Synthesis Essay

As We Come to an End...Or a Beginning?
By: Melissa Gucker

        Now that the time has come to secure my initial Master’s program, I cannot help but think through my past learning experiences gained through my online courses. With such a broad depth of knowledge learned, I still find myself longing to decipher the future and what it will bring next in correlation with my continued education. The process of synthesizing has allowed for great reflection and insight into what I have gained from this wonderful experience of my own individual learning. 

        Although the Master’s program through Michigan State University offered many inspiring courses while looking back there were four distinct opportunities that truly impacted myself as a teacher, learner, and as a student. These courses include: EAD 867 (Case Studies in Educational Leadership), CEP 832 (Educating Students with Challenging Behaviors), TE 846 (Accommodating Differences in Literacy Learners), and lastly, ED 870 (Capstone Seminar). Reflecting back on these courses has allowed me to see the actual impact and growth from myself as an educator. 

        To initiate the discussion of importance, I feel as though I need to start with one of the very first courses in leadership that I took. Seeing that leadership was the focus of my Master’s program, EAD 867 (Case Studies in Educational Leadership) was that pivotal course that justly pushed my ideals in relation to understanding what leadership meant to me. Through this course, we were exposed to certain cases that provided a wide array of different fictional leaders and the many situations they encountered. We were able to read case studies and delve deeper into the factual information that the case presented. Being able to discuss "what we would have done in the situation" gave each of us our own voice in which to be heard. There were many cases in which I wasn’t fully capable of coming to an exact conclusion and this helped me appreciate the difficulty leaders encounter each and every day. This course was able to give a true understanding of what it meant to step into a "leaders shoes." 

        Although this course offered many different cases to think through, it did one exceptionally crucial thing for me: help define who I was as a leader, help decide what I value in a leader, and decipher what I want to strive to become in relation to myself as a leader. Being immersed in various leadership texts, I was exposed to "effective" leadership qualities. Through this exploration I was able to build my own philosophy of what characteristics a leader should encompass. Included in this philosophy were the ideals of "authenticity," "shared visions," "collaborative teamwork/collaboration," and "empowerment." Not only did this course offer the development of my personal philosophy it also opened my mind to the fact that anyone can become a leader with the right driven development. I walk away from this course remembering that no matter the issues encountered, one should keep "authentic" to their "true" selves, but still keep in mind that "leadership is not something that only a few gifted, outstanding, charismatic people possess," "everybody has a reasonable, if untapped, reservoir of leadership ability" (Lipman-Blumen, 1999, p. 2). 

        As we continue my journey with synthesis in regards to my Master’s courses, our next stop falls on reflecting over a course that offered hope in a time of mass change within my professional career. As I began CEP 832 (Educating Students with Challenging Behaviors), I couldn’t have asked for better time in relation to my own teaching and learning. As my world was thrown upside-down by shifting from 4th grade to preschool (not a change administered by choice), I found myself within a classroom of many students who seemingly had tremendous behavioral difficulties. Although this course offered many different techniques and strategies, it offered a focus and a description for why behaviors were happening within my classroom. 

        In the moment of the actual course (taken during the Spring of 2010), I had lost a large part of hope in my capabilities of being able to meet the needs of challenging behavior students within my preschool classroom. I had always prided myself on being able to make a connection with these types of students and time after time I found myself asking what else I could do in lieu of failures. As CEP 832 continued we were facilitated to take on a case study student. Being at a loss for more ideas, I took on the most challenging student I had. After researching through this course, it was evident that this student demonstrated three major behaviors we had studied "passive-aggressiveness," "hostile-aggressiveness," and "defiance" (Brophy, 2003). Tackling this student’s behavior through CEP 832 gave me the confidence and support to continue trying new strategies with this child. With guidance from our texts, discussions (both professor and classmates), and actual experimentation, I was able to make some positive and worthwhile modifications for this student within my classroom. Offering signs of hope during a dark period of my still novel teaching career, this course truly saved me from giving up on differentiation when all else has failed. 

        Even though CEP 832 had significant impacts on my past teaching, it has also offered an immense amount of information regarding current and future students no matter what grade level I will venture to next. Delving into the actual backgrounds of specific behaviors as well as learning the specifics that make up a behavior, I am able to categorize the actions of a student and draw from a bank of knowledge and strategies to assist the student in becoming successful with their own behaviors. This course has given me the ability to look at my own weaknesses in relation to student behavior and build upon those ideals, drawing from multiple resources in order to provide an environment where both student and teacher are working toward a common understanding of acceptable behaviors within the classroom. I have taken with me the overall understanding that "the goal of differentiation is to make certain that everyone grows in all key skills and knowledge areas, moving on from their starting points", thus including such behaviors that may dislodge a student from making such progress(Tomlinson, 2004, pg. 42).

