10/20/15 09:05 PM Filed in: lee sechrest | Tribute
A Personal Tribute to Lee Sechrest — Teacher and Friend
I was one of Lee’s first graduate students at Northwestern. Similar to Lee, I came from farm country and schooling that hinted little of a future in the rarified air of academia and a long research career.
At 18, I stumbled into and bumbled my way through a state university. But as did Lee, I got lucky. I met a professor who hired me as an undergraduate assistant in the Psychological-Educational Clinic. He taught me to interview and test clients, and introduced me to a career path I never knew existed.
Our early lives differed in at least one major way: at about 18 he joined the Marine Corps to experience a wider world and landed in a combat zone of the Korean War. I joined the Arizona National Guard to escape mandatory ROTC at a land-grant institution, and practiced patrols for 4 years in mountain foothills where the only dangers were cacti and rattlesnakes.
By extraordinary (in hindsight) coincidence, my undergrad mentor prodded me to apply for admission to the school where he had earned his Ph.D.: Northwestern. I did, and was admitted to the Ph.D. program in the psychology department at the beginning of Lee’s 3rd year on the Northwestern faculty.
By another extraordinary coincidence, in 1984 Lee was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona where I began my collegiate education. Yet another coincidence a few years earlier. By chance Lee and another significant mentor of mine — Roland Tharp — were visiting. We walked into my faculty office, and I saw a letter from the chancellor of the university. The two people who had such a huge influence on my career watched as I read of my promotion to professor.
As it did for Lee, a clinical psychology internship taught me a life-altering lesson. During that year-long immersion in clinical practice, I encountered a world of primitivism — where lives could be altered and perhaps destroyed because of responses to the color cards of the Rorschach.
Before Sechrest’s course on projective testing, I had been looking forward to initiation into the secret knowledge revealed by projective testing that would distinguish me from mere mortals. After transformation by his scientific critique of the Rorschach, my response to the appeals to the authority of its devotees were the questions drilled into me by Professor Sechrest and his Northwestern colleagues Underwood and Taylor. How was the sample recruited? How many cases were observed? Was there a control group? Were the measurements objective, reliable, and valid? Lee had taught and I had learned that authority appeals were marketing, not evidence.
Two years of Sechrest and Northwestern turned me into a skeptic. No longer was I confident that an experienced clinical psychologist possessed powerful knowledge and insights I wanted to master.
A year of practical experience in a psychiatric hospital and two years of scientific psychology in graduate seminars produced an outcome that surprised me. When the internship ended, I headed back to Northwestern filled with vague ideas about a different direction — becoming a researcher who discovered new treatments that worked better than what I learned in a year of clinical practice. Whether any research I did the next 50 years added up to much is for others to say. But returning to a world in which Lee Sechrest remained a life-long teacher and mentor was a decision I never regretted. He affected as much and more, many scores of students.
Many years after my Northwestern days, Lee told me: “I was on the admissions committee at Northwestern and argued for you because I saw in your record a history that seemed similar to my own.”
A compliment as fine as I ever received.
A great teacher has left us, but maybe not:
Some years ago two of Roland Tharp’s fine students asked the Dalai Lama:
Students: I wonder if you have in your past any people who were important teachers or a kind of master that you think about now?
The Dalai Lama: Those Indian pundits! Many centuries back . . .
Students: No, I mean someone who influenced you when you were a child or a younger man, who was a master to you, and you his disciple.
The Dalai Lama: Yes, the great Indian pundits of the past many centuries.
Students: But no one living? I mean, not an actual person?
The Dalai Lama: No. You see, those living persons, they are just carrying the messages of the great Indian pundits . . .
(Tharp & Gallimore, 1988, p. 160)
Through the lessons he taught and the examples he set, Lee is still teaching.
B.A. 1960, University of Arizona, Education
Ph.D., 1964, Northwestern University, Psychology
On October 10th, 2015, Lee Sechrest died. He was my teacher, mentor, and friend for 55 years. For more information on his life and career, please visit http://egad.us
Ermeling, B.A. & Gallimore, R. (2014/2015). Close-to-practice learning. Educational Leadership. 72(4), 55-60. Open access at http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/dec14/vol72/num04/Close-to-Practice_Learning.aspx
The Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards face many challenges, but none greater than this: Teachers must make the biggest instructional changes ever asked of them.
For the standards to succeed, teaching must be more than telling, and learning more than listening. Teaching must elicit, prod, and develop students' thinking and improve students' abilities to understand challenging texts, talk and write about complex ideas, and apply what they learn to solve novel problems (Ball & Forzani, 2013; Shanahan, 2013).
Changes of this magnitude require much teacher time and effort—and this work is largely invisible to everyone except teachers. For example, when working with a new math curriculum, a high school algebra teacher must plan, try out, and refine new lessons, learning through repeated trial and error what's effective for students who vary in ability and achievement levels. This is how teachers master new resources, modify instruction, and accumulate usable, classroom-ready knowledge and skills.
It will take even more time and practice for teachers to master the high-leverage teaching practices that the new standards call for. Traditional modes of professional development are too short-lived and too distant from practice to achieve significant improvements.
To produce changes in classroom instruction, the key is closer-to-practice opportunities for teachers to focus on incremental improvements in classroom instruction. Close-to-practice improvement depends on four crucial conditions:
1. Teachers are familiar with the curriculum, so they knows the concepts and skills it required them to teach.
2. Learn inquiry teaching by planning lessons for immediate use in their own classrooms. Focusing improvement activity on highly relevant, day-to-day work and pressing instructional issues bridges the gap between talk and practice and produce classroom-ready, usable knowledge.
3. Engage in deliberate study of the relationship between teaching and learning.
4. Engage in improvement work over time.
Providing teacher learning opportunities that meet these four criteria is challenging for many schools. Schools often discover that there's little guidance for how to organize and institute an effective teaching improvement process
Key to the success of new standards and assessments is the indispensable work of teachers who engage in sustained professional learning opportunities that focus on teaching and learning. The new standards have a better chance of success if we commit to steady, incremental change, what surgeon and author Atul Gawande (2007) called the "infant science of improving performance" (p. 242).
Gallimore, R., Hiebert, J., & Ermeling, B. (2014). Rich Classroom Discussion: One Way, Not The Way to Get Rich Learning. Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 17, 2014
“Rich classroom discourse” has long been valorized by education reformers who object to teacher domination of classroom discussions. Is it greater use of RCD that is key to intellectually inspiring and challenging classrooms? Perhaps instead of focusing on increased use it’s time to ask what specific role for RCD might be realistic and yield learning outcomes educators value? The best chance for progress is to link this question to another one: how to create rich learning opportunities for achieving more advanced competencies. Strategic deployment of RCD for well-defined instructional purposes seems a more realistic vision than advocating greater use without respect for why, when, and for whom. Finding RCD’s proper role requires at least three conditions. Sustained collaboration between teachers and researchers. An ongoing study of curriculum and practice to identify pivotal rich learning opportunities (RLOs) in each unit or project and which might benefit from RCD. Supporting teacher development of the professional judgment to skillfully manage complex decisions with each population and generation of students they teach, so they deploy the best instructional choices.