Getting to Know You: Michael Troeger, Educator and Consultant
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Michael Troeger is a professional educator, educational leader, and educational consultant based out of New York State, and the chief executive of his own highly acclaimed consulting firm.
Known for his relational style, Michael combines compassionate and ethical leadership with his considerable theoretical and first-hand experience in the field of public education, P-16. His specialties include student advocacy, non-traditional and marginalized students, establishing positive cultures, program and curriculum development, research and analysis, administrative restructuring, clinical skills, and the cultivation of critical leadership skills. He is also passionate about working with students with disabilities, having spent a significant portion of his career assisting those with mental and behavioral issues negotiate their way through P-12 public school, higher and postsecondary education, career and tech education, and into the workforce of adult society.
An extremely well-credentialed man, Michael Troeger possesses five NYS teaching credentials, as well as both a BA and a BS degree, an MS in counseling psychology, a master’s degree in educational leadership, and a culminating doctorate in transformational educational leadership. Michael has published works regarding teacher job satisfaction, and positive workplace cultures.
Professionally, he boasts extensive experience in the educational field. At the outset of his career, Michael Troeger’s unique approach of combining educational science with psychology opened a door for him. Michael took the helm of the ‘single point’ educational program; Senator Cook’s concept to be implemented in public schools and mental health systems throughout the state of New York. In his capacity as coordinator, Michael developed instructional and social emotional curriculum, and mentored, supervised and evaluated a team of teachers, parent aids, and other staff. Michael successfully steered the voluminous collaborative efforts of multiple governmental agencies, including NYS, local law enforcement, mental health agencies, Children and Family services, family court, probation, and more. The program he coordinated was notably the first of its kind in the state, and is now held as the standard throughout New York.
As his career progressed, Michael assumed a variety of roles in the P-16 public education system, many of which dealt with issues relating to the improvement of mental health and the advocacy of underrepresented groups. He has both provided and overseen all aspects of student support services, including liaising with law enforcement, mental health and psychiatric centers, probation officers, family court officials, caseworkers, public servants, the NYS Education Department, federal governmentalofficials, and P-16 institutions of learning and career development.
Eventually, he accepted positions with the Ulster County Transition Coordination Council and the Ulster County School to Work Partnership committees where he dedicated himself to representing the interests of K-16 public school students. Michael’s work with these two committees, and specifically his work with students with disabilities, earned him commendations from the New York State Legislature.
Michael Troeger, as CEO of his consulting firm and seasoned expert in education, has also worked hand-in-hand with adults withdisabilities, countless institutions of higher learning, and the New York State Education Department. Michael now wishes to pivot, and rejoin a K-12 school or an institution of higher learning where he can better apply his vast professional experience and education, but only if it is a school of excellence displaying a positive work culture.
What do you currently do in the field of education?
I am currently the CEO of an educational consulting firm, having taken leave from my W-2 student support position to complete my doctoral research. For two decades I have worked in collaboration with educational systems from K-12 to colleges and universities, a vast developmental span ranging from P-16. However, I’m now seeking to partner with exceptional learning institutions, both at the K-12 and higher education level, where I can rejoin a system of excellence, and infuse 20+ years of best educational practice and skills to maximize student and system success.
What was the inspiration behind going into education and ultimately, founding your consultancy?
Some years ago, I accepted a position as a project coordinator, seeking to reimagine New York State’s educational delivery system and infuse it with a systemic collaboration of supports; supports intended to prevent placement of at-risk youth. While in this role, which was birthed by Senator Cook, I gleaned insights into an educational system which by all accounts had to be characterized as broken. In many ways, it treated students as throwaways rather than future productive members of society in need of proper guidance and preparation. I was moved by their lamentable situation(s), and began to advocate for students with special needs, doing so through a lens of systemic change. I subsequently transferred to another high needs school, where I began a pioneering role in NYS, as transition coordinator. My efforts were noticed by the New York State Education Department, which eventually prompted a seamless transition into the educational consulting sphere. My business developed quickly, and I incorporated it not long thereafter.
What defines your approach to education?
My approach to education is defined by being a relational and ethical leader, which means that I’m student-centric and intent on doing the right thing. To me, it seems like common sense to begin any human interaction with empathy and compassion, but sadly, there are many industry professionals who don’t believe that’s necessary. There’s a common quote amongst my fellow educators that students don’t really care what you know until they know that you care. It may sound trite, but there is truth to that. Simple empathy is a great start, which typically manifests in listening. In actively listening, you’re saying to your students and to your staff that their opinions matter. This has implications for instruction, as well as for professional development, and conflict resolution. In fact, active listening is crucial when trying to solve any tough issues.
And what are the keys to being productive that you can share?
