Words mean something to Jon Eckert. 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, Ed.D., says as he leans forward.
Catalyst. It’s a good word. And for this former 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 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 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 or private.
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 hundred-year tradition of preparing educators,” Eckert said. “I want to help walk alongside those leaders to make them better leaders, but also give them the skills to be able to do the research to show this makes a difference. And I think Baylor’s the place to do it.”
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, Ed.D., 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.”
Creating New Resources through Philanthropy
New resources for educators and the recruitment of Eckert from Wheaton to Baylor are possible due to a 2017 gift of $2.5 million from Lynda and Robert Copple of Frisco to establish the Copple Chair.
Lynda (BSED ’79), a former public school teacher within the Arlington Independent School District, and Robert (BBA ’80, MPA ’81), former CFO and COO of Cinemark and former director and chairman of the board for Legacy Christian Academy in Frisco, began praying about how they could support Christian educators on a larger scale. Through conversations with Baylor University administrators, the Copples realized that their burden for educators matched with the University’s vision for a top-tier, research-focused graduate program in Christian leadership education.
“I think that Baylor, because it is an institution, it has an accumulated power that is greater than that of any individual,” Lynda Copple, who also serves with Robert on the Give Light National Campaign Steering Committee, said. “And I, to my core, I believe that Baylor was established to be a light to our world. I do think that we can make a difference, all of us individually can make a difference, but when we come together with an institution like Baylor there’s so much more impact we can make.”
A Future of Growth and Building Bridges
From his early years as a teacher to his appointment as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush and Obama administrations, to nearly ten 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.
He is working hard on his strategy to help those educators. This Fall, Eckert and Associate Professor Bradley Carpenter, Ph.D., drafted the curriculum and proposal for the master’s degree program in school leadership which will be submitted later this academic year to the Provost’s Office for consideration and approval.
Eckert said he hopes the program and its Ph.D. counterpart will be approved soon, with the first cohort of master’s candidates anticipated to begin in January 2021, and the first Ph.D. cohort in June 2021. 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.
“There are 56.6 million kids in K-12 schools this year,” Eckert said. “And as Christians we need to serve those students as well as you can and in whatever school you’re called to.”
Speed, energy, velocity. Eckert is doing what he can with the momentum he has been given through 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 want to help walk alongside those leaders to make them better leaders, but also give them the skills to be able to do the research to show this makes a difference,” Eckert said. “And I think Baylor’s the place to do it.”
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For more than 100 years Baylor educators have carried the mission and practices of the School of Education to classrooms and beyond as teachers, superintendents, psychologists, health education professionals, academics/scholars and more. With more than 50 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.
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Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.