Five questions for Josh Thomases

Josh Thomases is the Dean of Innovation, Policy and Research at Bank Street College of Education. Bank Street’s Graduate School of Education, which was founded in the tradition of progressive education and is committed to learner-centered education based on sound developmental principles, enrolls more than 800 master’s degree candidates. Bank Street also operates an independent school for children, a research and policy division, and a Head Start center among other programs.

What was your first role working in education?
I was a founding teacher and ultimately co-leader of a small public high school in Brooklyn: El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice. I taught Social Studies and English. El Puente Academy was founded in 1993 and is a national model for effective strength- and community-based education: it has some of the strongest outcomes in New York City for the students it serves. Over my 12 years there, I played nearly every role from coordinating after-school tutoring to teaching to overseeing the budget and leading the school. It is where I came to understand that it was possible to build schools grounded in communities with the highest standards for its faculty and its students in academic performance, and the arts and as citizens.

What is one pivotal moment in your career in educator preparation that left a positive impact on you or others?
My most pivotal moment came before joining Bank Street College of Education. As New York City’s Deputy Chief Academic Officer for over four years, I oversaw the nation’s largest school district transition from a goal of a high school diploma to a goal of college and career readiness for every child. Central to that effort was a deep set of work on teaching practice in the classroom pre-K –12. What became abundantly clear in the work in New York City is that teaching professionals, deeply committed to the craft of teaching and to their content, are the most powerful lever we have to change children’s lives. Everywhere those teachers were, there was deep vibrant learning for both adults and children. Those are the teachers we want to prepare. Finding ways to support, strengthen, grow and celebrate our teachers as they take on the critical challenge of learning this deeply complex craft is our most critical work.

Why did you decide to join Deans for Impact?
Deans for Impact represents for me the opportunity to imagine and explore productive, viable and scalable solutions to the challenge of ensuring every entering teacher is ready. I am excited to work in partnership with a set of like-minded colleagues who are committed to partnering across the country.

What most excites you about the opportunity to transform the field of educator preparation in the years ahead?
Ask any child and any parent: teachers make or break the learning experience. If we can thoughtfully lead to a deeper and richer strengthening of the profession by strengthening the point of entry, we can transform the learning experience for our children.

What is one surprising thing that everyone should know about the program you lead?
Since 1916, Bank Street’s focus has been children—how they learn, what they need, and what teachers, schools and communities need in order to help children of every age reach their full potential. From the beginning, there has been a credo: a clear vision about the potential that we wish to develop in all of us. There are seven parts, but two that stand out for me at this moment are:

  • Flexibility when confronted with change and the ability to relinquish patterns that no longer fit the present.
  • The courage to work, unafraid and efficiently, in a world of new needs, new problems and new ideas.

The credo ends: “our work is based on the enduring faith that human beings can improve the society we have created.” These 100-year-old words have great resonance today.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring Q&As with all the member deans in Deans for Impact.

Josh Thomases

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