“I am deeply passionate about improving health and learning outcomes for all students”: Q&A with Shana Burres, MEd ’17
When it comes to being a leader in education, Shana Burres is one to watch — and we aren’t just saying that because she’s one of our own. Sure, Burres is a recent graduate of Concordia University-Portland’s MEd in Educational Leadership program, but she’s also the Executive Director of DASH Kids, an adjunct professor for Northwest University, and an instructor at Anthem School of Ministry. Read on to learn about her passion for health and physical education, effective leadership, and more.
Can you tell us about your current position and your nonprofit organization?
DASH Kids was founded after several years of research regarding the connection between physical activity and learning. I was struck by the correlation between sedentary behavior, poor learning outcomes, and lifelong risk for poor health outcomes.
As a society, we want our children to have an excellent education, good health, and a bright future, but we talk about those three things as separate entities. They are not. And, unfortunately, students who count themselves among certain minority groups are facing significant gaps in both education and health outcomes. It seemed clear to me that there needed to be an organization that focused solely on changing these projections during the school-aged years. As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” And it is far more equitable and effective to support success in childhood than try to create it in adulthood.
Through DASH Kids, I have had the privilege of running workshops throughout western Washington to equip teachers and parents to use the tools with their particular student groups. In addition to group events, I also get to speak one-on-one with parents and teachers to help them assess their classroom needs and to tailor tools to fit those needs.
Every weekday, I also get to connect with parents and educators through our website and social media pages. (You can connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.) These points of connection have let us reach into public and private schools, homeschool co-ops, and individual homes. And, we are looking forward to our next major project: a video series that can be used in rural towns or other small communities that may not have easy access to a live workshop. It is our hope that DASH Kids will become a resource for teachers across the Pacific Northwest.
What made you choose Concordia University-Portland for your MEd?
After completing my undergraduate work at a university on the other side of the nation, it was incredibly important to me to find a program that I could physically connect to even if the coursework was completed online. Concordia University-Portland offered not only the local feel I desired but also outstanding instruction, a rigorous program, and the ability to complete the master’s degree at an accelerated pace. No other program offered as much, which made it the clear choice for me.
What skills have you gained or honed as a result of your program?
The program helped me develop an ability to see education from the community perspective, to develop programs that address both the students and stakeholders’ needs, and to recognize the various factors that impact education in our current society. If I hope to be an educational leader, it is critical that I recognize and answer the multitude of perspectives that are brought to every educational decision. The MEd in Educational Leadership equipped me to do just that.
What, if anything, have you appreciated about Concordia’s faith-based values?
As a Christian, I deeply appreciated being able to examine and discuss my role as an educator. Since I believe that God has gifted each person with unique skills and passions, it was refreshing to be able to bring that perspective with me into the coursework.
Furthermore, as a member of a diverse community, I appreciated that my cohort was not an echo chamber for my beliefs. Concordia’s faith-based values allowed my classmates from other belief systems to share their values as well. Consequently, I found discussions about leadership and personal values to be more authentic than those I experienced during my secular undergraduate programs.
What are some of the challenges that you face in your current position and how do you try to address them?
As an instructor, one of my ongoing challenges is to motivate the students who have accepted the self-perception that they are poor students. Since I teach in postsecondary programs, the students come with deeply embedded ideas of what school means for them. During the first weeks of class, I do my best to prepare them for the adjustment from high school to college instruction, and to help them see that they are very capable of applying new ways of learning. I also work to grade things quickly while giving detailed feedback so that they have ongoing opportunities to improve their work.
In my role as the director for DASH Kids, my biggest challenge is stepping out of the research and teaching roles into the development and leading roles. I am deeply passionate about improving health and learning outcomes for all students, and I love working with parents and educators to help them integrate movement into their learning environments. However, I find it challenging to plan and execute the budgeting, fundraising, and planning necessary that make the other roles possible. Thankfully, I have a wonderful co-founder and a board president who is experienced, believes in our mission, and believes in me personally. In the same way that I work to guide my college students to a new self-perception, I work to change my view of what I can and cannot do.
What keeps you motivated and passionate about education?
I was a fitness trainer for years, and the same passion to help people realize their potential is what motivates me in education. I firmly believe that we can change the culture through our classrooms. I wholly trust that when people are given the right tools, they can succeed in ways never imagined. I recognize the barriers to equitable education and health in our nation but I also hope that we can create solutions one teacher, student, and classroom at a time. Every day, I am passionate about being the teacher that calls out the potential in her students, in other educators, and in educational stakeholders.
What kind of student were you when you were younger, and was this an obvious career path for you?
During my primary and secondary years, I was a solid student who believed my grades were a direct reflection of my capability rather than my effort. I enjoyed learning but did not view school as a place to engage in learning; it was a place that fed me information. Consequently, education was not an obvious career path for me. In fact, when people would ask me if I taught — clearly it was obvious to them since that happened frequently! — I would laugh and quickly assure them I was absolutely not a teacher. A wonderful professor challenged me to see myself as an educator. She pointed out the ways I was well-suited to teach and helped me reframe my incorrect perceptions of the profession and myself.
Has your MEd helped you in terms of career advancement?
Yes, my MEd allowed me to become an adjunct professor for Northwest University. After several years of teaching at the postsecondary level as an instructor, the opportunity to also teach at an accredited university was an exciting step forward.
The added credibility to my role in DASH Kids was another important career benefit of my MEd. The validity of the research is what makes DASH Kids’ programs valuable. The MEd after my name allows me to be accepted and heard as an expert in my field, which is critical when talking with administrators, donors, and fellow educators.
What type of impact do you hope to have as a leader in education?
My goals as an instructor, professor, and leader in education are all the same: to be a springboard for student
success. Whether I am teaching a class of six interns or speaking to a large group of educators, the driving force behind my words is a passionate belief in people and a deep desire to see them recognize and use their gifts. The squirrely student who is a distraction could be an energetic community activist or tireless problem solver. The burnt-out teacher could be a catalyst for change in her school. And the insecure college student could be a future industry leader. My hope is that whatever I do in education energizes people to do the things they are called to do.
Kara Wyman earned a MEd and a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She spent a decade working with adolescents as an English teacher, the founder, and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a teen-centered nonprofit organization. She’s served as the Alumni and Community Manager for Concordia University-Portland and is now the managing editor of Concordia’s Room 241 blog.