Dr. Bret Church may be a new associate professor at Emporia State University (ESU), but he’s no stranger to the role of educator.
He has been a teacher, curriculum director, associate principal, assistant superintendent, interim superintendent, and leadership consultant for school districts.
“Teaching has been the family business,” he said. “My dad was a teacher, administrator, superintendent, and a professor at Emporia State. He retired in May, and I started in August [of 2020].”
In addition, Dr. Church’s mother is a retired kindergarten teacher, and both his brother and sister work in education.
Dr. Church has also served as the executive director of associations for elementary and secondary school principals in the state of Kansas. He attended the University of Kansas for his bachelor’s in secondary social studies education and his master’s in curriculum and instruction. He completed his doctorate in educational leadership at Baker University.
While his family’s history in education kickstarted his interest in teaching, Dr. Church feels called to make a difference in the field on his own path. He is especially passionate about the impact of school culture on improvement and continuing research efforts around educator recruitment and retention.
Keeping It Fresh
Dr. Church teaches a number of courses online at ESU, including Educational Law and Regulations; Mentoring and Coaching; and Professional Development and the Adult Learner.
He spends much of his time updating the curriculum and providing students with real-world knowledge and experience. For the educational law course, he compiled realistic scenarios by consulting with his sister, an attorney for a school district. He was able to come up with discussion topics that were relevant, applicable, and current for aspiring administrators.
“I like trying to create new experiences and opportunities,” he said.
Dr. Church likes working with both aspiring administrators and growing teacher leaders interested in improving their leadership and instructional coaching skills. He understands that collaborative relationships between administrators and teachers is crucial to the success of a school and community.
Online teaching has proven enjoyable and effective for Dr. Church and his students. He likes how he can link to other sources of information and provide guidance in different formats than is possible for in-person classes.
“I see students learning a great deal from each other and asking questions and being surprised by how other districts do things or how other teachers view things,” he said. “They exchange ideas and ask each other for more information.
“It allows me to be a little bit more in the background and allows them to do some of that learning together. It also facilitates some opportunities for them to build professional networks with people from different places whom they wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
Dr. Church believes the seven-week, accelerated course structure at ESU helps students have more flexible schedules, especially educators and coaches who manage extra-curricular activities for their jobs. Students can pick and choose when they enroll in courses and how many they take each session.
“Our program really gives you a lot of flexibility when you have kids, other responsibilities, work, et cetera,” he said.
Culture, Coaching, and Keeping
Dr. Church’s research publications include an article he co-wrote with his father, and he looks forward to more publishing opportunities ahead. He has begun writing about school culture, peer coaching, and teacher retention.
“We’ll be able to break down the data by generation and see whether or not, for instance, the Millennial generation has factors that are more important to them than Generation X or the Baby Boomer generation to try to help districts understand what might be the same or different between the teachers that they’re hiring now and those who are closer to retirement,” he said.
While Dr. Church pushes his ESU students to work hard at their studies, he marvels at their ability to juggle teaching careers during a pandemic while pursuing advanced degrees.
“It’s been inspiring to see,” he said. “My students are very creative and ask good questions of each other. You can tell that they want to contribute to improving education for the benefit of their students.
“There’s an energy that comes with working with such committed students at Emporia State that makes me feel more motivated and excited to work with them. I like being a part of that and helping them to grow as leaders.”
In addition to developing curriculum and teaching at ESU, Dr. Church provides educational consulting services as an evaluator for a federal grant.
He has two sons, both in high school. Luke is a senior while Ethan is finishing up as a freshman.
Dr. Church loves listening to music and podcasts in his free time and follows his favorite sports teams — the Chiefs, Jayhawks, and Royals. He likes to cook and sing karaoke.
Teaching at ESU is fulfilling for Dr. Church and keeps him focused on his goal of helping others. He was instrumental in formulating a new course at ESU, Creating a Culture of Improvement, slated for a Fall 2021 launch. The course will help administrators be more purposeful in developing a positive school environment.
“Emporia State is a great place to work and a great place for students to find a quality education,” Dr. Church said. “I’m honored to be able to join the faculty and look forward to my years ahead.”
Learn more about Emporia State University’s online Education programs.