2012 Opening Remarks from Carnegie President Anthony S. Bryk

U.S. Professors of the Year Awards Luncheon
Nov. 15, 2012

Thank you, John. This is now the 30th year that the Carnegie Foundation has co-sponsored this event with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. John, as always it is a pleasure.

I would also personally recognize our other longstanding partner in this event, TIAA-CREF, represented today by Kevin Moultrie. In its initial incarnation, the Carnegie Foundation played a major policy role in securing pensions for college and university faculty. In that capacity, it was responsible for the initiation of TIAA-CREF. We are delighted to see how well our sibling has done. I just wish one of my predecessors had held onto a tiny little piece of the business. 

Undersecretary Kanter, state and national Professors of the Year award winners and their honored guests, it is a pleasure to be here with all of you on this special occasion. Today we honor some of our nation's very best college and university professors. Although I am meeting our award winners in person today for the first time, I feel as if I know a great deal about each them, having had an opportunity to review their teaching portfolios and read the inspiring commentaries offered by their students and colleagues. Late each summer, John and I have the privilege of calling the national award winners to share the good news. John, I think you will agree, that making those calls is a truly "make my day experience." 

Coincidentally, I just returned from Oslo, Norway, having been invited by their National Research Council to talk about the new work now underway at the Carnegie Foundation on improving teaching and learning in our nation's schools, colleges and universities.  

Oslo, as you probably know, is the home of the Nobel Peace Prize. While I was there, I had an opportunity to visit the Nobel Peace Center and to tour the extraordinary venue, where our president, Barack Obama, receive the Peace Prize just a little over three years ago. While I was touring about I was asked if I knew the common joke often told among Norwegian children about the speculation that ensues just prior to any such announcement. No, I confessed that I did not.

Well, did I know that a scarecrow had in fact been recently nominated? "A scarecrow?" I asked. Oh yes, for being outstanding in his field. It is actually a good thing that my 16-year-old daughter isn't here right now. When I repeat a joke like this, she turns and looks at me and shakes her head as if to say something to the effect of, "oh, Dad....keep it to yourself."

Returning to more serious matters: Today we are among our nation's most accomplished educators...all of whom are indeed outstanding. We are assembled here, appropriately in the National Press Building, to celebrate their individual accomplishments. Today's national winners—and our state winners as well—have drawn on the best of what we know from their respective disciplines, from basic cognitive science and learning theory, and evidence-based instructional practice—and have then added a bit of spice of individual creativity—to orchestrate extraordinary learning opportunities for students in their classrooms. 

CASE and the Carnegie Foundation proudly celebrate these individuals and their accomplishments and rightfully so, for they are indeed quite special.  Each of our state and national winners has embraced a special calling-to teach. Each of you brings extraordinary leadership to your classrooms. My challenge to you today is to extend your leadership out more broadly to your departments, colleges and universities and your respective professional fields. 

I am reminded of that old 1960's Bob Dylan song, "The Times They Are A-Changing."  An extraordinary constellation of forces are, in fact, now merging. The stable ground—education as we have known it for a long time—is now shaking. The institutional tectonic plates are shifting. We are now asking our colleges and universities to advance more ambitious academic outcomes for many more students than ever before. We also want our nation's classrooms to be more engaging and responsive to the diverse interests and needs of students. Far too many of our students walk away from higher education, failing to complete their programs and achieve a degree.  And the costs of higher education continue to mount—much like healthcare, exceeding the annual inflation rate, year after year, for decades.  

This cannot continue. Like in healthcare, we expect that our schools and colleges to become more efficient in their use of resources. 

Advancing any one of these goals—increasing overall effectiveness, enhancing student engagement, and becoming more resource efficient—would be quite ambitious. Moving simultaneously on all three—what we at Carnegie now call the Triple Aims of Educational Improvement—is indeed unprecedented.

Yet this is the challenge that we face today.  It is this challenge that calls each of our award winners today to leadership. 

Now I have to tell you that some believe that policy will bring about the needed institutional transformation-for example, changes in the ways we hold institutions of higher education accountable and how we fund them. Others argue that technology is the answer. That the emergence of massive open, online courses—MOOCs—will solve all of these problems.

Certainly, we need prudent policy that nurtures human creativity and supports innovation. Likewise, the affordances of technology are a powerful, but still largely untapped resource for educational improvement. We need to exploit to this well.

I also reminded, however, that anything worthy of the name education is at its base a deeply personal and social enterprise. Although the places of schooling and the tools we use to educate may drastically alter, at the center of education is that very human connection where teachers meet students around subject matter.
It is for this reason that teachers like you, reaching out beyond your classrooms—to your departments, your colleges and universities, your respective disciplinary fields—are key to the changes we now seek.

We live in a world of complex systems. While in yester years, we may have celebrated the lone cowboy, the lone ranger, the problems we must address today are far too complex for anyone person to solve. 

Our power then is not as individual teachers and scholars, but rather in working together, using disciplined inquiries to improve teaching and learning. Quite simply we can accomplish more together than even the best of us can accomplish alone. When we structure our work together as a networked community, one that gathers and uses evidence to improve, there is a genuine wisdom in such crowds. Engaging together in disciplined inquiries is key to attaining at scale the triple aims of educational improvement that we now seek. 

You, who are "outstanding in your field"—inspired and inspiring—I entreat you reach out beyond the traditional domains of your individual classroom, work together in networked improvement communities. You are the change we seek. You are indeed the change we need.

At this point it is my pleasure to turn the proceedings back over to John to continue this celebration of excellence in teaching. 


Anthony Bryk
Closing Remarks

What an amazing group of winners! And their students...lest there be any doubt about the next generation, with young people like this our future is in truly good hands. Let us applaud each of them—students and their teachers.

Last year around this time, we lost one of the century's greatest innovators and most unusual personalities in Steve Jobs. He was a genius who, as was noted in The New York Times, often spoke with a barbed tongue. Walter Issacson's biography of Jobs, released this past spring, was quite candid about the man. Having read the book, it is actually hard to believe that some of his more outrageous social interactions were relegated to the editing floor of Issacson's long account. 

Regardless, it remains clear that Steve Jobs was truly a visionary. Like all great leaders, he could see the horizon and envision a bit beyond it. And then assemble and sustain a terrific team to go pursue it. 
Jobs exhorted all who knew him and worked with him to think differently. Our talented professors do just that.

One of his invocations was to innovate. This makes me think of Autar Kaw who designed a brilliant concept inventory in numerical methods that other educators can use to assess the effectiveness of their own teaching innovations. 

Jobs also believed that in building technology systems; it was important to control the user experience. Make the environment work for people, rather than the other way around.  I think of our National Professor of the Year, Todd Pagano, who learned sign language in order to communicate more effectively with his students, to make the environment work for his students.

Jobs also constantly challenged his designers. Ignore reality he would say. If we can envision it, we can build it. They said it had to have a plastic face. He said no, I want glass. Let's figure out how to do this. Our poet, Lois Roma-Deeley, who engages her students in educational experiences that reshape perceptions, influence ideas and change behaviors—she does just this too.

And finally, Jobs inspired associates to have confidence. Yes, we can. I think of Christy Price who vowed that her courses would have a meaningful impact on her students, and then proceeded to completely overhaul what and how she taught toward that end.  

Again, I want to congratulate all of our winners for the inspiring work that you do, and the extraordinary impact you have made in the lives of so many students. 

You are the leaders and champions that we need and upon which our nation now depends. Let us conclude our ceremony this afternoon with a final round of applause. Please enjoy the glorious Washington, D.C., afternoon.