Consensus Building: Dynak's Key to Success
When Janet Dynak moved from Western Michigan University where she had been a faculty member for seven years, she never expected to become Westminster’s Dean of the School of Education within a year. Eight years later she is moving back to teaching full time—the source of her inspiration. Although Dynak was a teaching dean, she is stepping down because she feels that the demands of a growing school require a dean with fewer teaching responsibilities, and she doesn’t want to leave her first love.
Dynak began her teaching career in elementary and secondary school settings working with special needs students. Intrigued by literacy, she completed a master’s degree, at which point she moved out of the classroom to specialize in curriculum and instructional design. She stayed in general education for a long time, including an eight-year stint teaching in Germany. During her time there, she was encouraged to do doctoral work, which she completed in 1990. Dynak then found that she enjoyed teaching in the college atmosphere and soon joined the faculty of Western Michigan University.
When she joined Westminster’s School of Education, the program was well-respected and produced highly sought-after graduates. Dynak feels that she and her team were fortunate to be able to leverage the education program’s strong history. One of the first projects she worked on with a small group of faculty was the development of a special education program. It was during her work on this project that she “began to see the possibilities in our school, and how to build on the strengths that it had.”
Dynak is pleased with the strengths that developed. “We worked very collaboratively with our partnership school district. We developed a model that brought in classroom teachers to not only work with our students, but to interact with us.We wanted to become more closely aligned with the classroom teacher than the other teacher education programs in the area. When we achieved that goal, we asked them to help us with program development. Our relationships with teachers grew to the point that we now have partnerships with five different school districts.”
Another element that helped the school collaborate with the public schools was the hiring of a field placement director. The position formalized and strengthened the partnerships with the school systems. The field placement director helps with student teaching placements and brings mentors in to help the School of Education. Dynak explains, “Classroom teachers come to Westminster, we provide them with mentoring skills and work collaboratively with them. Our student teachers cover their classrooms, and the mentors help us with program planning. It has made a tremendous difference on both sides—both at Westminster and in the K-12 partner schools.We all feel that the process has been well worth the effort that it took to develop.”
An unplanned benefit of the mentoring program has been a dramatic increase in Westminster’s graduate student numbers as the mentor teachers see the opportunities and benefits of continuing their own education. Also, many mentors who have been through the graduate education program have wound up teaching at Westminster.
Dynak’s international experience helped expand school partnerships and student teaching opportunities well beyond the greater Salt Lake Valley. “We’ve all worked hard on providing more diversity for our students by branching out our partnership schools. One of the most recent partnerships gives them an opportunity to do four weeks of their student teaching on the Navajo Indian reservation in southern Utah, as well as in Germany, Italy, and England.”
Dynak has also strengthened Westminster’s relationship with the state of Utah over the last several years by participating in, and at one point chairing, the State Deans Council. The council consists of all of the deans of teacher education programs around Utah. The council helps teacher-educators collaborate on the issues they all face, such as testing of teachers and the effects of “No Child Left Behind.”
For the last few years, Dynak and her team have played an important role in filling the specialized needs of teachers around the state.Westminster now offers endorsements for teachers as part of the master’s program. Dynak explains, “We’ve been in the forefront in that area; it was not something that was done in the past. Endorsements were offered but not as part of master’s-level credit.We now offer three new endorsements— Distance Learning, English as a Second Language, and Reading— for the Master of Education program.The endorsements have really strengthened our graduate program.”
Under Dynak’s direction the school also instituted a portfolio system of assessment which Dynak says, “provided a link between all of us, our coursework, our field experiences, and our mentors because they are all a part of that process. The selfevaluation we require of our students integrates all of our courses together in a way that allows us to know more about what each other’s doing—more than we would if we didn’t have such a plan for our students. More importantly, we feel it really supports our students. Both their learning and our standards are demonstrated in the portfolios.” The school received commendations from the Commission on Colleges and Universities of the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges for the portfolios.
Dynak’s prior higher education experience contrasts sharply with that at Westminster. “Westminster provides an environment that is very rich with possibilities—from talking about things to actually doing them! I’m from a program that had 400 student teachers in a given semester to one that has approximately 35 per semester. The individualized attention we offer is really incredible. Our faculty get out into the schools with the student teachers seven or eight times before the end of their program.We require faculty to meet with their students in a small group forum every other week and to do conferencing.We offer a lot of things that students don’t get in other programs.” Through Dynak’s leadership and creativity, the School of Education has been able to make such strides.
Colleague Joyce Tibbett voices the commonly held view of Dynak’s leadership:
The transformations that have taken place in the School of Education in the past few years have resulted from Janet's innovative talent, her multitasking genius, her collaborative style, and her committed vision for moving the School of Education to new frontiers. Janet's high energy is inspiring to every faculty member in the School of Education as she devotes herself to each new endeavor that the faculty conjures up. She does not work in isolation, nor does she expect any faculty member to work in isolation; rather, Janet fosters a collaborative and supportive environment that allows synergy to flow through teams that are committed to shared goals. She sets a tone for cooperative endeavors that capitalize on the talents of faculty and staff in the School of Education. No one is untouched by the sadness of having Janet step down from her post as dean, yet all recognize her desire to return to faculty and are grateful that she will remain with us as a faculty colleague.
By Robin Boon