Dean, University of North Texas at Dallas
John W. Gasko currently serves as Dean and Professor at the School of Education at the University of North Texas at Dallas, and founder of the Emerging Teacher Institute, which is committed to transforming teacher and school leader preparation through competency-based education combined with innovative clinical and social emotional learning. Prior to serving in this role, he served as the Chief Executive Officer of UChicago Impact, an innovative education-based technology and school improvement company, and was Managing Director of the Urban Education Institute (UEI) at the University of Chicago. UChicago Impact partners with schools, school systems, charter management organizations, and states to implement high-quality diagnostic tools and training in order to bring rigorous evidence to bear on educational practice and inform and drive school improvement. In Fall of 2015, UChicago Impact, under Dr. Gasko’s leadership, received the prestigious Innovation Fund Award from the University of Chicago based on pioneering work in social and emotional learning. Previous to Chicago, Gasko served as the Associate Director of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston’s Children’s Learning Institute (CLI).
In my experience, deans of education have many opportunities to participate in meetings and conferences, but fewer opportunities to join highly engaged networks of deans who are asking and answering the BIG question: Is our collective work leading to better preparation and better outcomes for schools, educators, and kids? There is too much of a compliance and regulatory mindset out there and not enough relentless focus on whether we are achieving our desired impact. Deans for Impact represented an opportunity to join colleagues who have great courage, are vulnerable enough to admit that we have a lot to figure out, and are excited to work together on doing just that.
In my experience, colleges of education have largely focused their attention on intellectual coursework and clinical experiences, which has overshadowed the need to pay equal attention to the personal, social, and emotional well-being of teacher candidates. When I was working in Chicago, I was shocked by the alarming stress levels and chronic burnout conditions facing teachers and began asking deep questions about the role that colleges of education could play in providing pre-service teachers with SEL and well-being competencies that would create a stronger foundation upon which to enter the field and remain in the profession for the long-term, rather than leaving or dropping out. There has been much attention over the years about the epidemic problem of student drop-out in PK-12 settings, but less of a focus on the growing epidemic of “teacher drop outs.”
I began my career as an engineering officer on merchant ships and crossed many oceans, many times. I witnessed great inequality and suffering across the globe and began to read about how best to do something about it. I thought that teachers have the greatest shot at changing people and thereby changing the conditions that create suffering in the first place. So, I decided to get off a ship, pursue a teaching degree, and start a career as a high school teacher and debate coach in one of the poorest school districts in Texas, Edgewood ISD.