Embarking on an Education Journey toward a Doctoral Degree


We would like to begin by acknowledging the Indigenous Peoples of the Land in which we live, work, learn, and play. We come with respect for the Land and for past and present inhabitants. We acknowledge the importance of the Land, Water, and Sky, which we each call home. We do this to affirm our commitment and responsibility in improving relationships between nations and to improve our own understanding of local Indigenous Peoples, languages, and cultures.

What led you to where you are today?

CC: Education never seemed important when I was growing up. My mother never attended any school functions or teacher interviews. It was in my mid-20s that I learned my mother was a residential school survivor. I did not graduate high school and mainly worked for Indigenous non-profit organizations. In my 30s, I wanted more and believed education was the way to go. I began my academic journey as a mature student. I hold two master’s degrees in education in addition to a B.Sc. and B.Ed. Although many would have stopped at this point, I felt I had to continue for my mother’s sake. Perhaps to show her and myself that education is truly important. In 2023, I obtained my EdD.

MM: I have spent the last 30 years as an educator and/or educational administrator in the public school system in Ottawa. Professionally, I have seen trends come and go, but at the heart of it all is trying to be better learners and better teachers. I have always tried to take courses to that end, but I wanted a bit of a long-term goal in my learning, so I pursued a second master’s in education. Then I was really hooked and wanted to have another goal—an EdD seemed like a good fit.

PS: As someone who is passionate about education and improving the lives of students, I was unhappy with the status quo and felt that more could be done at the system level to improve the lives of marginalized students. As a result, I pursued a master of education degree in equity and inclusion in search of effective ways to do so. While that was a great learning experience, I quickly realized that I wanted to continue this learning journey on a larger scale, which eventually led me to pursue an EdD.

TS: Indigenous people believe we are all born with a gift, and this gift needs to be used for the benefit of others because this is an opportunity to do good for everyone. As an Indigenous person, I believe that education chose me, and my gift was to be an educator. I have an inherent responsibility to do this work in a good way. From an Indigenous worldview, “in a good way” is a sacred endeavour, illuminating the connections between the spiritual and physical worlds. This work is a lifelong journey. I made a commitment to education; my commitment acknowledges and recognizes those who came before us, those who have helped this work move forward, and those who are coming behind us to continue strengthening this work.

What are the benefits of pursuing an EdD?

CC: The benefit of obtaining an EdD was more a personal journey than anything. When I started the EdD program, I was a high school teacher who could not move ahead professionally or financially. Only when I retired from teaching and took on the position of Indigenous advisor at the local university did the opportunities transpire. Becoming an Indigenous scholar with a doctorate offered more opportunities to make positive changes regarding Indigenizing the university. Since academic institutions recognize colonial ways of knowing, the EdD gave me the “credentials” to make a change.

MM: A doctorate in education allows you to continue to work full time while attending to your studies full time (so, yes, it is a busy three years). I was approaching the end of my career and wanted to pay back the Board in some small way for the opportunity to work with them, as well as challenge myself professionally and personally.

PS: Pursuing an EdD pushed me beyond my comfort zone, allowing me to grow both professionally and personally. Throughout my time in the program, I experienced a lot of new learning but also a great deal of unlearning that continuously challenged me. The specific focus on a distinct problem of practice that is meaningful to me, my students, and my colleagues is a huge draw of the program, which makes pursuing the degree feel like a passion project. Another benefit is dedicating time to focus on your problem of practice/area of passion, which is not always possible during the work day. Additionally, the opportunity to collaborate with peers and colleagues facilitates the sharing of best practices, innovative ideas, and new learning, which is quite enriching for everyone.

TS: Pursuing an EdD opens up many doors to different opportunities and experiences. This journey allows me to continue to broaden my learning and build on my research skills. I have the experience and opportunity to focus on and research a topic that was and continues to be of great importance to me and to many others. My level of confidence in supporting colleagues, educators, and students has increased tenfold.

What were some of the challenges of pursuing an EdD?

