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A generational mission: Benjamin Riley on the founding of Deans for Impact

Deans for Impact

Categories: Leadership, Organization

True social transformations are measured in decades, not years,” our founder Benjamin Riley wrote in 2017. It’s a maxim that has guided Deans for Impact (DFI) since its formation. This summer, after eight years designing, launching, and leading DFI, Benjamin stepped away from his role as executive director and will pass the torch to Valerie Sakimura, a member of the founding team.

Valerie will carry on the generational mission of DFI: to transform this nation’s educator-preparation system such that every child is taught by well-prepared teachers.

“As a parent, you want to get to the point where something you’ve been raising and been responsible for eventually no longer needs you,” Benjamin says in a recent interview facilitated by journalist and former NPR education reporter Claire McInerny. 

Listen to Benjamin describe how DFI came to be through the partnership and support of leaders in educator preparation who were eager to empower – not enfeeble – the field. Under his leadership, DFI has grown to serve leaders from over 150 educator-preparation programs across the United States and sparked interest from across the globe:

Benjamin describes the origins of Deans for Impact.

In an education industry often defined by promises of quick fixes to thorny problems, Benjamin consistently focused attention on enduring truths: that teaching is a human craft of both art and science; that learning is a social activity; and that the deeply complex work of teaching and learning is worthy, then, of great reverence and inquiry.      

“What I’m proud of,” Benjamin says, “is that we built this organization that has become an incredible repository of insight and understanding about how students learn, how we could translate how students learn to teaching practice, and build structures and systems” to bridge theory and practice.

Listen to Benjamin reflect on what has made DFI a learning organization:

Benjamin reflects on building Deans for Impact into “a repository of insight and understanding about how students learn.”

Benjamin’s belief in the work of teachers has sometimes attracted critics. For years, he was known as one of the nation’s foremost skeptics of technology-enabled ‘personalized learning,’ a badge he wore with pride. “Teachers, not technology, should be the primary designers of students’ learning experiences,” he wrote in 2016. It was a belief born not of dogma, but of experience, observation, and science. 

He describes the “eureka moment” when this occurred:

Benjamin describes the moment he became interested in the translation of cognitive science research to teaching practice.

Today, after two and a half years of disruptions to public education and amidst mounting teacher shortages and divisive political debates over schooling, DFI continues to focus attention on the craft of teaching and the need to prepare highly effective, diverse educators who can create challenging, affirming, and inclusive classrooms for all students. Everyday we’re seeing evidence of impact.