“Mr. Gander has an outstanding background in the area of student learning. He has been able to use various research based instructional practices in his previous positions. His graduate educational background as well as building level experience with raising student achievement will be an asset to your district. He understands the concept of focusing instructional resource allocations so that they guide curriculum, teaching and assessment.”

— Tim LaBrouse, Superintendent
Malheur Education Service District Region 14

Education Philosophy

Like most people I am eclectic learner and curriculum constructivist by training; I view learning as a very personal act; a learner centered act; that is an idealist position I know. Education should provide individuals’ opportunities to choose the path and the application of knowledge based on experience, context and desire. It is from this perspective that I feel most educators should view their students, be they adults in staff development or primary grade students. This is the foundation I begin from as an instructional leader.

In a learner centered approach it is critical to balance the reality of classroom instruction with the fundamental requirements of knowledge acquisition. Good educators, whether they are designing staff development for seasoned professionals or preparing an early grade reading lesson know where their students are in both skills and frame of mind. Instructionally the best teachers have a framework that guides their decision making. Teachers with diverse pedagogy skills can calibrate their decisions within the framework to meet all learners at their level. In this approach the learner is the center of the decision making process, the content is second and the pedagogy blends both elements.

Equally important to a student centered instructional focus is ensuring a robust and guaranteed curriculum. By guaranteed, I refer to an agreed upon set of standards and assessment practices as the foundation of curriculum frameworks. This applies to professional staff development as much as it applies to classroom fields of study. I appreciate the foundation standards provide as a common reference point for program development. However, care must be used to retain the rigor and not let the current trends in “academic push” exclude activities yet to be “standardized” which are of equal value to learners. The standards focus has served educators well over the past 10-12 years. However, like any framework it is how you embellish the initial structure that proves its worth.

The importance of vertical integration and the retention of high standards for the content framework is the nuance that needs to be fostered by instructional leaders. This nuance can be maintained and improved upon by systemic evaluation of student success and data driven decision-making by classroom teachers, site leaders and district level personnel. Ultimately the rigor an educational system maintains is the result of how well leaders meet the challenge of balancing hiring and training quality educators, monitoring curriculum fidelity, and assuring instructional resources.

Equal opportunities for all learners and a respect for all ideas should be paramount in every learning environment. This manifests itself in educational settings that are tolerant of others (both as members of a culture and as individuals), provides equal access to educational opportunities and includes all learners in raising the bar of academic excellence.

Communities have an obligation to give all students a rigorous academic program supported with opportunities to develop the skills necessary to be successful in life. One of the reoccurring realities of schools is that all learners do not get the same start, some are later to realize the importance of learning or need instructional adaptations to achieve what the community has defined as an education. Whether we call it differentiated instruction, special education, support services, or individualized intervention it is essential that we support these efforts to move all learners to a level we believe will contribute to their leading a productive life.

An educational approach that is purely academic will by its nature leave some students wondering if there is more to school than the traditional fields of study. Therefore, it is critical that an educational community supply the means of applying academic knowledge in civic, cultural, and athletic venues; beginning in the middle level years. When education communities can provide these venues through culture exchange programs, magnet school (either language focused or content area defined) they create traditions and focal points for schools and the community to take pride in. What should not get lost in these traditions is the application of skills based on acquired knowledge; this is the necessary transfer of learning that is present in all strong educational programs.

As an educator, I see the application of knowledge being equally important as the acquisition of knowledge. The social context of our schools has to profess the cultural values of the community while stretching its members to think more broadly and inclusively.

An educational program has to guarantee rigor in a variety of fields of study and provide equal access to those fields of study. Educational leaders that can bring these ideals to a community and can help the community shape for themselves a set of expectations will improve a community’s educational system and make it a drawing card for civic leaders. School systems have the power to shape many lives and it is one of our society’s greatest treasures. When communities have a clear vision of what they want their children to achieve, it is the idealists that can shape the shared vision with reality to make great things happen.