Michael Troeger is a veteran educator, educational consultant, and researcher who has spent his entire career pursuing meaningful reform in the academic system. Michael is well-known for his comprehensive and multifaceted approach to education, which incorporates elements of research and data analysis, leadership skills, program and curriculum development, student advocacy, administrative streamlining, as well as counseling and psychology. Within educational circles, he is highly regarded for combining a diverse breadth of knowledge with compassionate and ethical leadership.
After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Science degree from the State University of New York, Michael went on to complete a Master of Science in counseling psychology from West Point, obtaining the corresponding counseling certification in the process. He then proceeded to earn a master’s degree in educational leadership, followed by a doctoral degree in transformational leadership. Michael has earned five teaching certifications in New York state.
Upon entering the professional world, Michael Troeger’s early work caught the attention of some senior administrators and politicians, and he was asked to help coordinate a unified ‘single point’ educational program for the New York State public school systems. Remarkably, this program was the first of its kind in New York, and as such, received considerable attention. In his role as coordinator of the project, Michael was responsible for creating a template for overseeing the placement of at-risk children in order to achieve optimal educational outcomes. In the process, he had to consider the concerns of all stakeholders, including students, teachers, parents, school administrators, governmental agents, and community members. The methods and processes Michael Troeger developed in executing this program are now in widespread use and are viewed as a blueprint for educational and mental health initiatives statewide.
Inspired by the successes of some of the disenfranchised students that he served as coordinator of the ‘single point’ educational program, Michael made a conscious decision to use his career to positively impact students’ smooth transition from public school to post-secondary education and the workforce. He joined the Ulster County Transition Coordination Council and the Ulster County School to Work Partnership committees in order to act as a voice speaking on behalf of the best interests of public school students, grades P-16. In this role, Michael also dedicated himself to helping students with behavioral and mental health challenges. By ensuring that the committees retained IEP and 504 compliance within the school district, properly supervising students on probation, and coordinating the college and career efforts of these students with special needs, he earned accolades and recognition from both Ulster County and the New York State Legislature.
Currently, Michael Troeger is the CEO of his own educational consulting firm. In the domain of New York State education, he is known as a staunch advocate for underrepresented groups, and considered an expert on issues pertaining to student support services, special education, program development, and social and emotional learning. Throughout his career, he has published several well-received research papers on teacher job satisfaction and positive workplace relationships. Michael resides in Shokan, New York.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
Early in my career, I was a project coordinator for Senator Cook. He was a man who was deeply concerned about the state of public education in New York. It was my role to take a detailed look at the overall system, evaluate its strengths and flaws, and make actionable recommendations backed up by extensive research. From the start, I gleaned insights into a broken educational system, one composed of throwaway students. I was moved by compassion, and began to advocate for these students, and did so through a lens of systemic change. I saw my students actually stuck in a cycle of crime. Prisons were literally built in close proximity to the schools they attended, which was a metaphor for our low expectations of them. Needless to say, great changes were needed. I helped to implement those changes. Subsequently, I was named one of the first transition coordinators in New York State, and I began working with students with disabilities, helping them plan for a life beyond their schooling—essentially instilling hope. My efforts in this area were recognized by the New York State Education Department. After that, I transitioned into an educational consulting position. I created a business that works directly with the New York State Education Department, which I eventually incorporated and still run to this day as the chief executive.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical day? That idea is actually laughable to me. There is no typical day. I’ve done some crazy things during the course of my career in education. I’ve been on a roof, trying to calm down a suicidal student—and I am afraid of heights. I’ve been swimming in a river in the same sort of scenario—and I don’t swim. I’ve advocated for students in court; the very same who assaulted me. I’ve also attended countless funerals for students, and for the parents who succumbed to suicide, a sad capitulation to toxic systems. I have run the entire emotional gamut of what can happen to an educator. So, a typical workday doesn’t really exist in my life. My days are all about being able to respond in real time to the needs of both my students and my staff, and to be able to do so compassionately and with integrity.
