Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ed Dean Interview -- Part 1

New Dean for the School of Education*

Q> The dean you are replacing has been with the University for more than 40 years and 25 of those years he was the dean of the School of Education.  Any second thoughts about filling those shoes?

A>  Education is the glue that connects one generation to the next. The School has a long history of excellence in teaching and research.  Many of our graduates become leaders in their schools. We enthuse them with such a great love of learning, that most who graduate our undergraduate programs earn a masters degree within 5 years of graduation.

We are facing an ever widening gap in our country’s educational process.  Too many students are dropping out of high school and too many are not reading or understanding math at grade level.  While the Federal government has tried to mandate changes, they do not have the knowledge and scholarship to make change happen.  We are struggling as a nation to keep up our math, science and humanities literacy.   Comedian Jay Leno has a segment called, “Jaywalking.”  While I’m sure that the producers and editors find people who make the funniest remarks, some of the lack of knowledge is indicative of widespread ignorance.  We expect people to know there own jobs.  In a recent segment (  Jay asked a waitress about some expressions that are connected to the restaurant business. Jay asked, “Has anyone ever ordered `a la carte?”  “No, our restaurant is `al dente” (1) The waitress had no idea what either term meant.

Education gives children the tools to become members of society. We have many layers of society based on location, gender, ethnic group, religion, intellect, and many more.  The School has to give students the tools to deal with diversity. I hope to spread some of the teachings of James P. Comer, founder of the School Development Program.  He said schools should stress: consensus collaboration, and no fault.  I hope that we can set the example so that our students take the ideas back to their classrooms and schools.

I have no second thoughts.  We will be building a team at the School so that we can progress and accomplish our mission.

Q>  What is the School’s mission?  Are you going to change the mission?

A>  The current mission statement is:
The School is committed to: 
1) Encouraging and supporting excellence and professionalism;
2) Creating opportunities for collaboration and partnerships;
3) Helping students, faculty and staff achieve their potentials; and  
4) Creating a community of scholars and lifelong learners.

I wouldn’t change any words at the moment.  I would change the way people think about a mission statement.  I encourage everyone to think about their actions and ask themselves which part of the mission statement you are following with that decision. For example if someone wants to make a suggestion they should ask: “Is this action going to help with creating a community or fostering excellence?”  If the action can’t be justified, then perhaps it should never be vocalized.

I’ve seen many “penny-wise / pound foolish” proposals in organizations.  Some “bean counters” think they are saving the organization money, but have not done their investigations properly.  The proposal ends up costs much more in the end and the cost saving is non-existent.  I hate wasted time and money for paperwork.  However, paperwork is essential for the management of the system.  The question for any or bureaucratic procedure or paperwork is, “What part of the mission is being followed?”

Before any large expenditure for equipment, the parties involved need to figure out the return on the investment.  I recently read of CIO (chief information officer) of a company who was not very technically oriented.  One of the sales people didn’t like the 3.5 pound laptop computers they were lugging to client sites.  The salesman wanted an Apple iPad.  When the CIO heard the cost was only $500, he ordered one for every salesperson.  No one tested to see if the iPad would work on the corporate network.  The network needed to be secure because they have sensitive data on the system.  The iPads needed custom configurations to work and login to the company’s private network.  By the time the IT people got everything working the added cost was more than $1000 per unit.  This cost was a lot more than the laptops they had which could be configured in less than 15 minutes.  Because the iPads were never able to access all of the corporate software programs, many stayed in the office and never went with the salespeople on customer visits.  

Not only do I want to make sure this kind of poor behavior does happen in our School, but I want to set an example for our students to learn about management.  They should learn about school management so that they know why some forms and numbers are important and some are not.  They should learn that there are valid reasons not to follow a fad, how to make management decisions, and how decisions affect all the stakeholders.

Q>  What is this Comer School Development Program (SDP)? I never heard of it.

A>  Dr. James P. Comer is the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry and the associate dean of the Yale University School of Medicine.  He developed SDP as a comprehensive program to address the issues that have an impact on student performance, development and well-being.  The program includes help for school organization and climate, curriculum and instruction, and parent and community involvement. 

His model addresses many variables connected to the student’s welfare and progress.  Some of the issues here addresses include family, child physiology, classroom management, and self esteem.  Early in his research he found teachers who had no idea of child development and were teaching material that was not age appropriate.  He stressed the positive, community and no fault.  In his book, Leave No Child Behind, he tells a story about a substitute teacher who was yelling at the students.  Finally one student stood up and said, “This is a no-fault school.  We don’t talk like that here.”  In addition to Comer’s book you can also visit the program’s web site:

The Comer program sets up team for parents, school management, planning, support, planning, assessment and staff development.

Staff development and life long learning are important aspects of the program.

Q> What makes a good teacher?

A> The question is not easy to answer and the answer varies by the subject taught.  President’s Bush “no child left behind” program did not create better teachers.  Measuring success solely via test scores does not work.  There have been many quests for the one trait that would identity a potential good teacher.  I can tell you some of the factors that don’t predict a new teacher will succeed:  a graduate  degree, a high score on standardized tests, any one personality trait,  confidence, warmth, enthusiasm,  or passing the teacher-certification exam on the first try.  

