Ann Taylor reflects on time as interim dean of UMSL College of Education
The University of Missouri–St. Louis will soon begin a nationwide search for a permanent dean for its College of Education. Since August 2016, Interim Dean Ann Taylor has been leading the college through a time of transition, change and great progress, and she will continue to do so throughout the search process.
Taylor first came to UMSL four years ago to serve as associate dean of the College of Education. Originally from the United Kingdom, where she taught geography to sixth through 12th grade and community college students, she eventually transitioned to teacher education in the United States, amassing more than 20 years of experience.
A former faculty member at both Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Taylor cites a special interest in mathematics education, classroom instruction and pedagogy among her many research pursuits.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in geography from Nottingham University, a master’s in education from the University of Sheffield, a post-graduate certificate in education from West Midlands College of Higher Education and a PhD from Washington University in St. Louis.
UMSL Daily recently caught up with Taylor to discuss her time as interim as well as the many points of pride the college aims to carry forward into its future.
Would you say that you’ve brought a specific approach or philosophy to your role as interim dean?
First, I look to the landscape. I take a spatial view of the trends and issues locally, regionally and nationally. I also look through time. What has happened in the past and what needs to happen to move into the future? Finally, I look around at the people and relationships in place – the qualities, expertise and interests of the people – because that is the heart of the organization. From that, a leader has to distill the key issues and approaches the organization needs.
Using such an approach told me that our COE in 2016-17 would be emerging from a period of great change and strong development. We had excellent programs and we could not stand still. As a result, I have focused on actively providing strong support for many of the initiatives already underway.
Speaking of those initiatives, is there anything specific that has come to fruition during your tenure that you’re especially proud of?
When my tenure began, we were just launching our graduate Teach in 12 program to provide certification for career changers. We were also extending the excellent teacher prep programs we had already built, which included requirements for students to volunteer in community agencies and then spend a year teaching in one of our 30 Studio Schools.
It has been wonderful to see our students thrive and delight in their decision to become teachers and watch the programs grow from strength to strength.
Our efforts were capped off for me when the state Annual Performance Report came out with 13 of our teacher prep programs ranking in the top tier in the state.
What has been the best part of leading the College of Education at UMSL?
Working alongside such a smart, capable group of staff and faculty has been wonderful. The faculty in the college are what makes this such a great place to work and study. I find them creative, open, scholarly, hardworking, and above all, deeply committed to our mission of preparing education professionals for transformative roles in their communities and careers. They live that mission, all of them, and frankly that is inspiring.
What has your experience of UMSL students been like?
I have particularly loved meeting our students and alumni. I get to interact with them in so many different ways.
Earlier in the year, I attended a gala dinner for a St. Louis organization. I was not there in my official capacity as interim dean, but two people at my table happened to have degrees from the COE! They spoke so highly of the faculty and how studying with such top scholars had influenced their own daily classroom practice.
I also recently spoke with four remarkable women who were among the very first UMSL graduating class 50 years ago. Each had an education degree. They had such wonderful tales to tell about how their UMSL education had poised them for fascinating lives as teachers. I feel privileged to be part of this work and hear these moving stories.
Are there any general misconceptions you run into about what it means to be the leader of an entire college or about the college in general?
Not surprisingly most people come to know the college through a particular window on its activities. Perhaps their teacher graduated from one of our top-tier preparation programs, or they have a cousin who works in a local agency or park because they completed our newly reimagined Bachelor of Educational Studies degree.
Whatever their vantage point, they rarely appreciate the breadth of our vision and activities.
Frankly, as educators, we have not been very good at marketing and telling our story. This is something I am focusing more on as interim dean – sharing our strengths for all to see.
What are some of those strengths which people might not be aware of?
Just the other day someone was very surprised to realize we have high-quality specialist preparation programs for K-12 principals and superintendents.
We are also nationally known for preparing expert school psychologists, school counselors and licensed clinical mental health professionals. I wonder if people know we have a clinic and social advocacy center in the building providing mental health counseling to our community. An outstanding child development center is on our premises and available to all. We also host remarkable, creative programming and events in our ED Collabitat.
Our partners extend beyond schools to local corporations, like MasterCard, Boeing, Monsanto and Maritz and to leadership groups like Civic Progress. These businesses take a strong interest in the quality education and innovative ideas we provide and recognize our unique ability to strengthen the region as a college of education within a public research institution. We are moving into an era where we could not do what we do without their outstanding support.
As you continue to lead the college through this time of transition and the search for a permanent dean, what would you say is your greatest strength?
I think my strength is that I am a connector of ideas. I see possibilities for how things could fit together, grow into something new and become stronger as a result. I believe I have the responsibility to understand the interests of all faculty and harness those interests towards a transformed, more inclusive and just society.
Our work covers a lot of territory across the educational professions, and it takes the experience and insights of all to create the impact we need. I strive to be the leader for the time and place I live in and to lead towards the future that the faculty and staff of the College of Education desire.
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