Alumni Spotlight: Lynn Montgomery MSEd '20

Lynn Montgomery, MSEd '20

Lynn Montgomery, MSEd ’20

Lynn Montgomery, MSEd ’20, is a kindergarten teacher heavily involved in teacher leadership and the new teacher mentoring program at her school. She decided to pursue her MSEd because she felt that it was the next step in her career. She also wanted to understand more about the inner workings of school leadership in order to gain a deeper understanding of the world she lives in and functions in every day.

Can you tell us a little bit about you and what encouraged you to get your Master of Science in Education?

I’m currently a kindergarten teacher in Maine. I started my bachelor’s up at the University of Maine in Orono and ended up transferring after three and a half years down to UNE. So I actually received my Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from UNE.

I’ve been a teacher for fourteen years, the last twelve of which have been with MSAD 15, which is Gray/New Gloucester, Maine. My school, Memorial School, is located in New Gloucester. I began as a first-grade teacher at Memorial and spent six years at that grade level. For the last six years, I’ve been teaching kindergarten.

For the last nine years of my career, I’ve been involved in teacher leadership and our new teacher mentoring program. I’ve enjoyed learning about and being a part of the bigger picture when it comes to structures, protocols, professional development, decision-making, and helping to support our team to evolve and be our best for our little scholars. Working with brand new teachers has been an amazing experience as not only do I love being a support, guide, and role model, but it also allows me time and opportunity to reflect and grow in my practice.

I began my MSEd because I felt that it was the next step in my career and it was time. I decided that I wanted to understand more. I love learning, and I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the world I live and function in every day.

Sometimes working in a school can be really complicated and decisions can seem to come down from above with no apparent rhyme or reason. I wanted to understand the decision-making process, the past/current laws in place that affect what we do in a classroom on a daily basis, and all the educational theories better, which is why I chose to focus my MSEd on Educational Leadership.

The big picture interests me not only because I wanted to understand the structures and process of how a school/district functions and exists, but also because I’d love to open my own school someday. It seemed that the educational leadership approach would fit nicely into my bigger picture.

Do you get what you were looking for from the course content?

Yes, definitely. I’m very much a hands-on learner. I want to live it. I want to breathe it. I want to experience it. I’ve always been that kind of learner. I’m not a huge “read all the chapters” fan, but the texts and readings applied to my everyday life and provided me with opportunities to question and reflect.

I valued my education at UNE – both undergrad and graduate school – because they encouraged and provided opportunities to have interactions and conversations with the professionals working in my field.

I sat down with my Superintendent for an interview and learned more about who he is as an educator and administrator. I met with our Director of Finance and learned so much about the budgeting process. I learned more about all the Title funding through our Curriculum Coordinator. I also had the opportunity to meet with a building principal who had started as a teacher. Talking with him about that transition into administration and learning about his perspective as an educational leader was so fun, informative, and eye-opening.

UNE provided the opportunity and invited me into that space of learning and being able to understand concepts like budgeting and various administrative duties. Sometimes I felt like it made my head spin, but it gave me a brand new appreciation of, for example, what a Finance Director does, other than dream in numbers! UNE definitely helped to support me on that front.

How did you feel about the flexibility of the program?

I went to UNE Online because I knew it would be exactly what I needed. I know enough about myself that I’m really tired after a day in kindergarten. I didn’t want to spend an extra hour or two driving to and from classes. I knew that the online structure was really going to work for me.

With UNE you know the assignments, due dates, and readings upfront. Knowing expectations ahead of time is something we work on in kindergarten, but as a grown-up, it’s also super helpful! I could really make it work in my schedule and feel good about it.

I did most of my work on the weekends, and the flexibility and choice really worked for me.

Did you feel supported by your instructors and your student support specialist?

My Student Support Specialist was a total rock star – checking in with me, making sure everything was going alright, helping me find the books I needed, all of that sort of thing. In my opinion, he went above and beyond. (Thanks Greg!)

As far as the faculty went, anytime I had to reach out to a professor they responded compassionately – with total understanding and support. They were awesome. And, come to find out, some of them were local principals and local superintendents, so it was really nice to be able to have a conversation about my local area as well.

Did you feel like the program curriculum was rigorous?

Yes, especially School Law and School Finance. They were really tricky because they were so far out of the realm of what I do on a daily basis as a kindergarten teacher. I mean, as a teacher, I “live” school law every day, but using lawyer-speak and citing court cases? That’s another whole language for me! I had to talk with the instructors and they were both really great about helping me to better understand the content and curriculum.

One of the benefits of waiting ten years to earn my master’s was that I already had a solid understanding of the school system and the job. I was able to apply my studies right away and see things through the lens of an experienced educator, teacher leader, and mentor.

It was all new learning where I could deeply apply my discussions, my readings, and my papers to what I was doing each and every day.

One of the final assignments is the action research project. I was able to use that opportunity to align my schoolwork with a new math pilot that I was implementing for our grade level. Because of my action research project, I was able to prove why we actually shouldn’t be using that particular math curriculum. It lined up really well. I had cold, hard, scary data of why we should not go with the new pilot. It felt good to be able to affect real change by applying my knowledge right away.

How did you feel about your work-life balance as you went through the program?

Honestly, it was a lot. Some courses came more easily for me than others. Some classes were brand new and the concepts were challenging for me. A couple of classes in, I was able to find the flow because all of the scheduling is pretty much the same for all the courses.

You write your initial discussion post by Wednesday night and then the discussion responses and writing assignments are due by Sunday. So it wasn’t like I was learning a brand new schedule every semester.

But the first couple of weeks of every class I had to consciously adjust and make sure that I had everything written down. This was where my Student Support Specialist really helped me. In those first couple of weeks of each class, he’d reach out to see how I was doing, and we would work through that. He helped me see that I had this in the bag.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work?

Wow. I don’t even know where to start with that one. It’s really changed everything. It’s challenged any sort of comfort we had within our practice. It’s allowed us to rethink what we do, how we do, when we do, why we do…with very little turnaround time! 

COVID illuminated the whole cliche about flying a plane while building it…with all faulty parts. Never a dull moment that’s for sure.

Last year my district followed a hybrid model. Our classrooms were split into two cohorts. So we had students in person two days a week, and every Wednesday was a fully remote day. Our days were shortened too, so we had to narrow the curriculum down and define what was essential for that year and the next. We, as educators, were able to engage in deep, intentional conversations about teaching, learning, and our learners in a way like never before.

But in saying that, it’s been stressful, unpredictable, and exhausting at every level. I don’t think I’ve fully recovered from Spring 2020 let alone last school year! I’m 99.9% certain that every single one of my colleagues prefers to never relive a hybrid/remote model again… fingers crossed for this year!

The kids though, they’re the MVPs. They handled all of the new protocols, learning models, masking, Zooms, and overall expectations better than any grown-up dreamed of. They showed so much compassion and empathy for one another. They were flexible throughout all the changes. They were so stinkin’ happy to come to school that it made my job so much easier. Through so much frustration, they emanated pure joy and excitement. They kept me going on my toughest days for sure.

If you can give future MSEd students a piece of advice, what would that be?

Soak it all in, because while it may not make sense to you at that moment, or apply to your life at that time, you can tap back into what you’ve learned at any point. Make sure you’re really taking advantage of the opportunity to learn and grow from the people around you, your professors, and your classmates.

Whenever anyone asks me where I got my MSEd, I tell them “UNE Online – and that’s where you should too.” My experience couldn’t have been better!

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