Elizabeth Green wrote an article, “Building a Better Teacher” (2) about issues concerning training to be teachers.  She included a section of the history of schools that train teachers.  In 1800’s teachers were trained  in “normal schools.”  These schools were not part of the college or university system.  Between 1870 and 1900 the number of teachers increased from 200,000 to 400,000.  The normal schools turned out graduates quickly and didn’t concentrate on either a subject knowledge or methodology of instruction. 

There are two major aspects of teacher education—subject knowledge and methodology. These aspects are not new.  When I went to undergraduate school even though the word “teacher” was in its name, subject knowledge was extremely important.  Students had to major in a subject; education was a minor.  A teacher could have wonderful charisma and a magical personality when dealing with children, but if s/he does not know math or science not only will the students not learn the subject, but also they will not gain the correct basic knowledge for the next educational step.  Learning about the management of instruction, pedagogical theory, and educational practice are needed to apply the academic subject knowledge to the classroom.  

Strangely no matter how important the training program makes these aspects of the teacher education program; we still don’t know the best balance or the relationship to student learning.  We only know when teachers give the wrong information or teachers can’t control the class, students suffer.

There's a popular framework for developed by Charlotte Danielson that has four domains for profession training and competence.   The domains:   planning and preparation, the  
Classroom,   professional responsibilities and instruction, are further subdivided on the web site.   Danielson also states the importance of lifelong learn for students and faculty.

Aaron Pallas, a professor at Teachers College (New York, NY) told me in private communication on May 30, 2011, “[Teacher success] depends on the grade levels, school subjects, and family and community contexts in which the teaching is to take place. There are things that may be important for teachers to know if they are not knowledgeable about the communities in which they are teaching. …Teachers, generally, are not well-prepared to assess student learning, and to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different forms of assessment, and in the vacuum, others have stepped in to define what counts as learning (e.g., performance on standardized tests.) “

To enter our undergraduate programs a student must complete at least 19 courses of the required basic education requirements set by the University.  The courses must include at least four in a single subject area.  The subject areas are: 1) Physical sciences; 2) Social sciences; 3) Fine Arts; 4) Mathematics; 5) World languages and literature; and 6) History or regional studies.  To enter a graduate program the student needs a major in a field other than education that includes at least 33 semester credits.  

I talked to many teachers and they said that a good teacher has to have a passion for the subject and the students.  Teachers not only need to present the academic material of the subject but also give a bit of themselves.  While they could tell me qualities that describe great teachers, no one could give me a predictor that would indicate which teacher candidates would be the most successful.  While past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, the signs are not easy to read.  

Q>  Has the School done anything to give more practical knowledge to students?
A> Several years ago some music education students went to the dean and said they couldn’t join the University’s performing groups and they wanted to form a school jazz band.  The dean liked the idea and helped them get started. The band became a laboratory for music educators and a creative outlet for the students.  It was a very open education situation—there were no grades or academic requirements. Students and faculty learned from each other.  The band benefited the school with their performances.  Since then a school orchestra and a choir were created.  These are top notch performing groups open to all students and faculty, not just the music education students.

Students in the science education programs are encouraged to do work in a lab.  Visits to businesses, classrooms, potential vendors, and other places are arranged to give the students a chance to learn from the experts on their home turf.

We have internship programs in co-operation with the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering.  These programs give student practical work experience that can be translated to the classroom.

Some people have accused professors teaching subjects without any practical knowledge of the K-12 classrooms. We have programs for professors to visit K-12 classrooms. They visit as both observers and consultants.  Both our school and the schools visited gain from the experience.  Some professors teach a few hours per week in our lab school.  Some professors are involved with ongoing teacher training or research projects with the local public schools.  Many of our professors act as experts for policy makers in local and state government.

We believe in learning by doing as well as academic learning in the classroom.

Q> Some critics have stated that we need to attract more of the brightest students to the field of education.  They would like some of those engineering students to become educators.  How do you answer them?

A> According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2010 report let me tell you some of the numbers.  In all areas of education including schools, training and libraries there are   8,457,870 workers.  In the life, physical, and social science occupations there are 1,064,510 workers.  Approximately 1,454,420 work in engineering positions.  While the number of education bachelor’s degrees is similar when it comes to graduate degrees education conferred in 2008 175,880 while 34,592 were awarded in engineering. (Source: U.S. Statistical Abstract 2011)
By the numbers of teachers and graduates we are doing ok, but these are only numbers.  There is nothing stopping the brightest students from choosing a field that is best suited to their skills and desires.  Some may be a brilliant engineer, but that has no connection to being a great teacher.  I do however; encourage schools to make connections to people in the work force.  Business people, engineers, skilled trades people, etc. should visit schools to share their stories and expertise.  These people could be parents of current students or other interested members of the community.

Q> Thank you for your time and remarks.  I look forward to continuing this conversation. Any closing comments?

A>  Thank you.  Teachers and parents are agents who connect children to their community.  The School gives tools to the community tools help them be better teachers and leaders.

* Part one of an interview with the newly appointed dean of the University’s School of Education.   Note: this interview is just for your information and amusement. Any connection to a real university, school, or dean is strictly coincidental. 

1. Just in case the terms are foreign to you -- to order `a la carte means to order a single dish rather than a full meal.  `Al dente refers to pasta that is a little hard but still edible.

2. New York Times Magazine, March 2, 2010 (

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