CC: The time and structure of the program were my challenges. The times I was absent during family events and the countless hours spent in front of my computer were hard. The EdD is a three-year, twelve-month degree. There were holidays and breaks between courses, but I found that time away from my studies was needed to regenerate before the next course began. The program’s structure was linear because each course did not complement the next. As an Indigenous person, holistic teachings are crucial to learning, and I did not experience it until the end when writing the final paper. Overall, time management, commitment, and patience kept me going through the EdD program. Would I enroll in the program again? In a heartbeat!

MM: I struggled a lot with academic boundaries, such as the emphasis on “peer-reviewed” articles and the assumption that it makes scholarly Knowledge more legitimate than other kinds of Knowledge (Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, for example). I like to think that we all contributed in some way to make pedagogy more culturally responsive in both the university and in our schools. My agenda going into the program was pursuing Land-based Learning and Indigenous pedagogy as a solution to so many of the issues Ontario education currently faces. Through the process of earning the degree, that agenda both helped me and got in my way.

PS: Pursuing an EdD requires a great deal of discipline, as many hours are required to complete coursework, such as readings, essays, and problem-of-practice research. The demands of life are important to consider when planning to pursue an EdD, as there are very few opportunities for breaks during the process. Balancing and juggling coursework, research, other professional responsibilities, and family/personal life can be demanding and will require sacrifices in leisure time.

TS: The challenges I faced in pursuing an EdD were that the institution was not culturally responsive and it was immersed in colonialism. The discussions and assigned readings were often based on the research and reflection of non-Indigenous scholarly authors. As an Indigenous person, my research focus was on supporting First Nations student academic success through improved educator efficacy because this has been and continues to be a contentious issue and concern.

An ongoing challenge I had with the program was the messaging that being enrolled in the EdD made me an expert who should be able to “figure things out” on my own. This message goes against my values and ethics because we are all lifelong learners who will never become
“experts” in a particular field as we are constantly evolving.

How did/does this educational journey contribute to decolonizing possibilities within your organization and/or yourself?

CC: I found that decolonizing and Indigenizing the public school board where I was employed for 23 years was a continuous challenge. The school where I taught was the only high school in the province that had an Indigenous Studies course. There is still a great deal of work that needs to be achieved. In my new role as the Indigenous advisor, my EdD gave me the recognition and respect needed in the colonial institution to make changes within the university. I found that I could utilize my Indigenous ways of knowing and doing, and embed them into the university’s colonial philosophical approach.

MM: It helped me better understand the depth and breadth of colonization in elementary schools and in academia. Although I am no longer with the same organization, I hope there is some value to the research that I did both for my former organization and my current one. I think I grew a lot personally and professionally with the support of colleagues, family, and, of course, these amazing people I am getting to collaborate with here.

PS: Decolonizing the organization is still an ongoing challenge within my school board and many other similar organizations. While we work to dismantle the oppressive structures and legacy practices that have been in place for years, we encounter a great deal of resistance from those whose thinking and practice are challenged. Through the EdD program, I was able to further investigate how to overcome this type of resistance and it is something that I am now helping colleagues and staff with as well.

TS: As an Indigenous person who recently earned an EdD, I suddenly have a voice, and individuals are taking the time to listen to what I have to say. This education journey supports my work in decolonizing possibilities because my focus continues to be supporting the organization in taking a closer look at how our First Nations students continue to be disadvantaged in the education system. There are also opportunities in the organization to provide information sessions pertaining to First Nations’ ways of knowing, doing, and being. There needs to be a lifelong commitment to decolonizing possibilities in the organization; this work is no longer a checklist.

What has been your takeaway from the EdD?

CC: Determination would be a takeaway for me. There were many times I wanted to give up, but having been assigned to a strong cohort who has my back and building close relationships with colleagues like the ones in this article helped me through the thick and thin of the program. The instructors, except for one, were there for us and supported us in every way. My family, friends, and Indigenous community believed in me and kept me on my path to success. I was surprised by how much I learned academically and personally through the three-year program.

