Each summer for the past four years, Kevin Stokes, EdD, assistant professor of educational leadership, has taken groups of students abroad to study education in other cultures. It might seem like a study abroad trip doesn’t fit the mold of a Doctor of Education program. But for Stokes, it’s a natural fit.
“Leading is about changing,” he said. “Managing is about keeping things the same. If you want to spend your time gaining a doctorate in educational leadership, then you must have a commitment to wanting to change things to make them better.” What
better way to learn to embrace change than immersing yourself in another culture?
This past July, a group of student travelers made their way to London. Students were placed at different schools throughout the city, where they observed for two days. For Stokes, the most exciting part of the trip was providing his students the opportunity to experience in action what is discussed in class at Maryville.
“Experiencing something is much more powerful than seeing or hearing about it,” Stokes said. “You learn more as an educator by going and observing and asking questions than simply reading about it in a textbook and then trying to replicate it.”
Stokes was bit by the travel bug long before arriving on the Maryville campus. He grew up in Bourne, England, and began his career as a high school history teacher in East London. In that role, he studied student support and behavior, which led him to the next step in his journey: assistant principal. Not long after, he became principal of a high school in Southeast London.
Soon he found himself ready for something new. Stokes accepted another principal position, this time in Myanmar. His time in Southeast Asia was full of challenges and opportunities. He worked for a private school for three- to 18-year-olds; it was much different than the government-funded English schools for which he had previously worked. The school was still under construction when he arrived, and no staff other than himself had been hired. Stokes was responsible for recruiting and training teachers while construction on the building was completed and students arrived.
It also wasn’t in the game plan to move to the United States. But two years later, that’s where Stokes landed. Ready to finish his EdD, he moved to Missouri and completed his doctoral degree at Maryville. Upon completing the program, he was asked to join
the Maryville faculty as a professor in the Teacher Leadership Program in the School of Education.
Now, Stokes’ global perspective and focus on experiential learning are integrated into his teaching. He credits his professional success to the support he’s received from the leadership of the School of Education and from Jim Harf, associate vice president of global education.
Many of the Maryville students who participate in his study abroad trips have never been out of the country. Stokes hopes
that his trips spark a shift in their mindsets. “I’m working with individuals who want to be experts at teaching and leading schools, and I want them to be able to work in any school environment,” Stokes said.
Seeing what diversity and inclusion means abroad — and especially in classrooms abroad — opens the door for his students to think more critically about their own experiences and the experiences of others, and how that plays a role in their schools. “Wandering around a big international city, my students see people who look different from them, and people who are proud of how they look and what they do,” Stokes said. “It allows my students to take a step back and evaluate what others are doing well that might work in their own classrooms.”
But the learning isn’t just one-sided. The schools they visit abroad often learn just as much from the Maryville students. Space is created for the exchange of ideas and expertise, and new professional relationships are formed that would not have been possible otherwise.
Wayne Leeming, a teacher at Melcombe Primary School in West London, shared that, “It was an absolute pleasure to host the Maryville students. We learned so much from them, and they are really wonderful and insightful educators. I’m not sure who learned more, us or them!”
Stokes and his students are back stateside for now, but the next trip is already on the calendar. Past trip participants encourage their peers to seize the opportunity and study abroad. “I brought back hundreds of ideas to try in my own school,” said Shannon Rohlman of her time in London. “But, most importantly, I rekindled my passion for inclusive school communities. I can’t wait to turn my passion into action.”