A Wild and Wonderful Week

what a weekBy Bill Henk – Life for all the deans I know amounts to a whirlwind.  We’re on a treadmill that never seems to stop.  It’s the old 24/7/365 scenario.

We persist with the work, because it’s important and we care about it, not because we’re concerned about keeping our jobs.  Honestly, that’s the least of our concerns.  Some days stepping out of the role seems like it would be a huge relief.

But I’m not looking for sympathy.  Save the ‘whine and cheese’ and hold off on the violin playing in the background.  On the contrary, a fair amount of the work we deans do in the course of a week is interesting and enormously gratifying.  Admittedly some of it is awful and exasperating, too, but the scale almost always tips in favor of the positive.

This post centers on a particularly good week.

Life in the Fast Lane

So you know, I’ve often thought about doing a post that captures “a week in the life of an education dean,” but never quite seem to get around to it.  Today’s effort comes close.

Last year I engaged in a study with three other education deans where we tracked what we each did over the course of two pre-selected weeks during the academic year.  Then we categorized our work, aggregated our data, and analyzed it.  The short story is that even though we lived this work firsthand, we were surprised at its sheer volume and how much of it centered on interpersonal relationships.

The course of this past week has followed that same pattern, a healthy amount of work much of it involving working with people.  More specifically, I’ve had some extraordinary interactions with professional colleagues and benefited from some wonderful special events and developments that I’ll share briefly here.

This past weekend I worked with two education deans, Dr. Mary Diez from Alverno College and Dr. Freda Russell from Cardinal Stritch University.  We collaborated on an uninvited op-ed piece for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  The experience became an important lesson for me about taking the high road, and the result was a published piece of work, one with which I’m extremely proud to be associated.  Thanks to my fellow deans, it’s a thoughtful call for unity around education in Milwaukee that you may want to read by clicking here.


On Tuesday I got to meet and spend time with Peter McWalters, the keynote speaker for our Tommy G. Thompson Lecture.  I listened to him three times – once with our students, then with our faculty and staff, and lastly, at his public address.  Peter spoke about the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and educational reform, and in various high-level leadership roles as a district superintendent, state commissioner of education, and chief of state superintendents, he’s been a pioneer in several important developments besides the Common Core such as  the INTASC standards and the new assessment for aspiring teachers known as the edTPA.

The bottom line is that Peter’s educational knowledge base was vast and his ideas were incredibly insightful and eye-opening for me.  He’s given me and everyone else fortunate enough to hear his message lots to think about as far as how the Common Core could and should articulate in practice, particularly with deep reflection and collaboration, and over time – not subjected to our society’s relentless pursuit of accountability.   It was priceless advice, plus he was absolutely delightful.

The next day I had the opportunity to participate in an outstanding summit on charter schools hosted by the Marquette University Law School.  The College of Education was generously invited to co-sponsor the event.  I jumped at the chance, because the public policy gatherings in Eckstein Hall have developed a well-earned reputation for excellence thanks to the work of Dean Joseph Kearney, and two Law School Fellows, Alan Borsuk and Mike Gousha – all consummate professionals.

The short version is that the event include the sharing of results from an illuminating poll that Professor Charles Franklin had taken on Wisconsin residents’ beliefs about charter schools, a terrific presentation by Dr. Macke Raymond, the architect of the seminal CREDO (Center for Research on Educational Outcomes) studies on charter schools, an interview with reporter Sarah Carr on her highly regarded recent book that followed three characters situated in charter schools in New Orleans, and a panel discussion I introduced that included local educational experts on charter schools including Ronn Johnson, Bob Kattman, Bob Peterson, and Carrie Bonk, all of whom did a stellar job.

Movin’ On Up

This week also provided me with the opportunity to share the good news that the College of Education had moved up in the national rankings of US News and World Report.   It was extremely gratifying to be designated at #65 in graduate education, a move of six slots from #71 last year and a noteworthy jump of 14 slots from #79 in the previous rankings.

As dean I welcome these ratings, which are remarkable given the size of our College, the fact that we do not actively ‘chase’ these accolades in any way, and becasue our real focus is on excellence in teaching, applied scholarship, and local outreach – none of which are measured in the analyses.   Most importantly, these results represent a huge tribute to the caliber of our faculty and staff and their epic work ethic.  I’m lucky, make that blessed, to work with such great people.

The Most Fun of All

And finally, yesterday I spent the afternoon calling recipients of the awards we will bestow at our annual Mission Recognition Evening on April 23rd.   It’s an opportunity for us to say thanks to the many individuals within and outside our College of Education who help us achieve our social justice mission.  We honor students, faculty, cooperating teachers, schools, human service agencies, and champions of education within the community.  Let me just say that notifying these deserving contributors to our work is the most fun I have all year!

At first they wonder why they’re being called by the dean.  So they’re quickly relieved to hear that I have good news to share rather than ‘being called to the principal’s office.’  More importantly, though, I wish you could all experience the joy I feel in telling them of their recognitions, because I feel their joy right back through the telephone.

Well, I’ve got more of these satisfying calls to make this afternoon and plenty of other stuff to do the rest of the week, so I’d better get back on the treadmill.

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