Being productive is all about fostering solid relationships. I just published extensive research on systems, particularly pertaining to educators, who routinely indicate that relationships are the number one aspect of cultivating a positive culture [workplace]—particularly with their supervisors. So, I understand both from my first-hand experience and from my research that creating a nurturing, positive culture is critical. This involves defining a mission and sharing a vision. When you operate within a positive culture, both engagement and productivity increase, as well as job satisfaction. All of this has a positive impact on employee retention,of special significance in light of the so-called ‘Great Resignation,’ wherein people are leaving the workforce in droves because of workplace dissatisfaction.
Can you share a long-term career goal?
This may sound a little unusual, but essentially, I think people are my legacy. My career goal is to continue to effectively and ethically work with my students and staff. Investing in them is what’s most important to me. From my point of view, seeing positive transformations in my students and staff, seeing the hope that comes from engaging with them, and helping them acquire the skills they need to live successful lives… is really what it’s all about.
How do you measure success?
My method of measuring success is all about the people that I influenced for the better. Once again, this includes both my students and my staff. Playing a small part in their lives by giving them the resources that they need, as well as perhaps a listening ear, is both humbling and a source of great pride.
What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?
My job is to connect with people; students, staff, and more. In so doing, I position myself to be a small part of systemic change where necessary. After all, people comprise systems. As I’ve gained experience, I’ve learned that I cannot fix every dysfunctional system because some systems [people] just don’t want to change. So, I’ve resolved myself to the old adage of knowing when to pick your battles. That being said, I’ve also learned that there are times when one must take a stand, however taking an ethical stand requires courage and can be quite lonely.
What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in the field of education?
Sadly, during the course of my career, I’ve seen some pretty toxic leaders and some systems which are badly out of balance. So, I would encourage educators at any level—especially in leadership—to maintain their integrity. You must maintain high ethical standards, even when…no-especially when it’s unpopular to do so. It’s inevitable that your integrity and ethics will be challenged many times, so upholding these values and allowing them to guide your actions requires tenacity and resilience.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?
My family is the most important thing in my life. When I’m done working, I very much look forward to spending quality time with my wife and my son. The activities we choose to do are really a secondary consideration. The primary thing is just spending time with them.
How would your colleagues describe you?
My colleagues have described me in the past as being relational, being talented at developing relationships with students and staff, as well as being empathetic. And of course, being a staunch advocate for students. I think my colleagues would also describe me as a team builder, and a conciliatory professional who knows how to walk a tightrope. I think they would acknowledge that I advocate to the fullest extent of the law for my students, and yet also give respectful deference to any employer which may be involved in a given situation. Lastly, I have been recognized for my philanthropy, having been foundational in the establishment of a community center where I served as a board member, providing a warming center, advocacy, tutoring, clinical services and more in a marginalized community.
How do you maintain a solid work and life balance?
Maintaining a healthy work life balance is a bit challenging. You need to be intentional about it. That means scheduling your recreational activities, which seems a bit counterintuitive, but by doing so you’re essentially making a commitment to your health, to your family. And, in the end, you’re typically the better for it and can therefore re-engage with your work in a much more invigorated state.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome in your career?
The most difficult obstacle I’ve encountered in my career has been dealing with unethical and corrupt systems, particularly in the field of education. I came into my career with a higher set of ideals, as well as a higher set of expectations of people. So, whenever I find out this faith has been misplaced, it’s very disappointing to me. Over time, I’ve had to pivot in my thinking and understand that people are frail, and they succumb to pressures and to various temptations—it’s just part of the experience of being human. In short, no one is perfect, however I have found that establishing a transparent system of mutual respect emboldens authenticity, honesty, and risk taking; a more palatable system for effecting change.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
Sadly, I haven’t had a lot of positive role models in my career. My professional learning has been quite a paradox, wherein many educational leaders have actually modeled what NOT to do. It’s really those aforementioned toxic leaders who have given me the motivation to bring ethical leadership back to educational institutions. I’ve seen so much poor behavior, bad policymaking, and systemic apathy in the educational world that it has reinvigorated me with a new sense of purpose. I’m excited about systemic change; about bringing together a lot of good educators to improve things at every level. I want to help everyone concerned become re-engaged because many educators just seem defeated, and a fair number are even leaving the field entirely due to being morally beaten down. It’s my goal to serve as an example of someone doing the right thing in education and inspire others to make change for the better.
What is one piece of advice you have never forgotten?
A piece of advice that I live by is to always be kind, despite any obstacles or negative behavior. You can never truly understand what’s happening in the minds of other people. You can never truly know what they’re going through, and you can’t make assumptions. So, approaching them with empathy and compassion can sometimes make a huge difference and serve to change their attitude, and perhaps the whole complexion of a situation.