Alumna Jan Ware Russell: Education Advocate

Do you know the fiery cartoon teacher Ms. Frizzle who drove the Magic School Bus filled with eager students? In case you don’t, they always ended up traveling to some impossible location where she would teach them everything she knew about that particular place or subject. Well, if you have met alumna Jan Ware Russell, you may have thought she was the real life Ms. Frizzle; but instead of a magical school bus, she uses education as her vehicle to answer the persistent question of “Why?”

“I’ve been in school almost all of my life and I still have the hunger to learn more,” admitted Jan. She has received a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychological Services/ Child and Family Counseling and also an Accelerated Teacher Certification for middle school education from Urbana University, another BA in Information Technology from DeVry University, and a Master of Science in Business and Industrial Counseling from Wright State University.

As an ardent educator and student, she recently added her PhD in Leadership and Change from Antioch University to her already extensive and impressive resume. The description of this doctoral degree not only defines the program, but also defines the people who seek to earn the title. Antioch describes this doctoral degree as being “dedicated to the study and practice of leading that wins victories for humanity, large and small. It develops in its students the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind to engage in change that betters workplaces, schools, and communities across the country and globe.”

This desire to create change, to further her education, and to strive for a better world has landed Jan in a very elite category of professionals. “I knew when I began,” said Jan, “that a lot of people start work on their doctorate degree but do not finish.” With less than 1% of the American population earning their doctoral degree, Jan is literally one in a million.

To earn her PhD, she did extensive research for her dissertation, titled Characteristics of Contemporary U.S. Progressive Middle Schools. Jan’s dissertation focuses on pedagogical progressive schools that don't depend on a standardized education and testing process. Within her study, she looked at 82 contemporary  progressive schools and identified statistically significant common characteristics within three broader overarching philosophies of child-centered learning, community integration, and democratic decision-making.

Jan’s dissertation was written in hopes that if school leaders know what characteristics can help support student learning,  they will be able to harness their resources and create a thriving learning environment.

Becoming a teacher later in life, after working in social services and business organizations for years, Jan already had a unique perspective on making a difference in students' lives. “Teaching is so different from social services, where 80% of individuals didn’t get better and it was hard to know if you were even making a difference. In education, you see that 80% graduate and you know you’ve made an impact.”

Jan first noticed the ability of teachers to make a difference when she was in the classroom at Urbana University. “I noticed this compassion in professors like Dr. Joanne Hendrix, Dr. George Carroll, and Dr. Larry Haverkos . They were so personal in their teaching and advising and you could tell  they still wanted to make a difference.” This is something that Jan has carried with her throughout her teaching career.

The majority of her teaching experience has been local, substituting at Urbana High School for four years and then teaching at Triad Local Schools for 8 years. However, for the last three years she has been teaching in the Bahamas where she focuses on the bigger picture in her contained primary classroom.

Jan teaches at the Amy Roberts Primary School located on Green Turtle Cay. The island is about three miles long and one and one-half mile wide, having a population of around 500 people. The smaller population of the island means smaller class sizes for Jan. These smaller classes have allowed her to put into practice the characteristics she discovered in her dissertation and that she received at Urbana University and Antioch University: one-on-one student/teacher strategies.  

Amy Roberts Primary School mission is “to inspire each child to reach beyond their potential so as to secure the future of our country.”  That is exactly how Jan Ware Russell tries to engage her students. “I am always trying to find the best answer on how to help my varying students and creative thinkers.”

With educators like Jan, who both excels at teaching her own students and as a student herself, it is a great reminder of how exciting learning can be.

Access the full dissertation here:

This spotlight was written by Sarah St.Clair ’12. Sarah is working on her Post Baccalaureate Teaching License in AYA English/Language Arts. She has her Bachelors in English and Communications. She enjoys swimming, running, and spending time with her family.


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