President (Former), California Association of Independent Schools
Head of School at Marin Montessori School
(Grades PreK to 8)

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
- Albert Einstein

After over 35 years of experience in teaching and administration, Jim Munger selected Einstein's quote to reflect his general thoughts about education. Making changes in schools are not easy, especially when it is about improving outcomes. In today's educational climate, there is a constant and continued push to use high stakes testing to analyze and understand school, teacher, and student performance. Jim believes that creating more standardized tests and administering them more often is not the solution. Jim succinctly says, "I don't believe in it."

In the independent school space, some have flourished by implementing meaningful changes that are not purely testing-based. As Head of School at a number of different independent schools. Jim implemented a "Personalized Education Plan" for every single student to ensure success. The key is to keep the individual first and focus like a laser on what a specific student needs to flourish. Many public schools, on the other hand, continue to struggle. A one-size fits all education is ineffective. Plus, changing the name of standardized tests, but maintaining the general overall assessment philosophy will not lead to a different outcome. Administrators and policy-makers need to take a step back and evaluate what really works. The crux is to understand how positive outcomes occur and replicate that model on a large scale basis. Only then can schools move forward and thrive.

Jim Munger has spent his entire professional career in the field of education, working tirelessly to improve student outcomes. As 21 years of age, fresh out of college, Jim became a high school teacher, teaching English, history, and music. After spending over a decade in the classroom and understanding what works to reach students, Jim segued into administration. Jim's positions have been as varied as the tupe of schools for where he has worked, giving him a broad perspective of schools. In the past, he served as Director of Horse Program at the Midland School, a small, co-educational, college preparatory boarding school near Los Olivos, Calfornia. This independent school offers alternative programs such as equestrian - both Western and English riding - and horse care, allowing students to "Live Your Education.: Jim also worked as Assistant Head and Middle School Director of All Saints Episcopal Day School in Carmel, California, which promotes learning in a nurturing environment of spiritual growth and service. At the Stevenson School, Jim was Dean of Students and Director of Residence and Summer Programs. The Stevenson School is a private, coeducational, K to 12 school for boarding and day students in Pebble Beach, California.

In 1996, Jim began his tenure at the Dunn School, an independent, 6th through 12th grade co-educational, college preparatory boarding and day school located outside of Los Olivos, California. Serving as Head of School, Jim helped guide and shape the Dunn School which was originally founded in 1957. After 12 wonderful years as its Head of School, Jim seemingly retired in 2007. Taking a break from direct management of a school, Jim remained active in education, consulting at Independent Thinking, a firm specializing in partnering with schools in the areas of administrator searches and program assessment. In 2011, the draw to work with students reappeared, and Jim availed himself to lead another school, the Marin Montessori School in San Francisco, California. Currently, Jim serves as Head of School for Marin Montessori.

In the past, Jim has held a number of leadership positions, including President of the California Association of Independent Schools from 2002 to 2006. He also is a parent and Chair of the Board of The Family School and founding Board Member of The Ventana School.

Jim is a graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University.

Teacher Top 5s
1. Genuine Appreciation and Enjoyment in Working with Children: The most important secret for successful teaching is making certain educators love working with young people even during times of stress. All too often, the scenario begins with teachers entering the teaching field with an amazing amount of enthusiasm and energy. Shortly thereafter though, the educational system slowly wears teachers down. From administrative and parental demands to the colossal focus on high stakes testing, teachers become inundated with aspects of the job that remove them from why they entered teaching in the first place. Over time, Jim says, "Teachers can lose their original sense of joy, working with children." If this becomes apparent, Jim declares, "Kids can quickly read into this." Children are very observant and they can tell when a teacher is burnt out and should not be teaching anymore. To remedy this, teachers must be mindful to what compelled them to enter the teaching profession to begin with and keep things in perspective. Jim points out, "Teaching should not be a refuge for people who aren't sure what they want to do." Rather, teaching is a job with an awesome responsibility.

2. Authentic Commitment to the Topic/Area of Study: Teachers must have and maintain a real and sincere interest in their subject-matter. If a teacher is excited about a topic, it can become contagious very quickly for students. In other words, if a teacher teaches United States History, he or she should have a genuine passion to how our Founding Fathers established our Constitution. Jim states, "The success of a teacher is based on his or her interest in the subject-matter and enjoyment of kids." If a teacher's commitment to the area of study does not exist, students figure this out immediately. Class time quickly becomes mundane and boring. At the high and middle school levels, a teacher's enthusiasm for the content can mean a whole world of difference.

In elementary education, the authentic commitment is focused on the education process. Jim declares, "Teachers need to be interested in how children learn." By doing so, teachers can differentiate instruction to meet different types of learners. Jim continues, "The successful application of curriculum is also very important, making certain that children are indeed learning."

3. Plan and Organize to Reach the Desired Outcomes: Teaching is serious work. for that reason, teachers truly need to plan accordingly. Jim says, "Teachers should have a goal-oriented outcome for every single student." Lesson must be crafted to meet each individual's needs. The age-old saying, "Flying by the seat of your pants," does not meet a passing grade for best practices. Teachers also need to get feedback. Jim suggests, "Ask students and parents whether their teaching is truly effective." That way, feedback comes directly from the end-users themselves.

