A world traveler and passionate servant leader, Christopher Maddox, PhD, is one of our highly regarded doctoral faculty chairs. Maddox has worked with students of all ages (from kindergarteners to doctoral candidates) and has served as a K-12 teacher, a librarian, and a professor. When he’s not helping educators advance through our MEd and EdD programs, he’s busy coaching educators in countries like the Dominican Republic, leading workshops on differentiated instruction, and volunteering with organizations like GLSEN and The Trevor Project. We connected with him to find out more about the work he’s done here and abroad, his advice for doctoral candidates, and much more.
Who or what inspired you to work in education?
As a child, I always wanted to be a teacher; as a student, I looked forward to going to school! As a teenager, I played lots of baseball and tennis, but I found reading to be an escape. So many teachers throughout my K-12 career inspired me to be a teacher; a few stand out in my memory: Mrs. Souder, my seventh-grade math teacher; Mrs. Spencer, my eleventh-grade etymology teacher; and Mr. Osbourne, my high school coach. During my bachelor’s program, I returned to my high school as a substitute teacher. How rewarding it was to see my role models inspiring others.
As someone who’s led district workshops and spoken at national conferences on sustainable differentiated instruction, how do you respond to teachers who are resistant to differentiation?
I often meet teachers who quickly inform me, “I do not have time to differentiate lessons in my classroom.” I ask lots of questions to discover their teaching philosophy and gain a vision of their classrooms. I listen. Then I share with them how they are already using differentiation in the classroom.
These are my six non-negotiables for any teacher to get started with differentiation in a classroom:
- Know and understand your students.
- Create a comfortable learning environment.
- Be proactive, not reactive, with the curriculum.
- Expect the unexpected (without rewards).
- Disguise assessment and provide it throughout the day – every day.
- Share responsibilities with the community.
A differentiated classroom is so much more than varying students’ assignments.
You’ve taught in Guatemala and coached teachers in the Dominican Republic, returning to those countries nine times. Can you share a bit about your passion for these places and the work you’ve done?
I tend to think of teaching and mission work as a calling (Ephesians 4: 8-11); I clearly remember flying to Guatemala City for the first time in 1988. I was scared and thrilled at the same time. I think of myself as a passionate person — that passion often translates to helping people. I truly enjoy serving others and making a difference.
When I think of Concordia’s desire to transform society and Greenleaf’s servant leadership, I think about how the focus is not on having a servile attitude but on having a desire to help others. For me, it is about recognizing and meeting the needs of all colleagues, communities, and cultures within society. I took advantage of the opportunities before me and traveled to Guatemala, completing a teaching practicum (student teaching) in my undergraduate program.
Later, my church sponsored an orphanage and a school in the Dominican Republic; the school administrators asked for supplies to assist teachers with classroom management and manipulatives for reading and math. Instead of sending cash and prayers, a large group of teachers within my church collaborated and decided to visit the site armed with tools for a two-week workshop with the teachers during our summer break. We also hosted Vacation Bible School activities during the afternoons for neighborhood children. It was a blast and so beneficial for everyone involved.
I also visited Nicaragua, turning a mission-visit into a teachable moment with the teachers of a local school.
In addition to serving as one of Concordia’s doctoral faculty chairs, you teach in the MEd program, specifically EDGR 602 “Contemporary Educational Thought.” In this course, students analyze current major educational trends and issues. How do you encourage dialogue and different viewpoints given the current political climate?
EDGR 602 is the first abstract course students take in the MEd program at Concordia University-Portland; by this I mean it is the first class where the learning process is subjective and based on personal ideas, opinions, and viewpoints. EDGR 602 is not about character or theory. Instead, we’re asking students what they think about specific topics. This is often a challenging concept for many graduate students to grasp because it upsets the typical rhythm of past learning experiences.
I have two goals for all EDGR 602 students:
- Expose yourself to different points of view on lots of current hot topics in education.
- Form personal opinions on the assigned hot topics based on scholarly evidence.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Rarely do we find men [or women] who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” I do not evaluate students’ ideas and opinions. I solely assess whether or not they form opinions. Our EDGR 602 students have a respectful conversation on the discussion board and listen to all ideas, regardless of whether they support or contradict our own viewpoints. I think we succeed in every class!
One of Concordia’s core themes is servant leadership. In your spare time, you’ve volunteered as an executive board member for GLSEN and as the volunteer coordinator for the Ryan White Foundation. Can you tell us more about that and what you think it means to be a servant leader today?
I truly believe in Greenleaf’s servant leadership; as a young child in church and later attending Taylor University, I absorbed the philosophies of Greenleaf and have done my best to be a servant leader. I think leadership roles can be given and taken away at any moment, but servant leaders are always such because they have a passion deep inside to help others. It is the nature of a servant leader to always support humankind. This is rare in a society of “me first” and America first; typically, this empowerment is about the individual leader. But servant leadership empowers everyone.
I went to high school in Indiana during the time when Ryan White became infected with HIV from a blood transfusion and was later diagnosed with AIDS. As a teenager with a passion for education, I saw the injustice of how the Kokomo School Corporation treated Ryan by banning him from attending school. Ryan died one week before his high school graduation on April 8, 1990; at this time, I promised myself I would educate others about the bullying and harassment experienced by some students. Ryan’s mother, Jeannie, started the Ryan White Foundation in 1992 and thus my passion for volunteer work began.
Since moving to different cities throughout the United States, I have volunteered with GLSENand The Trevor Project. In fact, I am currently serving as a Washington D.C. Ambassador and Co-Chair for “A Night Out for Trevor” in 2019.