Our Alumnae

Michael Harris: Shaping the Future with Open Communication

Michael Harris ’99 is one of those educators who is continually leading and encouraging his teachers and staff to understand how children perform today and to recognize how they can help students advance to the next level. Harris enrolled at Alverno to obtain his administrative leadership licensure with the objective of becoming a principal. He achieved that goal and became principal of Lake Shore Middle School in the Mequon-Thiensville School District in southeastern Wisconsin. In fall 2013, he begins a new role as principal of Riverside University High School in Milwaukee.

Harris, who has a BA in Liberal Arts and an MA in Educational Leadership and Policy, had to transition away from the traditional GPA-based mindset to the outcome-based style of learning. What helps many students in the MAEd program is the intensive “power weekend” orientation developed to explain the outcome-based ability model, define expectations and understand learning styles. By engaging in conversations, writing reflections about one of the graduate education abilities and communicating in small group settings, students develop an interactive and engaging presentation style that takes them well beyond their own learning to understand how it helps their own students and colleagues. The Alverno faculty is critical to this process and continues their support throughout the students’ education.

At first, the transition was a little difficult for Harris, but he soon found it aligned better to his own learning style. He also preferred the small class sizes that give students no other choice but to interact and collaborate. “We were creating a community of leaders. Our discussions and interactions took our understanding and learning to a deeper level rather than just receiving a grade or number. Schools are beginning to explore this same process for implementation in curriculum. It’s also the way I like to see students learn – by engaging and working together to understand and comprehend better the material.”

Harris understands how accountability positively affects learning. Coming from a high-performance school district where 90 percent of students were proficient in math and reading, Harris’ new school has already begun a transition. Riverside University is a culturally diverse, urban high school with a primary focus on the preparation of students for success in post-secondary education. Once considered a premier school in the city, Harris would like to return the school to that standing and take it further. He also has a personal connection to the high school: he is an alum.

“When this opportunity arose, I thought ‘wow!’ I had a powerful experience in teaching and saw this as my time to give something back.” In addition to his administrative role, Harris also sits on the middle and high school advisory board for the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, and has participated on the principal advisory team for Alverno.

Harris believes that in order for any organization to move forward, you have to begin with open communication. During summer break, he met with educators, the administrative team and other student activities groups on a voluntary basis. “It’s all about starting the conversation. I created an open door of communication with departments, parents and the student governance council. We talk about experiences, wants and needs. While I know my staff can’t address every issue, we can prioritize what fits into the school’s goals. We’re discovering how and what we can impact, and then we can make the people and programs accountable.”

Harris has an ideology of successful learning styles that includes a “Top 7” list. These are compatible to his experiences at Alverno:

1. Small class sizes

2. Moving into a personalized, formal mode of education

3. Building strengths and using them to fortify weaknesses

4. Being accessible to staff and faculty

5. Creating a solid foundation of content

6. Providing flexibility of courses

7. Offering real-world experience and modeling what you teach students after what you do.

Harris is appreciative of those at Alverno who continue to be supportive of his work and endeavors. “You never know who you might meet along the way. You might not ‘get it’ right away, but at some point you will. And you’ll be glad you know them.”

Harris also believes in his work, his staff and the future of education. He knows the undertaking at his new high school will be challenging, but he also anticipates having a significant impact on the future students who pass through his school, as well as the faculty who educate them.

“We’re here to work together and hope our choices will be positive and impact others. It’s pushed me to be selfless and considerate of others. That’s the person I think Alverno helped develop.”

About the Program: Developing Educational Excellence

A national and international leader in educational practices, the Alverno College Master of Arts in Education (MAEd) degree program carries on the College’s tradition in the graduate arena. It focuses on integrative, experiential and reflective approaches to learning.

According to Desiree Pointer Mace, associate dean for graduate programs in the School of Education, the master’s program was founded in 1996 and became the basis for other graduate programs subsequently created at Alverno. She surmises it may be the most cross-disciplinary of the master programs offered, with faculty from Psychology, Business, Education and Communications teaching courses. The Alverno MAEd is designed for educators in K-12 schools and in technical and community colleges, and for persons working in the areas of instructional design, training, human resources or organizational development in business, government and nonprofit agencies. The program offers a variety of specializations and is open to those seeking initial and advanced teacher licensure, as well as business and nonprofit professionals serving adult learners.

Pointer Mace came to Alverno in 2007 from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in Stanford, Calif. Because of the College’s ability-based education and performance-based assessment, she immediately felt a deep affinity for Alverno, its philosophies and processes. “I like to teach and learn by talking to people. My own work focuses on envisioning and inventing ways of representing teaching and learning using new media and online technologies, and advocating for high educational outcomes for all students. I was able to continue that commitment at Alverno.” She also brings her experience as a published author to her work, including her book, Teacher Practice Online: Sharing Wisdom, Opening Doors, by Teachers College Press.

She believes Alverno is developing high outcome educators of children and adults who serve on a wide and continuing basis in their communities. “Regardless of our students’ professional context, our program strives to develop their five core abilities. They take their education beyond learning into implementation to make important changes in their communities. We’ve all had teachers who were great and teachers who were not so great. Alverno aims at preparing magnificent practitioners in all kinds of learning environments.”

Pointer Mace encounters many strong role models and ambassadors in the master’s program. They take ideas and put them into practice in settings in need of positive change. Those alumnae and alumni are making positive differences as educational leaders in their communities.