Where do you keep the creamer?: My first day on the job at Deans for Impact

Normally, a first day on the job is fairly standard: a lot of paperwork, toe-tapping, and questions about where to find the coffee. My first day as the communications associate for Deans for Impact was a lot less standard but far more exciting as it was also the first day of the Deans for Impact Convening, a bi-annual gathering of member deans and special guests to talk all things educator preparation. As I nursed a whiskey at the hotel bar at the end of that first day, one thought stuck out: how unafraid DFI’s member deans are. Unafraid of looking critically at their programs in order to improve them. Unafraid of finding new and better ways to educate teachers. Unafraid of change.

At the same time, DFI’s member deans recognize that not all change is within their locus of control. Thus, they continue to look for levers they can pull to effect change within their programs. Temple’s Greg Anderson, for example, told me about a “punch-card” system he is piloting with his faculty to incentivize all the aspects of a professorship: faculty members get “punches” for things such as teaching lower-level undergraduate classes and committee work (i.e., not just for publishing and research); these punches are in process of being incorporated into annual faculty evaluations and the faculty load policy.

Many deans have opened their budgets to their faculty, in order to increase transparency and develop a sense of shared ownership and accountability for the Colleges’ futures. Carole Basile, outgoing dean at the University of Missouri St. Louis and soon-to-be dean at Arizona State University, employed a color-coding system for her budget that helped her faculty understand what different streams of money could (and could not) be used for: “red” money, for example, is one-time, gift and grant funding, typically restricted. Elham Kazemi, a professor at the University of Washington and guest speaker at the convening, told of how her dean supported her in efforts to introduce new ways of teaching future educators, in part by intentionally tearing down the wall between tenured and clinical faculty.

The convening was an opportunity for DFI’s member deans to share insights with one another about the strategies they’ve tried and the lessons learned – and for deans to identify new things to take home and try.

As someone who previously worked at the school-district level, I was also struck to hear that most deans lacked access to any sort of systematic data on the performance of graduates. Seemingly simple questions were unable to be answered. How long do graduates stay in the classroom? What are they teaching? How are their students doing? As we reported in From Chaos to Coherence, there are a number of reasons for a lack of consistent data including information silos that don’t talk to each other, laws and regulations that limit data sharing, and non-standardized ways of reporting the data itself.

And so, several deans expressed that they simply lacked the data to improve their own education preparation programs in structured, empirical ways. imagine, one dean said, that you are a company that sells watches. you want to make an even better watch, better tailored to what the customer wants, better suited for today’s watch market. but instead of being able to look at customer reviews, market research data, and sales and demographic data, all you have is a blank sheet of paper. Deans want to improve, but they need the tools to do so. It’s one of the reasons I am excited to join Deans for Impact–they continue to seek and find ways to eliminate these barriers.

There’s a lot to learn on the first day of work. Where is my desk? What’s the best place to eat lunch? Where do they keep the creamer? But on my first day at Deans for Impact, I learned far more. I learned there are a collection of people who care deeply about advancing the field of educator preparation, who are willing to risk ego and tradition to try new and innovative approaches. They are willing to wrestle with tough issues facing the education landscape and listen to various, sometimes conflicting, stakeholders. Perhaps most importantly, they care deeply about this work and the people it touches: the teacher-candidates, the students, the teachers, the teachers’ coaches, the faculty at their college. I may not know where to find the creamer, but I certainly know where to find the inspiration.


David Kallison

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