Danielle Woods

Danielle Woods
Major/Job Title:
Doctor of Education: Educational Leadership (Principalship)
New Virginia, Iowa
Class Year:
Spring 2024

Dissertation: Leadership Experiences from the Perspective of High Achieving Elementary Educators

Danielle Woods

Tell us a little about yourself. 

I am a practicing educator and have experienced education through the lens of a pre-service learner, public school teacher, instructional coach (a leadership role designed to further support educator quality and student growth through goal-oriented learning and collaboration) and a building principal within the public-school setting. All my education experiences have taken place within Iowa public schools. I have been a learner for as long as I can recall, and I was excited to continue learning through the program.

Why did you choose to pursue this degree at UNI?

Choosing to pursue a degree at UNI was a decision rooted in a combination of factors that aligned with my academic and personal aspirations. Firstly, UNI's reputation for academic excellence in the field I'm passionate about played a significant role. The university's faculty members are renowned experts in their respective fields, and the curriculum is designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Additionally, I appreciate the design of the program offered through UNI as the schedule and scope and sequence worked well with my current role. 

How did you choose your area of focus for your dissertation? Why was this important to you? What did you learn? 

As a building leader, I observe and collaborate with a diverse team of public school educators each school year. I evaluate those educators and I note that each team member has specific strengths he/she brings to the public school setting and, often, team members connect more closely to a different set of students, allowing for positive relationships to form throughout the instructional setting much related to those strengths of the individuals that make up the team. Both as an administrator and through other positional and non-positional leadership roles, I have seen great teachers. There are teachers who seem to accomplish more, engage more, celebrate more; there is no true definition for an exceptional teacher. Each exceptional teacher I have met is unique in philosophy, style and ways of doing. And yet, when you walk into an exceptional teacher’s classroom, you simply know. I have experienced exceptional teachers throughout my educational career, and it is clear that exceptional educators are all around us.  And yet, the voice of an exceptional teacher is not necessarily the voice of reason in large-scale conversations and policy decisions. There are systems in place to recognize exceptional educators through local, state and national measures, and yet those exceptional educators, especially public elementary school teachers, are not offered an opportunity to organize or voice perspectives

What’s been your favorite experience at UNI so far?

The importance of a supportive dissertation chair cannot be overstated in the journey towards academic success. Dr. Townsley's guidance, expertise, and unwavering support were instrumental in navigating the intricate terrain of the dissertation process. The mentorship not only provided invaluable insights and constructive feedback, but also instilled confidence and motivation during challenging times. Dr. Townsley's dedication to my academic growth and willingness to go above and beyond to ensure my success are truly commendable. I am profoundly grateful for the mentorship and support, which have been pivotal in my journey towards completing my dissertation and achieving my academic goals. Thank you, Dr. Townsley, for your invaluable support and guidance throughout this transformative experience.

How has UNI helped you achieve your goals?

The professors and dissertation committee played an indispensable role in guiding and supporting me throughout the entirety of the dissertation process, ensuring that my goals were not only met, but exceeded. Their collective expertise, diverse perspectives and unwavering commitment to academic excellence provided me with the necessary resources and guidance to navigate the complexities of research, analysis and writing. Additionally, the program successfully guided participants through the dissertation process, addressing and building on each element along the way. 

What challenges have you faced as you've worked toward this degree – and how have you overcome them?

Completing my doctorate degree presented a formidable challenge compounded by various life transitions, including relocating to a new school district, moving homes and ensuring a smooth transition for my daughters as they started at a new school. Amidst these significant changes, I had to temporarily put my dissertation on hold, grappling with the demands of settling into a new environment while prioritizing my family's needs. The unwavering belief in my abilities and their willingness to provide guidance and assistance as soon as I was ready to resume my dissertation work was invaluable. With Dr. Townsley's support, I was able to navigate the challenges with resilience and determination, ultimately returning to my academic pursuits. 

We often say UNI is student focused; a place where professors care--and teach;  a place where learning happens in and out of the classroom;  and is perfectly sized. How do those statements ring true for you?

I truly appreciate the size of UNI's program. I always felt seen and heard throughout, and there were enough participants to allow for various groupings and partnerships throughout the courses. 

What advice would you give to students considering coming to UNI for graduate studies?

For students considering graduate studies at UNI, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to embark on this transformative journey. UNI offers a nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment conducive to academic and personal growth. The faculty members are not only esteemed experts in their fields, but also dedicated mentors committed to your success. The supportive community at UNI fosters collaboration, innovation and a sense of belonging, ensuring that you have the resources and encouragement needed to thrive.

What three adjectives describe yourself?

Determined, empathetic, and resourceful

Next steps? 

I will graduate on May 11, 2024. I hope to enjoy the moment and spend extra time with my girls. I look forward to exploring ways I can support high achieving elementary educators across the state and beyond in the years to come.