaking. 

Are you ready to disrupt education and enact important changes to promote the personal growth of every student? Are you eager to put forward antiracism and social justice within your workplace? Become the leader America’s education system needs with a Doctor of Education degree from American University. 

Contact AU’s enrollment advisors for more information or start your application online.

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