Adjunct Experiences: Three Views from the Inside

Editor’s Note: The workday doesn’t end at the dinner hour for hundreds of superintendents and other central-office administrators across the country who serve as adjunct professors in graduate programs of educational administration.

When The School Administrator asked recently to hear from readers who had taught as part-time faculty members, we received dozens of responses from school system leaders, all of them eager to share their own experiences.

One respondent, Kay Byers, who supervises personnel services in Lincoln, Neb., captured the feeling of many by saying: “I absolutely love my adjunct position. I have the best of both worlds. They blend together perfectly.” She teaches at the University of Nebraska.

We invited three school system leaders—Stewart Roberson, Eloiza Cisneros-Cashman and David Rideout—to describe how they contribute to and benefit from their adjunct teaching status.

Unleashing the Teacher in the Superintendent
At the conclusion of a graduate course on human resources management I was teaching last spring for the University of Virginia, I was doing what I normally do as students exit a class for the last time. I stand at the door, wish them well, thank them for the opportunity to be with them and express my willingness to help them launch their educational leadership careers.

Two of the 38 students stood back, clearly hoping to get more conversation time with me before they departed. As adult learners completing their master’s level coursework, the two aspiring administrators wanted me to know that their best instructors during the two-year experience were sitting superintendents.

I said "thank you" on behalf of my colleagues who have answered higher education’s call to serve, then suggested that the quality they perceived in the instruction provided by superintendents may have come from the superintendents feeling “unleashed” when we have the opportunity to teach.

Superintendents who serve as professors may feel a sense of freedom in a graduate teaching role because we are readily equipped with and eager to share so many examples of how practitioners apply theoretical understandings to a host of situations.

For example, in the human resources class, I could show how motivational theory supports the importance of educational leaders responding calmly and constructively when followers make mistakes. Usually I need look no further than the events of the current week to validate that theory.

A Well of Experiences
During this course, I shared how I responded to a major technical snafu just the day before that resulted in 300 of our students receiving someone else’s report card in the mail. My immediate focus had to be on damage control, including profusely apologizing for this very sensitive and unfortunate mistake.

The graduate students were able to see that I first sought to manage the immediate issue by correcting the mistake and making it right in the customers' minds. I saved for another class the discussion of the appropriate response to our employees’ error.

As a teaching superintendent, I can draw upon a nearly bottomless well of experiences that are clearly applicable to most theories around which I am expected to teach.

Mixing Theory and Practice
As former classroom teachers, teaching superintendents have the opportunity to not only return to our roots as educators but also to apply our increasingly refined understanding of what constitutes effective teaching and learning through our own form of modeling and conceptual understanding.

Some students make it clear they do not expect the superintendent, who is often years removed from full-time teaching, to be effective in the classroom. I see that skepticism—expressed by students in evaluations and in conversation—as an opportunity to show how, as a teaching superintendent, I truly can be connected to best teaching practices.

For example, at the beginning of each course I teach, I ask students to submit in writing two burning questions they would like to examine during the course. In a course on school law, a student might ask, "Can we obtain more information on the do's and don'ts of search and seizure law as it relates to the responsibilities of school administrators?"

A pertinent question such as this could cause some instructors to simply point to a chapter in the book or provide the latest court brief on the matter. Teaching superintendents who use this opportunity to demonstrate effective teaching and learning may choose, instead, to design a response through large- or small-group discussion, research, Web-based activities, role playing, pair/share teaching strategies, case studies or some other method.

By using a variety of instructional strategies, teaching superintendents can demonstrate that they are attuned to meeting students' needs in ways that can be far more effective than the traditional teaching methods others may suspect we rely on.

A Legitimate Challenge
Finally, we may feel energized as superintendent professors because we may perceive the lower risk of interacting with professionals in an academic setting, especially if the setting is outside the community in which we serve.

