Inspiring Faithful Leadership
Words mean something to Jon Eckert, Ed.D. Sitting in his office, he clasps his hands and gestures, as if to underline a specific word as he discusses his work within the Center for Christian Education to position Baylor University as the destination for leadership development within education.
"A catalyst speeds up a reaction; it's not the focus of the reaction," Eckert, says as he leans forward.
Catalyst. It's a good word. And for this former 7th grade science teacher, its definition perfectly illustrates his calling at Baylor.
"So a catalytic leader isn't the charismatic person out front whom everybody's following," he continues. "It's the person that comes alongside and speeds up the good work that's already happening. I want to be one of those leaders for the kind of leaders that come into our program, and I want them to go out and be those kinds of leaders in their schools and districts and also alongside students. They start to elevate the good work that's already happening and just speed it up."
Speed is something Eckert embraces. Since his official start date in August, he has worked tirelessly within Baylor's School of Education as the inaugural holder of the Lynda and Robert Copple Chair in Christian School Leadership to set in motion the planning and preparation for an ambitious approach to leadership in elementary and secondary education.
Speed is essential; he is stepping into a new position, and building this new program from the ground up will require all of the speed, velocity and other energetic science words he can muster.
Eckert came to Baylor from Wheaton College after the creation of the Copple Chair from a $2.5 million gift from Lynda and Robert Copple of Frisco, Texas, in 2017. The gift also provided resources to fund the Chair's research. Eckert responded to Baylor's call with a vision for equipping leaders in K-12 education and creating networks and support for Christian leaders in schools — whether they may be public, private, faith-based or classical.
His plan relies on a three-pronged approach:
- master's and Ph.D. degree programs to train leaders without removing them from the schools where they are making an impact;
- the creation of tightly-knit networks he calls Collective Leadership Improvement Communities that allow Christian schools to grow together by identifying common goals and sharing the evidence and strategies they are deploying to meet those goals;
- institutes and academies that will serve the needs of a broader group of Christian school leaders through professional development and conferences.
The opportunity to support Christian educators on a national level, while furthering his own research, is what drew Eckert to Baylor.
"I believe Baylor is the best place in the country to prepare Christians for school leadership because it has a 100-year tradition of preparing educators," Eckert said.
As the Copple Chair, Eckert is charged with developing these new areas of study, while also working with Center for Christian Education Director Matt Thomas to create professional development resources for Christian educators.
"Dr. Eckert's work within the Center has already proven to be fruitful," Thomas says. "Through Dr. Eckert's research in collective leadership, the Center is uniquely qualified to serve Christian leaders in education across the state of Texas and beyond. Additionally, Dr. Eckert's passion for developing leaders who are firmly rooted in Christ strongly aligns with the vision and mission of the Center and will greatly contribute to the work of preparing transformative educational leaders."
A FUTURE OF GROWTH AND BUILDING BRIDGES
From his early years as a middle school and high school teacher to his appointment as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush and Obama administrations, to nearly 10 years on staff as a Professor of Education at Wheaton, Eckert's experiences have exposed him to the challenges and resources, or lack thereof, that teachers must work through in meeting the needs of their students.
During the Fall 2019 semester, Eckert, Associate Professor Bradley Carpenter, Ph.D., and Matt Thomas drafted the curriculum and proposal for the master's degree program in school leadership to Baylor's Graduate School, which provided preliminary approval of the program.
Eckert said that once they have answered some of the remaining budget questions, the program will be submitted to the Provost's Office for consideration and approval in Spring 2020, although he said delays may result from the University's COVID-19 pandemic response.
In June 2019, he served as the inaugural speaker for the Center's first Academy for transformational Leadership. His first Collective Leadership Improvement Community is in place, with three Texas Christian schools participating.
SPEED, ENERGY, VELOCITY
Eckert is making strides thanks to support from the Copple Chair. But there is still more to do. Currently, he is seeking donor support and grant funding for scholarships so that the right Christian leaders can participate, regardless of cost.
"I can't measure how far the Copples' gift of this Chair will ripple out, but it makes a lot of sense, because education is the profession that makes all others possible, that by giving (the Copple Chair) they're going to affect all kinds of kids," Eckert said. "I'm going to work with amazing leaders who are going to go out and work with other amazing leaders who are going to go out and change the lives of kids."