If The Crown Fits Then Run For Office: Pageants Are A Training Ground For Political Leadership

Tomorrow, June 5 is primary Election Day in Alabama. As a political junky I must say that I have always loved Election Day. Seriously, most kids get excited for Christmas morning, but for me it was always ELECTION DAY!!! I have had the opportunity to witness the political process firsthand, most of my life, so my perspective tends to be a hopeful mix of senisim and realism. (If you’re from Birmingham you get this). Anyway, I have grown even more excited about this midterm election cycle mainly because of what it could mean for women in Alabama and throughout the U.S.


In light of several strong efforts and programs aimed at increasing the number of women in elected office we are starting to rethink the activities and experiences that could be considered a training ground for political success. I am currently a PhD student conducting research on ways women can overcome barriers to leadership. My research has led to me the conclusion that the first female president may just be a former pageant queen. That’s right…if you want to see more women in political office then you may need to start looking to the Miss America Organization. Furthermore, if you’re in Alabama you don’t have to look very far for an example. Alabama native and Miss America 2013, Mallory Hagan Mallory Hagan is currently running for U.S. House for Alabama Congressional District 3. In full disclosure, I am a former Miss America local titleholder and I have known Mallory since she began competing in the organization. But more importantly, I know the discipline, strength, intelligence and poise that the Miss America Organization helps participants develop. The communication skills that it takes to tactfully address social issues ranging from international relations to tax reform is not something many people between the ages of 18-24 have the opportunity to develop. However, there is a unique group of young women who are actively serving their communities as advocates, training in an artistic field for talent competition, maintaining healthy lifestyles and promoting positive body images while matriculating as undergraduate or graduate students. Those young women, many of whom also achieve academic and professional success are none other than Miss America Organization titleholders.


Mallory is running as a democrat for a U.S. congressional seat in Alabama, so it’s safe to say she faces an uphill battle if she prevails in the June 5 primary, but I feel confident in saying there is no one more equipped for that battle than a former Miss America! When asked about how people address her former pageant title while she’s on the campaign trail she simply stated, “if you think this is hard, you should try preparing for Miss America, honestlypreparing for Miss America is ten times harder than what I’m doing right now”. This may seem like a strong statement, but many former and current state and local titleholders would more than likely agree. Titleholders in the organization are tasked with representing individual cities, areas and states and often travel hundreds of miles annually making apperances, advocating for causes and preparing for the next level of competition.


It could be argued that pageant titleholders are more prepared than most people to seek political office. In fact, Hagan is not alone, Erika Harold, Miss America 2003 recently won Republican nomination for Indiana Attorney General. There are a number of former participants who have or are currently running for political office: Miss America 2004 Ericka Dunlap recently ran for office in Orlando; Miss America 2000 Heather French Henry is Deputy Director of Veterans Affairs for the State of Kentucky; former Miss Alabama 1994 Amie Beth Dickinson Shaver ran for office in Alabama and has held several public and political positions;  and Miss Alabama 2003 Catherine Crosby Long is a practicing attorney who is also politically active and those are just a few examples. These women along with hundreds of other pageant titleholders are changing their cities, states and the country every day.


This may not have been the most entertaining blog post, but frankly I think that politics is a little too entertaining right now, so I will leave you with one thought.

If you want to prepare girls to run the world place them in positions of authority, celebrate their womanhood and teach them how to lead through service and compassion while showcasing style and competence. Miss America teaches young women how to lead while reminding them that power can be found in womanhood and that is a lesson that is essential to creating the next generation of leaders.


So, if you want to prepare someone to be President of the United States of America, you may want to suggest that they start with working to be Miss America!

Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers-REVIEW

Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers provides detailed information on various ways to examine student success.  Ironically, I am currently assisting with research on student course evaluations and I have been shocked by the number of negative course evaluations that faculty members say that they receive that focus on ineffective testing or assessments. In this book, Angelo and Cross provide insight that could be helpful to faculty as they decide how and when to assess what their students are learning. The Teacher Goals Inventory allows faculty members to set clear expectations for their students. I have found that professionally I have been most successful when I can identify clear expectations, so I try to apply it to the classroom. Teacher designed feedback forms could help decrease any ambiguity in the classroom instruction and objectives by considering student input during the course as opposed to after. This is perhaps the most poignant point of the book, that student feedback and progress should be assessed during classroom instruction to help increase student success.  As I have carried this over into my managerial style I often reflect on how frequently teachers forget that students need clear guidance on what they will be tested on.