When Jim led the Dunn School, he implemented a "Personal Education Plan" for every student beginning at 9th grade. This was essentially an organized and structured plan for each person's own academic and social education. School advisors worked with students to provide goal setting and helped guide them to what needed to be executed. For instance, if a student's long ter, goal was to attend a performing arts school after high school, advisors would recommend classes, clubs, after-school activities, and assist with scheduling over the student's entire four year experience at Dunn. By taking such pro-active planning, students began to move from asking: "What is the school doing for me?" to "What am I going to do for myself?" Students were provided with choices and, ultimately, felt like they had some control of the process.

4. Always Be a Learner: As a teacher who helps students learn, educators themselves must always be learning too. This means being part of the teaching at his or her school and talking about teaching. For Jim, there is nothing better than going into a faculty meeting and seeing two teachers already discussing how to most optimally reach a specific student. Jim states, "When you see this, you know that teachers are engaged as opposed to generic 'water cooler' talk. Young teachers can learn from seasoned veterans and vice-versa." Jim believes that it is administration's responsibility to make time for teachers to be learners. This can take the form of teacher in-service and faculty meetings. At the same time, administration should always model this learning construct to demonstrate what is expected. As Jim states, "Practice the way you play. If you want teachers to embrace learning, you, yourself, need to be a learner."

5. Focus on Communication: In today's world, there are so many different forms of communication, including face-to-face, electronic mail, over the telephone, and so forth. Choosing the most appropriate method to reach a teacher's selected audience is important. What is the best way to communicate with parents, administrators, peer faculty, vendors, and students? Teachers need to be thoughtful and deliberate in their selection. Most importantly. teachers must remain flexible and not get stuck in their preferred form of interaction. Jim cautions, "While email may be quick, it cannot replace the personal touch of a one-on-one, face-to-face conversation." In fact, even a telephone call might be better sometimes, leaving nothing to misunderstanding from an electronic piece of mail. That said, email might be the best option of reaching someone immediately, considering the ubiquity of smart phones and wireless devices.

Jim believes that one of the most important things about teacher communication is that it must be done on an on-going basis throughout the entire year. The parent-teacher-school loop should be cycled consistently, over and over again. Strong communication shows that teachers know their students well.

Other Interview Questions
1. Who is/are your role model(s) from an educational perspective?
While Jim was studying at Teachers College, he conducted a research study asking, "What is the best memory of your high school experience?" Inevitably, the responses always took the form of a particular teacher that truly affected and left an impression on past students. The enthusiastic teacher who can motivate and instruct learners from their passion, energy, enjoyment in working with children, and dynamism are Jim's role models. As an administrator, Jim sought after these specific teachers to work at his school.

2.When you take a look at teachers, in general, and recognize all the hard work and devotion they put into their jobs, what would you say is the one thing that you think teachers can improve upon so they can become more highly effective?
"Teachers must improve their communication around the whole circle," says Jim. This includes parents, administrators, peer faculty, vendors, and students. Jim adds, "Teachers need to reach out and be pro-active." From an administrator's perspective on teachers, Jim shares, "You do not want to sit in your classroom and wait to see what your supervisor thinks of you. Be direct and speak to your administrator." Jim has an open-door policy for teachers. In fact, when the door is closed, Jim states, "Knock on the door." For those teachers who keep to themselves, administrators must provide them the skills to enhance their communication.

3. Are there policies that your school (or past school) has adopted which allow teachers to excel?
Faculty meetings must be truly meaningful and value-added. Jim states, "They need to be about teaching, and not tedious and a waste of time." The mundane and miscellaneous topics are addressed before so that faculty time is used optimally. Jim continues, "The demands of teachers are high and time is short of supply. Teachers also need downtime which essentially allows them to be better educators."

If cost was not an issue, Jim's dream would be to have two teachers at the school, not specifically instructing, but observing others. This would enable teachers to gain a broader perspective by learning from others and seeing the issues that may exist at the school. While at the Dunn School, Jim was able to make accommodations so that certain teachers could take classes instructed by their fellow peers.For instance, a biology teacher took a calculus course taught by one her colleagues. This allowed a faculty member to experience everything a student would. The faculty member would sit-in during instruction, take assessments, and participate just like everyone else.

4. In order to improve our education system, what are the shortcomings you notice in schools? What are some of the good things happening? What do you think needs to change?
On a national and statewide basis, Jim states, "We must have the will to make education better." It needs to be funded accordingly. This means monies should be used on the ground with the teacher core. Currently, a lot of dollars fund athletics, administration, and such. Moreover, assessments for accountability are not necessarily the answer. Analysis needs to be conducted beyond the school. What is happening in the home of students? What is the social, economic, and cultural structure? Schools by nature are limited in their ability to affect children and do not have the full power to shape the lives and minds of students. Hence, using assessments for accountability at schools is not an adequate metric.

Good things come in small packages and Jim is a strong advocate of that. Smaller schools, class size, and teacher cadre allow for close interaction and one-on-one familiarity. It improves communication and connection. Jim points out, "Some schools have turned to this educational model where large schools are broken down into 500 to 600 student units." This is a step in the right direction.

Finally, Jim identifies the teacher admissions program at Teach for America as another good thing. Jim explains, "The system that they have set up attracts those who did not pursue the traditional path to teaching. Still, teacher candidates are former leaders in their respective industries and passionate about educating our youth." Eventually, the program fast-tracks individuals into teaching in the classroom.

One Comment

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