Message From the Dean - January 2013

Professional New Year's Resolution: Teaching, Scholarship, and Service

Happy New Year to my wonderful colleagues.  I hope that you had a restful and rejuvenating break and now have returned to work with renewed vigor and rigor.  Vigor because we need the industry and energy of each of you to help us reach our premier aspirations and rigor because we want to continuously challenge ourselves and our students.  Our second strategic goal is based on rigor.  We want to focus on rigorous and relevant teaching, scholarship, and service.  As you set your professional resolutions, I hope each of you reflect on your teaching, scholarship, and service.

Teaching: The first professional resolution is to focus on building your teaching knowledge bases and skill sets.  The critics often say that our professional preparation practices are antiquated; therefore, we are not relevant, authentic,  or current with our content knowledge or pedagogical delivery.  We focus more on theory as opposed to practice and our candidates are unprepared for their professions.  There is a cry for residential models that include year-long student teaching, entry and exit GPA requirements and examinations, and ratings of programs as ineffective, effective, or highly effective. We are aggressively stating our concerns about these harsh critiques and compliance practices, but we must also reflect on what we can do better or differently.  I remember when I was an associate professor teaching reading around a balance literacy approach, I felt like a charlatan because I was professing what I had not practiced.  I then decided to request a sabbatical to teach in the public schools.  I taught for two years as an early childhood literacy specialist in kindergarten, first, and second grades. This was the best experience of my life and afterwards my teaching and scholarship became more robust.  I am not asking everyone to take this route, but I do want you to think about where are the knowledge and skill gaps in your teaching.  As you honestly identify these gaps, discuss with your head how you can get better.  For example, are you truly incorporating components of cultural competency in your courses; are you embedding the Common Core into your content delivery; are you modeling effective practices that showcases the Common Core; are you keeping up with the professional standards and the current academic language of your discipline; and are you using technology appropriately to enhance the effectiveness of your teaching and modeling appropriate technology-enriched practices for your students? These are just a few examples of  how you can enrich your teaching.  The professional resolution is that you reflect on your teaching and create an opportunity to perfect your craft.

Scholarship: Another resolution is to become an active scholar.  As an active scholar, I hope you have a manuscript that you are working on, another one that you have submitted, and another awaiting publication.  This rigorous research agenda calls for you to have something in progress, under review, and in press.  For some this may be a bit too active especially with an active teaching and service agenda.  If what I stated was the pinnacle, what would be middle ground? Maybe the middle ground would be as you await the response on one submission, then work on something else.  As I spoke with the assistant and associate professors prior to the break, I found that many of them wanted to collaborate with others on co-authorship and collaborative research. I applaud this zeal and will work to incentivize collaborative research teams that lead to scholarly productivity.  The professional resolution is that you review your scholarship agenda, discuss with your head, and be intentional about completing a work in progress and submitting it for review.

Service: The final professional resolution is to strengthen your connectivity with the community through rich and relevant service. Our fifth strategic goal is community service and outreach.  You want to engage your community partners in all aspects of your academic work.  You want to focus on intentional, collaborative partnerships that will assist you in synergizing your teaching, scholarship, and service.  I know that many of you must complete your 60 hours of teaching or co-teaching in PK-12 classrooms in order to comply to the requirements to maintain our state program approval.  Do not view this as a last minute chore, but as a connective part of your service agenda.  Collaborate with the teacher around a teaching practice and co-teach a lesson that is tailored to your expertise and the teacher's pedagogical strengths.  Document this process and write a descriptive article about the effectiveness of the impact.  There are many journals that are hungry for this scholarship of application approach.  An article I wrote that I am most proud of is the one I wrote for the Language Arts journal that captured how I worked with a middle school language arts teacher to teach Huckleberry Finn to a multi-racial classroom of suburban students.  The focus of the teaching was the deconstruction of the n-word which is pervasive in the text.  We co-planned, co-researched, and co-taught the content.  I highly encourage activities like this one or others engaging community service and outreach opportunities.  The professional resolution is that you select a community partner, engage in dialog about reciprocal service, and implement a community-based service project.  If this project aligns with your teaching and scholarship, then this would truly be a worthwhile service.

As reflective practitioners, we must be hyper-vigilant about enhancing our knowledge, skills, and dispositions.  We are the keepers of our professional growth. We must self-critic our practices.  We must conduct self-audits of our syllabi to determine relevancy, authenticity, and currency.  I resolve that "we are the ones we have been waiting for."


Dr. Dwight C. Watson

Dean, College of Education