I appreciated the reinforcement of faculty providing a cooperative environment where student motivation is the result of engagement with faculty (p. 305). I’m not sure if we as faculty always think about this, but this reading along with the Barkley and Bain readings were grouped perfectly to provide helpful tips. The readings also reminded me of the ultimate purpose of classroom instruction. This book is a great conclusion to the course readings because assessment is often how classroom success, on the part of the teacher and students are measured. “The central purpose of Classroom Assessment is to empower both teachers and their students to improve the quality of learning in the classroom” (p. 4). The course related self-confidence surveys could be particularly helpful in speech and presentation courses.

The 50 Classroom Assessment Techniques or CATs are divided into categories: Techniques for assessing course-related knowledge and skills, Techniques for assessing learner attitudes, values and self-awareness; Techniques for assessing learner reactions to instruction.

Out of the 50 CATs The Minute Paper stood out the most. I had never heard of it in a higher education setting, but will be using for frequently. I normally start class with some type of ice breaker. A current event, topic from the previous class session or journal entry are ways that I have been able to engage students. I realize now that the minute paper may be a more effective use of that time and I could do it at the end of the class session. This would allow me to see how students articulate, on paper, the information presented. The third CAT, Misconception/Preconception Check could have saved me a lot of class time in the beginning of my teaching career. When students are asked to address current event topics or concerns they may not always realize the information that they already know that can block them from being able to interpret information critically.

This book will be one of the most used books on my book shelf! Not only was it well written and fairly easy to process, but it was also written in a way that I will be able to refer to it as a guide or reference book easily. This can be especially useful when teaching training or nontraditional courses where assessments may need to take place at a faster. I also think this book, or at least the CATs should be mentioned and provided for graduate teaching assistants. The assessments could prevent the backlash of the first assessment being a midterm or final exam. Overall, this was an excellent read and I will definitely recommend it to my peers.

Barkley Review

I absolutely loved this book. Although it was at times a bit repetitive, the content could be applied to most disciplines. It provides practical knowledge that could be a game changer in the classroom, particularly for new faculty. “The greater the student’s involvement or engagement in academic work or in the academic experience of college, the greater his or her level of knowledge acquisition and general cognitive development”(Terenzini, 1991). Obviously, student engagement is important, but are involvement and engagement really the same thing? The beginning of the book provides great background on the term engagement, but involvement does not necessarily mean engagement. That was just a passing thought when reading the book, but it could also be a way to expand the knowledge and suggestions already offered. Based on my current teaching practices and principles I have a heightened interest in engagement and how it can be used to compliment academic and professional experiences gained during a student’s academic career. As technology and opportunity continue to become more diverse, student populations and access to educational opportunities gaging active learning and even motivation may become increasingly challenging. Motivation may not be as easy to clearly identify. With continuing education programs, practical learning opportunities, certificate and licensing programs motivation may be more of a realistic need to provide for family or to compliment professional experiences. As student populations grow more diverse, particularly in age and familial status it is important to not limit terms associated with classroom motivation. Barkley does address the varying factors that could be motivators, but it could be expanded even more. The fact that current theories on motivation combine a number of factors is helpful but analyzing how to teach based on each of those factors would be interesting, although admittedly probably impossible. The other important factor, active learning is equally important, but could also be difficult to gage. The book mentions that active learning means that the mind is “actively engaged” (2010).This is an area I often struggle to be able to assess in the classroom. Some students can show active engagement and still struggle with testing and therefore they may also reach a point of frustration. If students are actively engaged and a teacher can tell that they comprehend the material, there should be more ways to test how that active engagement contributes student assessment. Classroom participation points are helpful, but engaged learning and instruction could be adapted even more to account for students who may be involved participants in the classroom.