MM: We were an online community spanning many borders and time zones, yet I feel we all became close. Personally, I faced some challenges: the death of my common-law husband of 30 years—our children and I coping with that, the death of my mother, challenging teaching assignments, and as a teaching VP the challenges of COVID, daily staffing shortages, and meeting increasing student needs. My takeaway is that with a strong community of support and an understanding that the world is so much bigger than the here and now, much can be accomplished.

PS: If this is something that you want to pursue, I recommend that you do it. There were countless times when I experienced imposter syndrome and felt like I was out of my element, but I persevered, did some fantastic and meaningful work, and made myself very proud in the process. Undertaking the EdD taught me a lot about my own strength and determination and the power of the mind, and ultimately, it reaffirmed my passion for improving the educational experience of marginalized students.

TS: I did it! As an Indigenous person working through a colonial system where the government’s education agenda for Indigenous people was to “civilize” and “Christianize,” I persevered. Indigenous people faced and continue to face many barriers in education; curricular irrelevance and educator biases are huge obstacles. I am so humbled to be where I am today, and I just want to encourage and support our people in moving forward on their education journeys.

What has been the impact of this educational journey on your current (teaching, administrative, leadership) practice?

CC: There have been many impacts in obtaining my EdD in my personal and professional life. I believe completing this degree has opened the door for other Indigenous students to further their education. To date, I am the only female with a doctorate in my Indigenous community. I have created a path for others to follow. In my professional life, I am equal to other senior staff who frequently look upon me to share my knowledge with faculty, staff, and students.

MM: The way circumstances worked out, I retired and finished the program pretty much concurrently. I immediately applied to become a part-time professor and, gratefully, was successful. The faces of my students and the size of their desks may have changed, but I hope to be able to continue to have an impact on education. I haven’t quite settled on what that may look like longer term. I have absolutely no regrets about pursuing an EdD or about changing careers. The work and the camaraderie gave me something to focus on during some dark times.

PS: Pursuing the EdD has made a tremendous impact on my practice, namely in my level of confidence as an educator and leader. Being pushed to challenge my thinking and ways of doing things has allowed me to grow as an educator and make changes to improve my practice and the lives of students. The EdD program allowed me to delve deeper into educational theories, research methodologies, and pedagogical practices, which have all helped me to grow as an educator and leader.

TS: The impact this education journey has had on my current practice is that I am much more confident in the work I do and the messages I share. This learning journey has helped me build my knowledge bank as I continue to evolve as a learner. Many doors and opportunities have opened up, and I will be forever grateful for these considerations.


Dr. Corinne Chappell
Dr. Corinne Chappell, member of the Mi’kmaq First Nations, holds Master of Education degrees from the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) and St. Francis Xavier University and a Doctor of Education degree from Western University. She has been teaching for over 20 years at the high school level and joined the University of Prince Edward Island as the first Indigenous Advisor in 2021. Her work includes planning, developing, and implementing Indigenous initiatives at UPEI.

Dr. Minou Morley
Dr. Minou Morley holds an EdD (Western University), a BA (Concordia), an MPA (Queen’s), a BEd (Queen’s), and an MEd (UOttawa). Minou is recently retired after 33 years as an educator/ administrator with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. She is currently teaching at the University of Ottawa with a special interest in Land-based learning and Indigenous pedagogy.

Dr. Phillip Spalierno
Dr. Phillip Spalierno earned a EdD from Western University in 2023. The work of Phillip’s EdD was grounded in equity and inclusion, more specifically, improving the school experience for sexually diverse students. Empowering students to critically analyze societal issues and become agents of change in their communities is at the heart of Phillip’s practice as an educator.

Dr. Tammy Stoneman
Dr. Tammy Stoneman’s Indigenous name is Âkw’ Tlâ. She is an Indigenous woman from the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba, adopted into the Ishkitan Clan in Teslin, Yukon. Dr. Stoneman holds a Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Western Ontario. Dr. Stoneman’s EdD research focused on improving First Nations student academic success through improved educator efficacy. She currently works for Yukon Education as a First Nation Curriculum Consultant.

This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Spring 2024 issue.

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