How do you bring ideas to life?
From my point of view, it’s not about bringing the idea to life, but rather bringing life to my people. I make a great effort to establish an environment that encourages creativity, respect, trust, and a free exchange of ideas among my staff. Relationships are the number one variable for educators— especially as they relate to their supervisors. Knowing this, both from my published research and my real-world experience, I endeavor to create a positive culture where people know they are valued and know that their ideas will be heard and considered, the antithesis of toxic workplaces.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m excited about the return to in-person learning. That being said, I’m grateful for the technology that has sustained us during the COVID era. However, students and educators need to have face-to-face relationships. For example, there are some students with disabilities who dislike and, in some cases, truly oppose hybrid learning models. Many have found that they really need human contact in order to learn effectively. Students—particularly those with disabilities—really need that sort of interaction. Education via digital platforms served as a fine band-aid solution during the height of the pandemic, but it has some glaring flaws, and it’s now time to leave it behind. I’m grateful that the technology existed when we needed it most, but I don’t believe it’s an appropriate replacement for human connection in the classroom.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
The most important habit that I employ is to develop and nurture appropriate relationships with staff and students. The nurturing of such relationships leads to a positive culture, and to both student and staff engagement. Engagement is positively correlated with student achievement and well being, as well as teacher job satisfaction—all of which are in line with my recent research. This is not an easy thing to accomplish by any stretch of the imagination. Building a positive culture is an intentional act, one requiring nurturing via effective leadership.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Earlier in my career, I was overwrought by the unfortunate situations of some of my students. When I first began, I had some students who were receiving shock treatment in institutions. I was particularly overwhelmed by the plight of my special needs students, and the dysfunction of some of the school systems they attended. So, my advice to my younger self would be this: “Always do the right thing, the moral thing, the legal thing… even when no one is watching, when it is unpopular, and especially when threatened to the contrary.” However, “Pick your battles. Some systems are simply not going to change. You need to have the wisdom to know the difference.”
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
No child is a lost cause. There are no exceptions.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Treat ALL people with compassion, even when you disagree. I think that goes a long way.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
As a relational leader, I believe in putting people first. With that philosophy firmly in mind, I take good care of my staff, who are then empowered to take care of our students. Initially, I approach every situation I encounter with empathy. Oftentimes, that manifests by being a good listener. I listen intently to how people perceive what’s going on around them and try to understand what their true needs are before planning redress.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I always thought I had to have all of the answers before I engaged in a worthwhile act. That is not always the case; sometimes you simply have to step out with whatever knowledge, wisdom, and passion you possess in that moment. I overcame that initial mentality by not hesitating to step out even when I didn’t have all the answers. Sometimes you just simply have to walk by faith.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
While I don’t have a specific idea for a new company, I will say that any business that aims to better serve people, including persons with special needs, would be a very worthwhile enterprise.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Professionally speaking, I like to concentrate almost all my efforts on people and relationships. However, I realize how important technology is, and I don’t want to be bogged down in the maintenance of it. My time is better spent on other matters. As a solution, I employ people who maintain my tech for me. They ensure the integrity of my backups and work as a sort of help desk for me. I would rather employ a person than have precious time taken from the relationships that are so important to me.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
As I alluded to in my previous answer, the service that most helps me to be productive is definitely my IT department. I couldn’t do my job properly without the support they provide for the various technological devices and digital services I use each day.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I would recommend that everyone read The Bible. It contains incredible value, regardless of whether or not the reader believes in its divine inspiration. Besides being the best-selling book in history, it contains wisdom and truths that can be applied to many common, present-day situations.
What is your favorite quote?
“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.” C. S. Lewis
- Always approach people with empathy and grace; you do not know where they have been.
- Educators should boldly do the right thing; even when, no… especially when it is unpopular.
- Compassion, integrity, and eventually courage… are the rudimentary qualities of an educational leader.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.