The book referenced that students should be empowered to be partners in the learning process. Personally, this is often a primary goal for me as a teacher. However, I know that self-assessments and personal expectations along with other experiences make it difficult for students to believe that they are co-owners of classroom knowledge. Recognizing that intelligence can be measured in different ways can also encourage a mutual respect, initiated by the teacher, that can help combat some barriers that may prevent students from feeling as if they are an equal part to the learning process. Personally, I believe mental health or well-being and self-expectation and assessment may be the hardest issues to overcome in the classroom. The factors that impact students perceived ability prior to even entering the classroom can make a difference in how much of a connection a teacher can develop with a student. Expectation can also impact how the student feels about themselves which can have a direct tie to how successful they will be in the classroom. As a champion for interdisciplinary education I believe that every student has the ability to grasp information and knowledge in most areas. However, that ability can be aided or jeopardized by how teachers believe students can learn.

Taking a holistic approach to teaching and learning may be hard for a celebrated scholar, but it should still be of paramount importance. As institutions stress the importance of research and scholarship from tenured professors and those seeking tenure or even full time employment in a field, I am not sure if every discipline really thinks about how learning can be applied when students have various starting points and foundations that can help or hinder future success.  Judy Baker’s story, was particularly interesting to me. Although I was fortunate to have an abundance of access to educational and development materials I was an artist with a technical and active mind. Creative to a fault, I was often board in classrooms that only required me to listen and pass a test. My awkwardness transferred well to stage and performance, but not always to lecture and testing in the traditional sense. However, once I discovered that I could write and present information my learning experiences and feelings towards knowledge and education changed. I was fortunate to figure out those things relatively early and ultimately, they became a part of how I approached higher education as both a student and as a teacher. The need for expression for me was a deal breaker and as an educator I hope that my consistently evolving approach to teaching will continue to help me identify various ways to help students become increasingly engaged. This book was a pleasant reminder that there are teachers and scholars who are equally concerned with research as they are with diverse ways to encourage student success and that was worth reading every page.

The taxonomy of affective domain is interesting because it connects feelings to the educational process. I would really like to explore this concept more because I think that certain fields have little to no foundation on how preexisting feelings and values can affect learning and engagement. The book did an excellent job in detailing specific ways to increase student success. Ironically the tips could also be used for supervisors to assess and increase engagement among instructors or even workers. The expectations that often work in tandem with information can help or hurt engagement. Expecting students to succeed is a challenge, because success can be measured in different ways. Helping students see the connection between the amount of work they put into something and the eventual outcomes or long term results are not often applied beyond an initial challenge, “you get out of this class what you put into it”, or some other phrase that shares the same sentiment. But that is not always the case. Adapting those statements based on this reading to something that is more in line with, “the long term benefits and rewards are greater when your efforts are greater”. Students can work hard and never get an A, but that does not mean that they did not get what they needed to get of the classroom or experience and it is important that teachers, scholars and administrators remember that.

Aside from this book being one of the most interesting and useful works that I have read in some time it was an effortless read, which made me place more time on reflection on and application of the materials being presented. The diagrams and visuals compliment the research and content making it easier to read, but also easier to apply to actual practice. Student engagement is important during elementary and secondary educational experiences, but post-secondary presents additional challenges. Student engagement in higher education must allow students to grow academically and professionally while challenging them to believe that they are stakeholders in their own academic and professional lives. It is safe to say that this book also confirmed for me why I have developed an increased interest in Higher Education Administration as a field. The types of dialogue that can stem from knowledge provided through books such as this one can change lives of students and educators and it is my personal belief that is the only way academia will remain as relevant and as essential to the development of knowledge and leadership in students and future generations.


Bain Book Review

Ken Bain does an excellent job of summarizing ways to be a successful and effective teacher in institutions of higher education. The constant self-reflections and assessment of educators can positively impact students and also help students feel encouraged and inspired to do more. Even with the helpful information there are some generalizations that could present challenges when applying the information provided because no institution is the same and cultural and social current events and problems can rarely be predicted before they have an impact on students and the classroom. Early in the book Bain provides very helpful insight for things that can lay the foundation for being a successful teacher or instructor. However, some key concepts, although likely correct, still are not specific to some extreme circumstances that could be encountered. “Human beings are curious animals. People learn naturally while trying to solve problems that concern them” (Bain, 2004). As more students become exposed to conditions that may make them become apathetic in personal and educational situations teachers must learn to adapt to generations of students who may have become indifferent to matters  they feel they cannot control. Although public elementary, middle and secondary education institutions encounter many problems bringing students from various backgrounds together in a classroom means that even the best practices may often fell. Bain’s teachings seemed to have a “how to” feel to them. The advice is well supported and scholarly, but it still cannot be applied to every situation. The book left me wondering if a teacher reading it who applied every suggestion in the book without making any needed adjustments based on their institution or students would still be a successful teacher.

