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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Model educators

September 17, 2009

Jennifer York-Barr and Jean King.

Jennifer York-Barr (left) and Jean King are professors in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Photo: Patrick O'Leary

Jean King and Jennifer York-Barr are recognized for their work in educational development

By Kristin Cleveland and Adam Overland

Jean A. King

Education doesn't begin and end within the walls of the University of Minnesota--not for Jean King. From her first months here in 1989, her commitment to academic innovation and educational development has remained strong. King was a founding director of the University's Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement. In 1996, she organized the first Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute, an annual forum for local and national evaluators.

Every year, King advises and mentors a large number of students, going so far as to host advisees at her home, "not only for intellectual sustenance," says a colleague, "but to contribute to an ongoing feeling of ‘connectedness.'" Many consider themselves colleagues because she treats them with such parity. "Great teachers not only impart knowledge, but encourage growth," says one former student. "Professor King encouraged me to open my mind... and I have gone on to achieve and accomplish things I never would have without her encouragement, guidance, and support."

"My students are among my strongest colleagues, and we routinely collaborate on evaluation and research projects.... I believe [they] come to appreciate that the process of completing a dissertation marks the real beginning of their sustained engagement in evaluation studies and not the conclusion."

King's impact in improving education has been felt far beyond the University. "Through my assistantship with Professor King, I met and worked with a local school district to create and implement an evaluation of a curriculum change effort," says another former student. "Almost two years after the project ended, the superintendent contacted me directly about future employment."

Indeed, King's greatest accomplishment may simply be the accomplishment of so many others.

Jennifer York-Barr

 That school administrators and teachers from around the state consider Jennifer York-Barr instrumental in shaping the direction of professional development at district, state, and even national levels isn't all that surprising once you realize how many of them have studied, worked, or collaborated with her. These peers utilize and value her expertise, says a colleague, "because of her deep understanding of what it takes to help educators accomplish the very challenging and complex work of school improvement."

York-Barr views her teaching, research, and service as inextricably linked. Because the cornerstone of her research is staff development within the schools, she maintains strong ties in the state's public school system. A colleague notes that you'll find her "working in the trenches weekly." That work is often done with graduate students participating fully in her research.

"The privilege of serving as a faculty member carries with it the responsibility of using one’s power, even in small ways, to advance the greater good in society. I instill this value in the students who entrust us with the opportunity to influence their thinking and expand their knowledge…."

In the classroom, she's dedicated to providing a research-based learning environment with real-world examples, often inviting educators to talk about their day-to-day practices and challenges. One student in the Staff Development Certificate Program describes leaving each class "feeling energized…with 'wheels spinning' as I headed back to my school and implemented...what I learned." York-Barr later invited that same junior high science teacher back to the classroom to talk about her experiences. That teacher remarks, "The chance to share and respond to questions helps me to be more reflective of the work I lead."