How can a country redevelop its schools?
That challenge is at the center of a Fulbright Scholar award to BetsAnn Smith, associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration. It begins in part, she says, by redeveloping school leaders.
Smith will be working with leaders in Albania to improve principal learning programs and standards in spring 2020. The work is part of a national school reform agenda focused on curricula and professional development across Albania.
"Following the overthrow of communism and the opening of its borders in 1991, Albania suffered a huge exodus of its professional and middle classes," said Smith, associate professor of K-12 educational administration. "It remains by far the poorest country in Europe, and the Ministry of Education has struggled to modernize schools and attract talent."
Starting in February, Smith will collaborate with scholars at the Albanian-American Development Foundation and professors at the University of Tirana to pilot a new educational leadership certification program, and co-develop professional development curricula for school principals.
"For any education reform to succeed, you need skilled school leaders, and Albania seems committed to that," Smith said. "When you work with and in these relatively new countries, you find so many bright, young people who are engaged in building a country. It's really inspirational."
Legacy of leadership
This Fulbright opportunity won't be the first time Smith has done such work — and it isn't her first Fulbright either.
Smith, in collaboration with two other College of Education scholars, assisted ADA University in Azerbaijan to develop the country's first master's degree program in educational leadership and management.
They also assisted three Azerbaijani educators enrolled in the Department of Educational Administration to earn a Ph.D. and become faculty at ADA University.
After the collaboration ended, she returned to Azerbaijan as a Fulbright Specialist in 2018-19 to help the program through growing pains and collaborate in a new researcher development program.
"I've developed an interest in education reform and improvement in post-Soviet states, such as Albania, Georgia, Azerbaijan," Smith said. "Examining the reform strategies they adopt and how leadership development is placed into those strategies is a scholarly interest. I'm also really grateful for opportunities to work directly with practitioners."
The interest is strongly tied to Smith's focus on leadership and school improvement.
Closer to home, she is studying how Michigan districts implement a school improvement planning model seeking to bring together an emphasis on the whole child, with tools and processes imported from design thinking and improvement science.
In other work, Smith has been involved in the development of the influential MSU Doctor of Educational Leadership program, and has worked with the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate to consider the design of professional practice learning and knowledge development.
In spring 2020, she will take part in the International Conference on Professional and Practice-based Doctorates in England.
"Here in the College of Education, all of us want to be a part of efforts to develop teachers, leaders and schools around the globe," Smith added. "That includes collaborating with colleagues in countries with real need, like Albania, which has very strong interests in connecting to scholars here."