“Every teacher is a leader in their own way”: Q&A with Gaston Woodland Jr., MEd ’14
Often on this blog you’ll see Q&As with our alumni—educators we are proud to recognize and fortunate to catch up with. We call them our Featured Cavaliers. If you’re reading this as a prospective student, you may be interested in learning about their experiences with Concordia. And if you’re a fellow Cavalier, we hope you enjoy reading about your peers’ accomplishments (and perhaps raise your hand to be one yourself!).
Today, meet Gaston Woodland Jr., a middle school English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher who infuses his lessons with passion and creativity. Find out how he’s stepping up as a leader in his learning community and what he’s working to achieve.
What inspired you to become an educator?
I believe I was called to teach. I absolutely love teaching and I love young people.
What degree did you acquire from Concordia University-Portland, and how has it helped you and your students advance?
I acquired a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Social Studies. I became a better writer and gained many skills regarding unit planning and project-based learning (PBL). My students are able to have an authentic experience in being CEOs of their learning through intentional planning and PBL.
Do you have a favorite course or experience from the program you can tell me about?
My service learning project, which entailed being culturally responsive to boys in the classroom. It addressed the trend of boys’ reading levels and engagement in the classroom, and what could be done to interrupt the cycle.
What are you currently doing or what have you recently done that you’d like to share with fellow educators?
I’ve recently joined together with a few other teachers in Kansas City, and we are in the process of creating a Black Male Educators Fellowship in Kansas City. I’ve just recently traveled to Philadelphia to attend the first annual Black Male Educators Convening, and with inspiration from that event, we are trying to duplicate or begin a chapter in Kansas City. The goal is to unite black male teachers in Kansas City through the fellowship. The long-term goal is to increase the national 2 percent of black male educators.
What do you continue to utilize from your Concordia education?
I have utilized a lot of my papers and resources developed throughout the program. For example, I created an Excel table of over 100 resources on educational diversity that I still use today. My learning style and leadership style I developed in the program works as a constant reminder of my educational and leadership identity.
What, if anything, did you appreciate about Concordia’s faith-based values?
Concordia being a faith-based university provided me with a sense of comfort because I am a believer. To start off with an encouraging scripture every other week was always uplifting. It’s because of my belief in the scriptures and in Jesus that I’ve made it this far. All glory and honor goes to Him!
How do you feel the program and what you learned aligns with Concordia’s mission to prepare leaders for the transformation of society?
I think the program prepares you by providing an opportunity for you to understand who you are as a learner and who you are as a leader. Through the program, I found out that I was a transformational leader. There are so many ways to lead, but to lead effectively is the key. Every teacher is a leader in their own way based on their experiences, perspective, and what they have actually done in education. Every leader has a function in the structure of education just as every part of the body has a role for their entire body to function properly.
What keeps you motivated and in love with teaching?
My students’ futures. They are all seeds to me. I won’t truly see how effective I’ve been until they grow older. I am just watering seeds right now, but I am excited to see what the full grown trees of their futures are going to be like!
We’re excited to see what the future holds for Gaston and his students. (And by the way, he also has a Facebook page where he shares rap videos he’s created to engage his students and help them learn important concepts! You can check it out here.)
Kara Wyman has a BA in literature and an MEd 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 is now the Alumni and Community Manager for Concordia University-Portland.