Granted, we are always in a fishbowl as long as we serve in the role of superintendent. However, the professor role can afford us new avenues of problem solving in our superintendent duties. I recall one semester, while teaching school law, a family in my district desired to enroll a child on a part-time basis while homeschooling the child the rest of the time. This was creating quite a stir with my school board. Tensions were elevated and I knew the board expected and needed decisive leadership on my part.

I needed to find some way to think out of the box, so I threw this real-life challenge as a hypothetical assignment to my students in the law class. They examined the numerous legal, instructional and public relations issues behind the case and were able to help me review this issue in an anonymous, non-threatening, academic environment two hours from home. As a result, I was able to present the board with some solid suggestions to address this sticky situation.

The role of a teaching superintendent can lead to self-actualization because it ties together the learning and experiences that so richly define our unique set of responsibilities. If we capitalize on the opportunity that this special role affords us, we can effectively challenge and prepare the next generation of educational leaders.

Stewart Roberson is superintendent of Hanover County Public School District, 200 Berkley St., Ashland, VA 23005. E-mail: sroberson@ He is an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia.

The Bridge Between District and University


I dedicated 39 years to K-12 education in San Diego, and during that time I came to realize that our greatest and most important educational resource is our staff. The better trained and skilled they are, the greater the learning opportunities for the students.

Therefore I was excited as a school district leader to be involved in their formal education and development as an adjunct professor at three San Diego-area universities. During my last 20 years as an assistant superintendent and then as an area superintendent, I taught university-level classes for teachers of language-diverse, inner-city students and for teachers aspiring to be school administrators. Although I have retired from district leadership, I continue to teach in the graduate education department at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Because of our connections to the world outside the university, adjunct professors have great potential for improving teaching, learning and administration in our schools. We are the voice of experience and reality at university staff meetings and the bridge between the school districts and the university.

We review the course curriculum from a unique perspective. We can appreciate the demands on the student in relationship to the objectives of their work. For example, in the area of student fieldwork, another adjunct professor and I have been able to direct course work to address some of the practical assignments teachers and administrators do at schools, thereby making the assignments more meaningful to the students and fusing theory with practice.

I have combined developing school or district mission statements with developing a site budget to make both topics more meaningful. These types of lessons stay with the students; they regard them as useful, not just busy work needed to be completed for a grade.

Modeling With Validity
Boards of education and superintendents expect school administrators to be strong managers and strong instructional leaders. Adjunct professors are in a good position to teach fledgling school leaders to be both. We have “been there, done that” and are well-informed about current trends, laws and resources at schools. We can model with validity and inform from experience.

Because of our direct ties to districts and schools, adjunct professors have access to a vast variety of resources, including other staff members, parents and community members. If graduate students have no idea how to work with unhappy parents, students with problems or difficult colleagues, we give them opportunities to learn new practices to do so.

In addition to drawing on our own experiences, we can offer guest presenters to provide a practical picture of how schools operate, along with the more successful strategies for improving student achievement.

I have brought in principals I have supervised to share their goals, budgets, daily routines, team-building strategies and methods for using data to inform curriculum and instructional decisions. Two of my best-received guest presenters were attorneys with whom I have worked.

One attorney, who had worked for local school districts, provided guidelines on student rights and free speech. The class found her knowledgeable and easy to understand. Another attorney spoke about “Progressive Discipline Guidelines” for classified and certificated employees. Her handouts—informative and current—were highly prized by the students.

Staying Abreast
As an adjunct professor, I take pride in my K-12 schoolwork. I model successful practices and provide practical information from a veteran’s perspective to those who are just beginning to explore administration. I enjoy the classroom and personal contacts with my students and coach those who stay in touch. I also enjoy the close contact with those working in institutions of higher learning and benefit from their knowledge and counsel.

As a teacher, I must stay current in the field of K-12 education and new state and federal mandates. I do that by interacting with personnel in several local districts and by keeping up on current research and educational practices though literature and conferences.

