Matthew is Dean of Syphax School of Education, Psychology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Union University. He tells us how teaching across all age groups has given him a broad perspective of education and why he founded The Edvocate.
How would you describe your position in education?
It’s evolved over the years. I started by teaching in elementary schools and high schools throughout the United States. I went on to study a master’s in teaching and a doctorate in education. I then decided to move to higher ed, thinking I could make more of an impact: especially when it came to policy and education research.
Now, I’m primarily an academic. I’m Dean of the Syphax School of Education, Psychology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Union. Alongside my responsibilities as dean, I teach a lot of courses in special education, education in leadership and education politics.
I also do research into both K-12 and higher education, and consulting work for schools and universities. And I own and edit two websites: The Edvocate and The Tech Edvocate.
I aim to be a thought leader: someone trying to move the conversation forward internationally. I’d like to follow the path of Sir Ken Robinson. I’ve learned a lot from his life and his work.
You’ve taught at a number of levels and for a wide range of age groups. Has this given you a broad perspective of education?
Definitely. I’ve taught early childhood, elementary, middle school, high school, higher education – all the way to doctorate level – and adult education. I’ve seen students learn throughout the lifecycle.
I’ve been able to pinpoint the things we need to do in early childhood in order to get students prepared for elementary school. And in higher ed, I’ve seen how it’s really our job to get students ready for the workforce. If these students graduate from university and they don’t have the necessary skills to find a job, we’ve really failed ourselves.
How has your teaching experience informed the way you think about education policy?
In my opinion, a lot of the decisions being made in education policy are made by people who don’t really understand education. The policies are coming from Washington and hurting kids and teachers. Our elementary schools are governed by a school board and, in many cases, the members don’t have any experience or practical knowledge of education. Yet they’re responsible for hiring the leaders and the people who are really going to make a difference.
What’s the most important way America needs to reform its education policy?
Prioritise education. When it comes to funding universities and state controlled schools, the government does a piss-poor job. There’s a lot of schools that are in need of vital resources, and require more money to be able to train teachers and principals properly. I think the government has lost sight of that.
What led you to launch The Edvocate?
I launched The Edvocate in November 2014. At the time, I was writing for Education Week and the The Huffington Post, which I continue to do. I had certain ideas for articles that they wouldn’t necessarily publish in those publications. I wanted a resource where I could write whatever I wanted to write about education, and invite other authors to write whatever they wanted to write.
Following the success of The Edvocate, I started The Tech Edvocate in June of this year. I’m eager to open up both of the publications internationally, and offer commentary to an international audience.
What are the achievements you’re most proud of?
Launching The Edvocate and The Tech Edvocate. I also wrote a textbook, The Call to Teach, for Pearson. That’s a big feather in my cap. It was the culmination of four years. Four years of back-and-forth with Pearson, four years of writing a chapter, sending it out for review and so forth. It was definitely a lot of hard work.
What have been the most important developments in education technology during your career?
The development of social media and how it can be leveraged as an educational tool. I’m not just talking about K-12 or higher education. A lot of people literally use social media to get their news and stay up-to-date in their professions.
Other than that, I’d say the widespread use of learning management systems. Students are no longer constrained to a room or to one place to actually take courses. It’s a development that’s made education something that’s basically everywhere, and almost boundless.
What value has education had in your own life?
I grew up in Mississippi. It has a deep history of racism. During the civil rights movement in the US, it was one of those battleground states. It definitely has a lot of poverty.
Education has been incredibly important. It’s given me an opportunity to better myself, provide for myself and my family, and help others better themselves too.
My job in higher ed is a monthly series. Read the full series of interviews here.
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