Some of the views and suggestions made by Bain seem subjective. How fair a professor is or is not is often measured by the grade the student receives. Perception does matter, but how much attention should teachers’ pay to their student’s assessments of fairness, particularly if they received a less than desirable grade.  Bain suggests that, “good teaching can be learned”(Bain, 2004). Is it possible for a teacher to be trained and taught the best practices for teaching in higher education and still not be a good teacher? Yes, people can always improve, but there is a reason for diversity in occupation and some people are not meant to be teachers in institutions of higher education and Bain’s philosophy does not seem to account for that.

With the increasing influence and importance placed on scholarly research, pedagogy is often overlooked in preparation for training faculty in higher education. Planning questions prior to teaching is something that may not always done but is often beneficial. It was helpful to be reminded of the importance of being able to anticipate questions and answers prior to a lecture. Bain’s process almost seemed to suggest that the instructor prepare presentations in reverse order to account for questions and answers from students. This can be especially helpful when some students struggle more than others because the teacher would not automatically be assuming that solely presenting the information would result in every student having an understanding. Understanding and respecting differences is a necessity in education.

Bain’s recommendations provide a great structure for educational exchanges between professors and students. There were some concepts that were harder to process than others. Although teachers should find ways engage students regardless of perceived intellectual ability post-secondary education presents a number of challenges. As mentioned the backgrounds of students will vary greatly and with that diversity it can also be hard to see sustainable and noticeable gains in each student. Bain also places importance on using diverse methods in the classroom. Are there times where diversity in teaching techniques may not be the best thing? Depending on the discipline, length of class time, class size and a number of other uncontrollable factors how to create different types of instruction may be harder.

This book offered useful advice but could be considered over generalized. Respecting students, providing different ways for students to learn and engage and open communication are beneficial in most environments both inside and outside of the classroom. However, as educational environments encounter additional outside pressures such as student learning deficits, workplace safety and skills that connect learning and practical knowledge some of Bain’s suggestions may be hard to enact during a semester. In summary, best practices are helpful, but should not be considered conclusive.



LeNa` Powe McDonald’s Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Philosophy

As a result of an ever changing social and political climate, I strive to use my professional and educational background, skills and training to support a learning environment that is open to interdisciplinary, traditional and scientific methods of obtaining knowledge. There is increasingly becoming a need for students to be prepared with both academic knowledge and practical professional experiences and skills. I believe that the classroom should be an arena that supports and provides opportunities for students to both learn and introduce knowledge through presenting arguments and theory through experiences and activities that are beneficial in the classroom and in business and industry.

I want to ensure that students have the opportunity to find value in every assignment and class session and that value should translate to information and activities that build both the student’s academic and professional portfolios. In an effort to create an environment that supports research and cultivates knowledge, theory, academic journals and other scholarly sources are used along with the opportunity to put that knowledge to use both in and out of the classroom through structured assignments. As an educator I believe that it is incumbent upon me to create a professional environment that encourages respectful interaction and equal investment from all participants.

During my undergraduate career I flourished when I began to think of my academic work as a business. By treating my assignment due dates as deadlines, my research projects as proposals and arguments and my transcript management as a way to advance and increase my investment in my education, I was able to gain a deeper appreciation for education and higher learning. It is through that lens that I view the educational experience. My class is designed help prepare students to continue their academic careers, but also introduces to some a corporate like environment that appreciates ambition, initiative and interpersonal skills. Students should be able to learn and teach and understand that the value of their education and degrees are in their control, however, I consider it my purpose to be a facilitator who provides the environment, opportunity and academic knowledge that will support students meeting their individual goals and objectives.


  • Be able to successfully communicate the theories, readings and concepts introduced through verbal and written opportunities.
  • Provide and environment that supports professional development inside the classroom.
  • Establish a rapport with students that makes learning interactive and participatory.
  • Provide tools that will assist students with transitioning skills and knowledge learned in the classroom to their future and current careers.IMG_1977