Teaching at the university level can be stimulating and rewarding. It is an opportunity to equip our teachers and administrators to be effective educational leaders. Connecting the successful veteran with today’s novice is a great way to use a rich resource to secure a better future.

Eloiza Cisneros-Cashman, formerly an area superintendent in the San Diego City School District, is an adjunct professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. She also has taught at the University of San Diego and San Diego State University and is a former chair of the AASA Minority Affairs Committee. She can be reached at 4744 Otomi Ave., San Diego, CA 92117, E-mail:

Learning Together About Leadership

The average age for principals in Livingstone Range School Division in southern Alberta, Canada, is 51. Consequently many current administrators will be retiring during the next two to five years.

To ensure new leaders were prepared for the challenge, the school board identified leadership development as a priority in its strategic plan and encouraged me to develop a program for administrator preparation. Last year I designed such a program, Leading Education and Developing Schools, or LEADS, which was carried out in partnership with the University of Lethbridge.

The 10-month program blended leadership theory and practice and was delivered through a variety of instructional strategies, including monthly three-hour seminars after school, online journal reviews, job shadowing, role-playing interviews, website activities, book reviews and participation at a major education conference.

About half of the 18 participants—all of them teachers and administrators in our school division—enrolled in the program for university credit toward a master’s degree in education; the other half took part as a professional development activity.

Initially I struggled with the possible conflict between my simultaneous role as superintendent and professor. Because the class members were school district employees, I wondered whether they would hesitate to critically analyze and discuss current challenges in education and their impact on our schools. I was afraid my presence might inhibit a free exchange of ideas, given that some of those issues could arise from school board decisions or management actions.

However, I eventually concluded the benefits would far outweigh any disadvantages. I was a relatively new superintendent, having come to the school division only the previous year, and this opportunity would help me connect with leaders and potential leaders in the system. At the same time, the teaching role let me share my beliefs about learning through the classroom activities.

Fears Become Reality
Unfortunately, in the middle of the year my biggest fear about conflicting roles emerged. The districts’ teachers, some of whom were students in the LEADS program, went on a three-week strike. Since the school division sponsored the program, the teachers’ union advised members they should not attend any LEADS sessions during the job action.

Prior to the walkout we had an honest classroom discussion about the labor issues, careful to respect the positions of the parties to the dispute. Interestingly, one student was a member of the teachers’ negotiating committee and he actually appreciated our discussions.

Alternatively, we could have argued that this was a university course offered outside school hours and therefore not governed by the labor disruption. However, given the local sensitivities, the students and I decided as a group to avoid classes during the strike. Instead, everyone would proceed with independent learning activities, such as online journal article reviews or job-shadowing experiences.

This compromise arrangement essentially eased the conflict between my two roles. Classes resumed at the end of the strike, and it seemed that our professional relationship was probably stronger because of how we dealt with the conflict.

In retrospect, I probably learned as much from this program as the teachers did. The responsibility of applying educational theory to practice forced me to reflect on the nature of my leadership. It also forced me to go deeper into the current research literature, which I probably would not have done in the bustle of my daily demands as a superintendent.

Another benefit of the experience was the connection it gave with the university community. The school division is continuing to work with it to explore ways of expanding graduate programs so coursework can be delivered in more nontraditional ways.

Sphere of Influence
Several of the participants told me they used some of the content and strategies they learned in the LEADS program with their own classes. A number asked for a LEADS II program for 2002-2003, which has been set up and is filled to capacity with a waiting list. It also seems there may be sufficient demand to offer the initial LEADS I program to a new group the following year.

Some of the students now are moving into a full master’s program, and several members successfully competed for administrative positions at the end of the program. So the benefits already are being realized within the school division.

I will continue as the instructor for the LEADS program because it presents such a powerful opportunity to influence the leaders of today and tomorrow in our school district.

David Rideout is superintendent of the Livingstone Range School Division, P.O. Box 1959, Claresholm, Alberta, Canada T0L 0T0. E-mail: