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A doctorate in education makes three W&M degrees for Rachel Ball

  • Three-time alumna:
    Three-time alumna:  Rachel Previs Ball '07, M.Ed. '11, Ed.D. '17 rings the School of Education bell after successfully defending her dissertation.  
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With the completion of her doctorate in education, Rachel Previs Ball '07, M.Ed. '11, Ed.D. '17 now has three William & Mary diplomas to hang in her office as principal of an elementary school in King William County, VA. She answered a few of our questions about her studies and career — and what keeps her coming back to William & Mary.

Tell us a little about your background and what first brought you to William & Mary as an undergraduate. Did you always plan to go into education?
My desire to become an educator was simple: I love working with kids, and I love and value learning. I remember touring William & Mary before beginning my journey as an undergraduate, and I immediately fell in love with the beautiful campus and rich traditions.

My experiences as an undergraduate laid the framework for my future career in education, and I have enjoyed the various capacities I have had to work with students first as a teacher and now as a principal. Each role presents new challenges and opportunities to make a difference for children.

I am so fortunate to now be a principal in King William County Public Schools where I grew up. I feel so connected to the students, community, and culture in this division, and I am proud to serve the division that has given me so much. In whatever role I have served in the division, my litmus test is always: have I done what's best for students today?!

What brought you back to William & Mary for your master’s degree and where did you go from there?
From the day I left William & Mary as an undergraduate, I missed being engaged with this incredible place. I love the community of learners I had grown accustomed to during my time as an undergraduate. William & Mary has always been a place that has challenged and inspired me, and I knew it would be the perfect fit for me as I began my graduate coursework.

At what point in your career did you decide to return a third time to pursue your doctorate?
When I finished my master's, I immediately began my doctorate the subsequent semester. I knew I still had so much to learn, and I still do! I am always interested and fascinated in the bridge between research and practice, and I felt that it was imperative to my role as a practitioner to continue to stay abreast of educational trends in policy and research. My k-12 experiences as a teacher and now principal allow me to connect with research in a meaningful and powerful way. Fortunately, I have an amazing support team at home and a wonderful husband who has supported every step in this journey, and he encouraged me to keep going. I can truly say I have been blessed.

What was the most challenging aspect of completing the degree? The most rewarding?
One of the most challenging parts of completing my doctorate was juggling the role of being a building principal and holding high expectations for myself as a doctoral student. It's difficult to manage the competing demands, but I believe in goal setting.

Fortunately, I learned grit and perseverance from my family at an early age. Staying immersed in the field while completing coursework and writing my dissertation allowed me to assign meaning to what I do every day. Anytime my coursework or workplace demands became stressful, I always had the opportunity to be around students who could keep things into perspective for me. When I felt overwhelmed, students always reminded me of why I was there and the reason why I was doing all of this. Throughout this journey, the students continue to be the most rewarding part of the profession!

What was the subject of your dissertation and why is it an area of interest for you?
My dissertation is entitled: "Virginia Principals' Knowledge of Classroom Assessment and Support of Assessment for Learning Practices." My dissertation topic stemmed first from my interest and prioritization of my role as an instructional leader. I have, however, always been interested in assessment, and I think it's an area of great opportunity for educators across the Commonwealth. I wanted to do something meaningful, but I also wanted it to be something I could relate to as a principal.

What keeps you coming back to W&M?
William & Mary feels like home to me. I feel challenged, supported, and inspired. I am in my element when I'm around those who spark my curiosity, challenge me to give my best, and motivate me to continue learning. I truly feel like it's a place for people who want to make an impact and who desire to continue developing into the best version of themselves.