Opening the books

As a dean of a college of education, how do you create a culture that embraces nimbleness and flexibility?

David Chard, the first permanent dean of the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University, had an easier time answering this question than some education deans might. Simmons was established in 2005, and over the past nine years, Chard has been able to hire almost all of the school’s faculty according to his personal mantra: “Hire good people who like to think big.” The school’s rapid growth – it’s expanded from six tenure-line faculty in 2007 to 38 today – has required a certain amount of flexibility, as in Chard’s words, he and his faculty have “bolted stuff on every year.”

But Chard wanted to do even more to build shared ownership for the success of the program and to create a culture open to programmatic change.

So, early in his tenure, Chard took the unusual step of opening the school’s books, allowing faculty and staff to see for themselves who brought in revenue – and who spent it. It was a strategy aimed at getting faculty to ask: How can I contribute?

The stark reality of the numbers – that the popular Applied Physiology and Sports Management program brought in significant revenue, while Education Leadership and Teaching and Learning were perennially underwater – hit home with faculty. People realized, according to Chard, that if they wanted to be able to offer programs they cared about, they needed also to create the market for those programs: they needed to offer programs in which students wanted to enroll.

Paige Ware, Simmons’ director of teacher education, agreed with Chard. There are a lot of pragmatists in her department, she said, who understood the realities of the budget – and realized that to survive, they needed to abandon the conventional in favor of the entrepreneurial.

This entrepreneurial spirit is stamped all over Simmons. In the last several years, the school has launched at least six new programs, including an Ed.D. in higher education, a (small) residency program, and a principal preparation program. With the support of his faculty, Chard has appointed clinical faculty as department chairs, an unconventional approach that has helped the school bridge the gap between research and practice.

Ware and her department have also spent a lot of time thinking about how the Simmons experience can be both relevant and differentiated. For one thing, they’re working aggressively with local districts on professional development as a way to spread brand awareness. In another example, Simmons responded to a Dallas Independent School District initiative to offer physics to eighth graders by partnering with the university’s Physics department to offer a Master Physics Teacher certificate.

“If you have a good idea, and someone will pay for it, go for it,” said Chard of his message to faculty.

Chard’s openness with the school’s budget is but one factor contributing to the school’s nimble culture – but it’s an important one. That level of transparency into the school’s finances helped create among faculty a sense of shared accountability and ownership for the school’s future. While the school now needs (and wants) to turn its considerable entrepreneurial energy from launching programs to measuring the impact of those programs, there’s no doubt that the culture created over the past decade will embrace and support the effort.

“No one ever says, ‘I don’t think we can do that,’” said Chard. “It’s ‘How can we do that?’”

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series about the educator-preparation programs led by Deans for Impact members. The posts reflect insights from Deans for Impact Learning Tours, multi-day visits by staff and member deans to programs led by our members. These visits are opportunities for transparent discussion about the triumphs and the challenges involved in implementing the guiding principles of Deans for Impact.

Charis Anderson

Senior Director of Communications

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