        Yet another course that truly pushed my ideals from what I first came into teaching believing was that of TE 846 (Accommodating Differences in Literacy Learners). As a "newer" teacher, I find myself seeking out research-based classroom instruction, management, and curriculum on a regular basis. Constantly trying to inquire about "best-practices" especially in literacy instruction, I was more than excited to begin my course work for TE 846 (which involved differentiation amongst literacy learners). This course offered the ability to not only confirm what I was teaching, but offer opportunities to expand that thinking and learning to new levels. I came into the course feeling confident in my literacy instruction and delivery, but left the program feeling like I had "come full circle," making those connections between literacy instruction that may have been left unconnected before. 

        This ideal was most prevalent within the case study we were assigned to take on early within the course. Seeing that a "widespread goal of education in the elementary grades is reading comprehension for all students," I found myself needing more resources for one specific student within my classroom in regards to reading comprehension (Guthrie, et al, 2004, p. 403). This particular student had a wide array of strategies, but was lacking in the area of understanding exactly what she read. Becoming a 3rd grader, most students are/should be ready for more comprehension of higher level texts. I became concerned with the progress this student was making in relation to the in depth instruction she was receiving on a daily basis. Through the offerings of TE 846, I was able to more closely diagnose where this student was having difficulty and I was able to pull from a wealth of offered strategies to try with this student. Reading has always been a subject area of teaching that I was not always sure of and knowing that "any child who doesn’t learn to read early and well will not easily master other skills and knowledge, and is unlikely to even flourish in school or in life," puts a lot of pressure on teachers (Moats, 1999, p. 5). Seeing this case study come to fruition, I have gained a newly found confidence that I can provide rich, meaningful, and constructive lessons to improve upon a child’s reading. This case study has provided an opening into future lessons and ways of delivering instruction. 

        The last course that will be discussed during this journey of synthesis is by no means the least imperative, in all actuality, it has allowed for the most reflection, recognition of growth, and source of showing learning through a student’s perspective. ED 870 (Capstone Seminar) has truly offered a venue to reflect on my hard work as a Master’s student all while impacting my learning and understanding of my possible future. 

        As I happily began my last course within my Master’s program, I had no idea how enjoyable this course would actually be. Finding out that the entire course was centered on an online portfolio that displayed our hard work; I was more than surprised and excited to get started using my creativity to display each aspect of my continued learning. Previously being exposed to our "paper" portfolio for undergraduate work, the idea of creating a complete online portfolio as exciting, but also offered many thoughts of anxiety at the feat that title held. Getting through the first few modules, I quickly came to realize that this course was starting to become my favorite on the voyage of being a student of learning. 

        Exploring the idea of creating a website was a completely new idea in my realm of education. Although I wasn’t awful with technology I had had my ups and downs with being able to understand, fix, and further my use of it. Knowing that I had the support of many professors as well as dedicated "housemates," step-by-step the portfolio has built itself to show a true quality of reflection and creation. As helpful modules guided my path, the completion of my online portfolio has come to an end and now displays the crucial growth I have made as an educator, student, and learner. 

        Not only has this ED 870 and its offerings helped me become more confident within my own experiences with technology, it has pushed me to become a better leader within my school. I have taken on the role as lead Data Director in which I am facilitating the use of online data collection sources for my school. Seeing how I was able to learn gradually through this portfolio, it has given me the confidence to share with my colleagues the process of data usage as well as to become confident within my own technological explorations (like those through the new position I have gained within my professional career). With these small steps taken, I feel that ED 870 has truly given me so much more than I can possibly see at this moment in time. 

        With my Master’s coming to a close I can only continue to think about how far I have come as a result of the wonderful offerings of each course I have been involved in. Although I have mentioned just four distinct courses, each has given me a little piece to further my thinking, learning, and development as an educator. As we know, "outstanding teachers thoughtfully and skillfully make adaptations to their instructional methods, materials, and expectations for student performance," all while holding true for leaders as well (Troia & Graham, 2003, p. 81). I believe that my journey through higher education in regards to my Master’s program has transformed my own learning and thinking into completely different levels and has offered a new appreciation for continual learning throughout life.


Brophy, J. (2003). Teaching problem students. New York: Guilford (

Guthrie, J. T., et al. (2004). Increasing reading comprehension and engagement through concept-oriented reading instruction. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 403-423.

Lipman-Blumen, J. (1999). "Connective leadership." Annual Meeting International Leadership Association. Academy of Leadership Press

Moats, L. C. (1999). Teaching reading is rocket science: What expert teachers of reading should know and be able to do. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2004). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd Edition). Alexandria, VA: ASCD. ISBN: 013119500X

Troia, G. A., & Graham, S. (2003). Effective writing instruction across the grades: What every educational consultant should know. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 14, 75-89.