Five questions for Patricia Alvarez McHatton

Patricia Alvarez McHatton is the dean of the College of Education and P-16 Integration at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. UT-Rio Grande Valley was created by an act of the Texas Legislature in 2013; the new university incorporates and consolidates assets and resources from UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American. UT-Rio Grande Valley admitted its first class in the fall of 2015. The College of Education and P-16 Integration offers a wide variety of degrees, certifications, and online programs on two campuses, one in Edinburgh and the other in Brownsville.

What was your first role working in education?
I went into education as a career changer – previously I was in electrical contracting. My first role in education was as a middle school, special education teacher, teaching science and language arts. I specifically worked with adolescents with learning disabilities and behavior disorders. They were bright and inquisitive and never ceased to amaze me: called me out when I wasn’t talking the talk and walking the walk. I worked with a wonderful colleague who taught math and social studies. She and I shared our students so we delivered instruction via interdisciplinary project-based instruction. It was the best job ever!

What is one pivotal moment in your career in educator preparation that left a positive impact on you or others?
One moment that stands out is the work several colleagues and I at the University of South Florida did on preparing culturally responsive educators for urban settings. We worked with a cohort of special education majors and speech-language majors throughout their two-year program. Each semester, the students took a special-topics course on special education and urban education; the courses were developmentally sequenced over the two-year program.

Semester 1: Engaged children and youth from a local housing complex in service-learning
Semester 2: Conducted oral histories and photo documentaries on diverse families
Semester 3: Explored contemporary culture and its impact on local schools through spoken word and performance
Semester 4: Based on what they had learned to date, designed professional development workshops for in-service teachers

We believed it was essential to immerse them in community and school settings, and to provide them with the necessary knowledge, skills, and dispositions to engage with culturally and linguistically diverse children, youth, and families from an asset-based perspective, which focuses on addressing students and families’ needs based on their strengths rather than their deficits. These students made a profound difference in the lives of the children, youth and families with whom they worked.

Why did you decide to join Deans for Impact?
I found the organization’s positive and data-informed approach to accountability in educator preparation a breath of fresh air. Anecdotal information is insufficient to tell our story; we can’t sit back and say “Woe is me” when we are bombarded with negative press. I do believe we make a difference and add value – but we need to do a better job in providing data that supports those claims. We also need to be more proactive in taking our place at the table so that we can ensure an equitable educational experience for all our children. In addition, we need to shift from a culture of compliance to a culture of inquiry that is focused on program improvement. Ensuring access to data that will provide the necessary information to highlight areas of strengths as well as identify areas for growth and improvement is essential. Deans for Impact is an impressive team of leaders from whom I can learn a great deal. I also look forward to contributing to their efforts.

What most excites you about the opportunity to transform the field of educator preparation in the years ahead?
What excites me the most is the ability to truly make a difference that will positively impact our children, youth, and families. I have been reading a book by Matt Tenney and Tim Gard titled, “The Mindfulness Edge: Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence without Adding to Your Schedule.” In the book, the authors share a quote by Shunryu Suzuki that reads: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” For me, this quote embodies the opportunities we have if we open our minds to possibilities. Once imagined, we can find a way to bring our ideas to fruition; we just need to be brave enough and diligent enough to see them through.

What is one surprising thing that everyone should know about the program you lead?
The thing that I am proudest of is the strong belief in collaboration and partnership that permeates our college. We are titled the College of Education and P-16 Integration. The fact that P-16 is in our name is intentional, and we strive to engage our schools and community (within and beyond the university) in all we do. Education is a complex endeavor; we value the funds of knowledge our stakeholders provide as they work with us to ensure we are educating teachers, leaders, and counselors who make a difference.

Patricia Alvarez McHatton

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