David VitaleState: Wisconsin
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Professional Roles/AreasActive Professional Roles/Areas:
Curriculum and Instruction
Mentoring and Teacher Support
Assessment and Testing
Vision and LeadershipCore beliefs that I bring to my professional practice:
I believe that educators must serve, support, and promote the success of others. It's also important that each educator approaches his or her work as a career minded practitioner. All quality in practice is derived from a commitment to continuously learn and reflect as a career unfolds. To me, career minded practitioners are those who invest in themselves professionally; who have high expectations of themselves; challenge themselves to move beyond what is routine and comfortable, and understand that their work is defined by service to others, whether students, colleagues, or community members. This outlook can be difficult in an industry filled with routines and acute challenges that make looking beyond the end of the day difficult to do. But I don't believe that there is an outstanding educator anywhere whose reputation was built on something other than a commitment to instructional quality first and foremost.
I also believe that educators must work to assist one another and help make the work setting a quality place to be not only for themselves, but also for their colleagues and, of course, students. With this comes the belief that it is our role as eduators to inspire those around us, whether through pride in one's work, discussions with colleagues, being reliable and trustworthy, or through our own educational or professional pursuits. Related to this is that people in the organization treat one another with dignity and decency.
Example(s) of daily work that reflect one or more of my core beliefs:
As a district level leader, I look to create and support opportunities that empower others to make decisions that facilitate their work. I believe that people are difference makers and that facilities, methods, curriculum, and programs work because effective people are in place to make them work. "You do a good job at empowering teachers" was a comment I recently received from a teacher in the district. Hearing that was very encouraging.
I believe my primary service to the district is manifest in opportunities I support for others to take ownership of circumstances that directly influence their practice. For example, as overseer of my district's professional development budget, I distribute dollars to each teacher in the district, nearly 300, and outlined guidelines for their use. This is an endorsement of each teacher, many of whom appreciate the trust and expectation that they are responsible for their own professional learning. Not everyone will take advantage of this opportunity, but that's not necessarily the intent. The intent is that those with a vision and voice for their professional practice are afforded new opportunities to use resources to serve their students. These are the educators who thrive with support from a person in my position.
The basis for my beliefs comes from the simple notion that courageous, forward thinking, and capable people make organizations great and that I should lead with their development and practice in mind. My role is to support, inspire, remove barriers, and create opportunities for teachers. Because schools are complex systems of human interaction, authentic organizational change or improvement seldom occurs from the top down, but can be realized by promoting a culture of change where people meet and work.
Part(s) of any work I've ever done, including current work, that I've enjoyed doing and have done well:
For many summers during my youth I worked on a lake at a small business that rented boats to members of the public. I had the opportunity to give sailing lessons, sell concessions, perform manual labor like building piers, and interact with lots of people. I really enjoyed the interaction and learned a lot at a fairly young age about interpersonal skills, trust, and responsibility.
In more recent years, I still enjoy interacting with people. I've always felt that leadership is really about relationships. If someone can forge understanding, if not trusting or even friendly relations with people (not necessarily friendships), then he or she will possess the foundation of an effective leader.
I've taken on the role of mentor to a teacher (or someone in my professional area) who is new to the profession. My main goal(s) in working with this person and a rationale for each would include:
Two areas I would focus on initially include:
- Classroom communication and management
- Instructional planning and preparation
I mention classroom management because an orderly classroom environment is a necessary condition for learning. I don't believe teachers should be so rigid in their procedures as to be inflexible, but some strategies for maintaining a quality learning environment for a new teacher tend to be high on the list of practical information to have, so I would make, at the very least, a discussion about this a priority.
Instructional planning would be another goal because good teaching requires assessable instructional goals, knowledge of content, pedagogy, and resources, and the ability to define why a particular lesson is important for students to experience. These are not always easy to keep track of for experienced teachers, let alone new ones. The goal of a mentor program should be to develop teachers who are excellent educators who eventually become more autonomous after given some support from mentors.
I demonstrate or have demonstrated personal professional accountability when I …
Moving beyond my comfort zone to try new things and acknowledge the areas that need improvement is a sign of personal accountability.
Students in my school or classroom must be prepared to …
I think students must be prepared to communicate well with a variety of communication media, think critically, and solve problems. Many of our classrooms support problem and project based learning to this end.
Students who work well with others and have the skills to think critically about a challenging problem will be prepared to handle the challenges of the future. We're trying to accomplish this in our classrooms by essentially providing students with the opportunity to engage in the types of problems that real practitioners engage in. So, when designing instruction, a critical factor is what mathematicians, scientists, sociologists, engineers, etc. do in their work that can be replicated in our classrooms.
My greatest responsibility to students is …
As a district level administrator, my greatest responsibility to students is to assist in the professional growth and practice of the staff. I try to accomplish this by creating as many job embedded professional growth activities as possible into a teacher's daily work so that they have authentic ways to measure whether an intervention is having a practical effect on their students.
My greatest responsibility to colleagues is …
My greatest responsibility to colleagues is to be mindful of my own professional responsibilities, which include being prepared and informed about best practices and new and developing ideas in education. I also believe that I have a responsibility to be a resource, trustworthy guide, and source of information for colleagues. Related to this is my responsibility to help inspire fellow educators to be as good as they can by listening, being responsive and respectful; and promoting their autonomy through the distribution of ideas, information, resources, and materials.
My greatest responsibility to myself and my profession is …
My greatest responsibility to myself is to keep invigorated and to keep learning. A great deal of this comes from self-reflection. I find it essential to my professional success to continuously examine what I do and why I do it and to not be afraid to take on new challenges.
My hopes for education in the next 3-5 years include:
A foremost hope is that the field continues to produce educators who are willing and able to plan for student centered classrooms that adopt a balance of problem, project, and inquiry based learning opportunities with traditional pedagogy. An appropriate blend of instructional approaches creates experiences that have a lasting impression on student learning. Bob Logan, friend and colleague, and I co-developed units for upper elementary grades using what we called a Progressive Prompts framework. The framework helps teachers contemplate the steps for setting up problems and projects. It is also helpful to students in prompting them to critically think about content, knowledge, and their communication medium for sharing what they've learned with an audience. With the framework of prompts, direct instruction is combined with discovery learning to facilitate student learning. This effort is supported by laptops at a 1:1 ratio with students. I'm fortunate to be part of the overall vision and planning for this exciting undertaking with our 5th grade students that's now expanded to 6th and 7th grades.
Another hope I have is to witness a greater diffusion of leadership in schools. Leadership is not reserved for those in the administrative ranks only, but is also for those who are part of a school with the expectation that members are responsible for their own professional learning and practice. Teachers and staff in these buildings are entrusted with the responsibility to follow a lead that is based on careful thought, purposeful action, and the courage to change a course of action if outcomes don't appear favorable. I occasionally mention to colleagues that in matters related to planning, preparation, and instruction it is more important for an educator to do what it is he or she says they will do as opposed to what it is someone else says the educator will do. This indicates to me that a person is self-motivated. The latter scenario implies that someone else is doing the thinking for the educator; a circumstance that I could not support out of fairness to our best educators.
One more thing before you go …
Fun and fortune for me comes from spending time with my daughters, reading, and physical fitness. I also enjoy following University of Wisconsin athletics (Go Bucky!). I remember a colleague from early in my career who believed that if you didn't have your health or your family, not much else mattered, including work. I agreed then and still do.