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Q&A: W&M’s new education dean on his leadership style, goals

  • Spencer Niles
    Spencer Niles
    The new dean of the School of Education began his work at William & Mary this summer.
    Photo by C. Lee Poe

Spencer “Skip” Niles became the dean of William & Mary’s School of Education this summer, following the departure of longtime dean Virginia McLaughlin. As Niles prepares to begin his first academic year at the university, W&M News asked the new dean a few questions about his leadership style and his plans for the School of Education. Members of the campus community are invited to meet the dean 4-6 p.m. on Aug. 21 in the School of Education’s Holly Room. – Ed.

Q: As you begin your first year at W&M, what do you want the faculty, staff and students at the School of Education to know about you?

A: That I am honored to be the dean for the SOE. What attracted me to this opportunity initially was the uniqueness of this school and William & Mary. That attraction has been strengthened as I have gotten to know more about the SOE and W&M. We are a university that is clear about its mission and values. Although there is the continuous need to respond appropriately to emerging trends (such as e-learning), those responses must be filtered through the historical lens that characterizes what is special about W&M. That can create a tension relative to strategic planning, but that tension reflects our ongoing commitment to excellence and innovation in the tradition of what makes W&M unique.

Q: What is your overall vision for the School of Education?

A: Of course, my vision is still evolving as I meet with everyone in the SOE to listen and learn from each person's past experiences within the SOE and hopes for the future. In that sense, my goal is to develop a more complete vision for the SOE that is informed by our community of faculty, students, and staff. Every viewpoint is a point from a view and I want my vision to be as panoramic a possible!

Q: What are your personal goals for your first year at W&M?

A: It is important to me that each person within the SOE feels that their work, and that they, matter. It really is true that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that each person's contributions matters. We cannot do what we do without the contributions of each person within the school. Our rankings place us among schools and colleges of education that are, in some cases, three times as large as we are yet we compete with them very favorably. That is impressive evidence indicating the high level of excellence demonstrated by each of our faculty members, students and staff. I am honored to be part of that group.

Q: Tell us about your leadership style, which I understand is more about leading than managing. How has your background in educational psychology and counseling influenced it?

A: I think that there is no doubt that my leadership style has been influenced by the fact that my academic degrees, teaching and practice have been in the field of counseling. One thing we know from counseling research is that relationships are more important than theories. Another way to put that is that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. I hope that the members of the SOE will experience that orientation from me. Although we have very limited financial resources, we have essentially unlimited resources relative to the energy, commitment, excellence and dedication our faculty, students and staff demonstrate. We know that the work that occurs within the SOE is critical for the future of citizens in the Commonwealth, nation and world. That is not an overstatement. 

Q: You’ve been at W&M for just two months now. In that short time, what kind of impression has the School of Education and the university made on you?

A: As I've had the chance to meet with faculty, students, staff, other administrators within W&M and our alums, I've been quite taken with how much people love W&M. There is a spirit to this place that is contagious and very positive. I'm thrilled to be part of that and want to do whatever I can to contribute to it.