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2017: Another Year in the Books!

Today is the last day of 2017, and I decided it might be good to take some time to reflect on what I’ve encountered professionally this year. Warning: it may not make gripping reading, as it’s mostly my own navel-gazing, but perhaps it will inspire you to do some reflecting on your own professional year.

New Position: Moving Full-Time to the Dark Side

On March 1, 2017, I was named Dean of the School of Professional Development (SPD) at Stony Brook University. (It’s important here that I remind readers that everything I say on this blog is my own and does not represent Stony Brook University.) Until then, I was primarily a teacher with some administrative responsibility. I still teach one class per year (by choice), so I’m not completely out of the light, I’m happy to say. This has been a challenging position, but I’ve learned a lot of important things. Here are some of the big things:

  • The ability to say yes and to support colleagues on projects and in their work can be every bit as affirming as working with students.
  • Middle managers (people who report to a dean, for example) are some of the most important members of an effective school. Teachers can control a classroom. An administrator cannot control a school.
  • Budgeting is an amazingly complicated task. The numbers of accounts, payables, receivables, reports, checking for mistakes, is dizzying.
  • Building new degree and certificate programs is a lot of fun. Finding the right partners is essential.
  • Regular communication with individuals and the full staff is very important to keep things running smoothly.
  • Some people will not do more than they absolutely must, but many more people will do more if they feel appreciated and partake in work they find important and enjoyable.
  • Almost everyone is grateful if you just take a few minutes to hear them out and respond respectfully. Even if you disagree, polite, respectful, open communication is a salve. Many people who complain really just have a reason to want to be heard.
  • There is a tremendous amount to learn. Read books, talk to people (take them out to coffee and ask questions), read reports, find mentors and listen to them. There is always much more to learn. That’s exciting.
  • “I’m sorry” are extremely important words to use when appropriate. It’s ok to be wrong or to make a mistake. It’s not ok not to acknowledge it.
  • Expressing appreciation when it’s deserved is important. Let people know that the good they do is valued.
  • Do what you say you’ll do. Get stuff done.

Learning about New Fields

The school I’m working in is a mix of academic professional programs (human resources, ed tech, etc), teacher education programs, and noncredit professional development programs. The world of professional development is fairly new to me. I’ve learned a lot about it from the UPCEA organization, new colleagues across the SUNY system, and colleagues in SPD.

I’ve also gotten very involved in micro-credentials, especially digital badges, which I’ve presented on at several conferences, symposia, webinars, and colleges. SPD is on the forefront of this new learning technology, and it’s a lot of fun. Here’s more information about our program.

Finally, I took 2.5 courses on Coursera in accounting, an area in which I have very little background. The first two courses were very helpful. The third, is far less interesting, and I’ve struggled to get through it. I keep postponing my deadlines. What I’ve learned has greatly enhanced my ability to manage a budget, especially in a fiscally challenging time. “Fiscally challenging” is a euphemism. 🙁  I’ve also taking a significant number of trainings supervising, communication style, diversity awareness, and dealing with difficult people. It’s all been really interesting and helpful. I’ve learned a ton, even in areas I thought I knew a lot about already.


A few years ago, my publication rate increased fairly dramatically. It seems that several doors all opened at once. In 2016, Leila Christenbury and I co-authored the fourth edition of her popular book for new English teachers, Making the Journey. Beginning in 2017, Leila and I contracted with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) for a new, 5-book series for veteran English teachers called Continuing the Journey. The first volume on teaching literary and informational texts came out last November. The next volume, on teaching writing & language will be out in November 2018. I’ve also published more book reviews in English Journal and I collaborated with some colleagues on an article showing that connecting teacher evaluations with test scores is a bad idea (due out this spring).

Service to the Profession

I really like the service work I do for my job. In fact, over the course of my academic career I’ve been told many times that I do “too much service,” which could make it seem like I’m not invested enough in publishing and could damage my reputation. That damage may have occurred, but I don’t worry about it.

In my new role, I am a member of two SUNY Deans’ groups: Deans of Education and Deans of Continuing and Online Education. I’ve been involved with both groups of excellent colleagues. We even hosted the SUNY Deans of Ed at Stony Brook this year, thanks to a great deal of planning work from my SPD colleagues. These groups allow me to communicate with colleagues who share many of the same challenges. We also speakwith one voice–when we can–to influence SUNY and New York State Education policy. I did some important advocacy work with the SUNY faculty/staff union (UUP), especially regarding teacher education policy, including the now-required edTPA of which I am not a fan to put it mildly. (Linda Darling-Hammond still has me blocked on Twitter.) And, we continue to fight against a very dangerous new policy that allows some charter schools in NY to train their own teachers to extremely low standards and consider them “certified.” See this letter from the SUNY Deans of Education for more on that. (The policy was since approved, unfortunately.)

I’ve been heavily involved in the Conference on English Education, which is NCTE’s group for teacher educators. I’ve presented and held sessions at several conferences. I’ve been on an active group in the SUNY system on micro-credentials. And, I’ve completed a handful of book/article manuscript reviews, tenure reviews, and letters of recommendation. The latter aren’t really fun, but they are important.

Missed Opportunities: What Will 2018 Bring?

The number one regret I have about 2017 is that I barely blogged. I was so wrapped up in new projects, new jobs, and more, that I didn’t blog about teaching and teacher education much. I am going to change that in 2018. Not all blogs have to be brilliant (this one certainly isn’t), and they don’t need to be long. In fact, 800-1200 words is probably optimal.

I didn’t teach last semester, but I will be teaching in Spring 2018. I’m teaching a new course called “Effective Professional Thinking,” part of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at Stony Brook.  I’ll be teaching the course online, which I’m looking forward to. And, I’ll be co-teaching with a colleague I like very much. I asked him to co-teach because I am actually very worried about having enough time to do the class justice.

I’m pretty concerned that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew for 2018. Luckily, I like what I do, so I don’t mind being busy. I may have to learn more about time management, which of course, I’ll have to make time for. Honestly, I’m feeling a bit, well, YIKES!

Goodbye 2017

For many reasons I need not go into, 2017 has been a rough year for many of us. Those of us who are left-oriented politically, who are invested in freedom and social justice, who have taught reason, logic, and literacy, those who are concerns about unfair income inequity, those who have devoted their lives to public education all have reason to wallow in misery. In many ways, I’m not sorry to see 2017 go.

That said, I am looking forward to 2018. There’s a great deal of work to do, and so much more out there to learn. I am lucky that I have work that I love, and I can recommit myself to it. I have so many more people and things to be grateful for. I wake up everyday knowing I have something valuable to do.

Happy New Year to all! 

1 thought on “2017: Another Year in the Books!”

  1. Todd Finley – United States – Edutopia blogger and associate professor.


    I really appreciate getting the opportunity to learn more about what you are engaged in and how you embrace being a learner (and not pretending to know everything). I look forward to following your continued adventures! -Todd

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