Teachers and educators have an incredible influence on their students, whose futures can depend on a teacher’s passion and persistence. Yet there exists a cohort of educators whose influence extends beyond the classroom walls. Armed with education degrees, these educators have harnessed their knowledge to shape policies, ignite change, and inspire students everywhere. 

Many have even inspired other educators to follow in their footsteps.  

As we explore the lives of these five influential figures, we’ll delve into the stories of researchers, educators, and celebrities who’ve not only excelled academically but have also become powerful catalysts for change. Join us as we celebrate these educators turned visionaries!  

1. Miguel Cordona – Doctorate in Education  

Secretary of Education Miguel Cordona has made headlines, calling for the end of the “toxic disrespect” thrown at school teachers and staff and emphasizing strong pedagogy, high standards, and authentic assessment. Undoubtedly, Cordona has a long road ahead in realizing these goals, but if his experience and expertise are any indication, he’s more than up to the task.  

A lifelong educator, Cordona has two decades of experience as a public-school educator in Connecticut, where he served as an elementary school teacher, school principal, and Commissioner of Education. As Secretary of Education, he continues to champion for students, only now his influence extends far beyond his classroom.  

2. Benjamin Bloom – Doctorate in Education 

Today we know how critical a child’s early years are for their success in school and later life, but decades ago, that wasn’t the case. Benjamin Bloom was among the first to recognize the connection, going as far as to present his research to President Lyndon B. Johnson and testify before Congress. Bloom’s work led to the creation of Head Start in 1965, an early education and preschool program that provides services related to early learning and development, health, and family well-being at no cost to eligible children and their families. 

3. Gloria Ladson-Billings – Doctorate in Curriculum and Teacher Education 

A legal scholar and professor, Gloria Ladson-Billings has dedicated her career to the successful instruction of Black students, with her research focusing on pedagogy. Advancing black student success is as important today as it was when Ladson-Billings began her work over three decades ago, given the persistent achievement gaps by Black students compared to their white counterparts. She believes, and a body of research supports, that culturally relevant teaching methods can improve academic outcomes, engagement, and attendance and help students, particularly students of color, see themselves as capable learners. 

4. Shaquille O’Neal – Doctorate in Education 

Superman, Big Shamrock, Shaq Daddy: Shaquille O’Neal was a dominant force throughout his 19-year NBA career. While any fan can rattle off his career statistics, a lesser known aspect of the NBA star is his success off the court, particularly when it comes to education. 

In 2012, O’Neal graduated with a doctorate in education focusing on organizational learning and leadership. He followed that up in 2018 by becoming a National Board of Directors member for Communities in Schools, a national organization dedicated to connecting students with community resources and helping them achieve their goals in school and life.  

While not an educator (we apologize for violating the sanctity of this listicle), O’Neal’s selfless devotion to student achievement is unquestionable. “Every kid, no matter where they’re from or how much money their parents make,” said O’Neal, “deserves the opportunity to get a good education.” 

5. Andrew Farley – Bachelor of Science in Education 

A student-first leader, Andrew Farley serves as the principal of Brookfield East High in Wisconsin, where he’s implemented numerous initiatives aimed at enhancing students’ lives. Among these is the Principal’s Cabinet, in which 50 student leaders reflect on core values and set goals to realize the school’s mission, resulting in the addition of a 30-minute resource block to the students’ daily schedule and the funding of a $700,000 Learning Commons/Library renovation project.  

From solving operational challenges to creating more peer mental health supports, Farley has gone above and beyond in his role as a high school principal, and for his efforts, he was named the 2024 National Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.  

It’s Your Turn  

The people on this list, whether a renowned researcher or an award-winning principal, have devoted themselves to education. For them, education is not only a means to success and influence. It’s a way to give back to their communities and provide school children with the chance to excel academically and experience the same level of success later in life.  

Earn Your Online Education Degree at UT Permian Basin 

If you’re interested in continuing your education, The University of Texas Permian Basin offers online education degree programs that can help you advance your career and become an influential force for change within the classroom and maybe even within the field of education. 

Our online education degrees include:  

  • Master of Arts in Bilingual Education 
  • Master of Arts in ESL Education 
  • Master of Arts in Literacy 
  • Master of Arts in Special Education 
  • Master of Arts in Special Education, Autism Spectrum Disorders Track 
  • MA in Special Education, Education Diagnostician Track  

We also offer an online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and an online Superintendent Certification program for educators interested in becoming administrative leaders.  

Ready to get started? Apply to one of our online education programs. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll end up on your own list of influential educators.