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Diana Hiatt-Michael Looks at Education in Oman
In Her Own Words: Q & A with Diana Hiatt-Michael, Professor of Education
Dr. Hiatt-Michael has been a member of the Graduate School of Education and Psychology faculty for more than 30 years, beginning her Pepperdine teaching on the original Vermont Avenue campus. She is a tenured professor, researcher, and author in the areas of curriculum, instruction, adult learning, and family-school-community partnerships. Hiatt-Michael has taught in both masters and doctoral degree programs, and is the editor of the Family-School-Community Partnership Monograph Series, published by Information Age. In November 2006, she visited the Sultanate of Oman to discuss family-school-community partnerships. Here she tells us about that trip and other teaching experiences.
What was the purpose of your trip to Oman?
The Sultanate of Oman is focusing on education as a means to rapidly change the country from a nomadic-agrarian society to an active participant in contemporary world economics. The Sultanate recognizes the importance of parent involvement in the educational achievement of students. Their goal is to establish an active Parent Council at every school.
How did you become involved?
Last spring, the Oman Ministry of Education was searching for an appropriate leader of a workshop series on Parent Councils for educational representatives across Oman. They desired a person who had a grasp of parent involvement on an international scale and could share best practices with them.
In what ways were you uniquely qualified for the task?
As series editor of Family-School Community Partnership monographs, I had recently completed a cutting-edge volume entitled Promising Practices for Family Involvement Across the Continents. The work was an outgrowth of a 16-year involvement with the International Network of Educational Scholars, whose primary interest is family involvement in schooling. The deputy assistant in the Oman Ministry of Education located my book, secured additional information about me on the GSEP website, and read articles written by me. The deputy assistant e-mailed me, asking if I would be interested.
My son had served in the Persian Gulf War and had been in Oman as well as other Middle East countries. Thus, I had firsthand knowledge about the country as well as the family-school-community issues they were investigating. Of course, I had much more to learn before I accepted the proposal.
What caused you to accept?
The enticement was that I had the support of the Ministry of Education, top representatives from the six regions of the country, a bevy of fine principals, and passionate parents. How could I possibly refuse an opportunity to make a difference across a whole country?
How was the trip financed?
The Ministry of Education’s interest was shared with the U.S. Embassy in Oman. A U. S. Middle East Educational Partnership Grant was secured and supported by their work.
What were your responsibilities and activities during the trip?
My task was to prepare the workshops for an unknown group. I drew upon my knowledge of teaching management and team-building as the start of the workshops. Six groups were attending and they had to become a team, acquiring skills of collaborative decision-making. If not, the parents would remain voiceless to the leadership of a dominant principal. This was the most challenging task.
How did you prepare beforehand?
Fortunately, I had requested two days before the workshop to visit schools and meet with representatives who might be attending. During that time, I was able to connect with two important figures and establish trust. I had sent my article "Schools as Learning Communities," published in the School Community Journal, to be translated in Arabic. This article provided school leaders with the basic content for the workshop, and we discussed this content during these visits. Thus, throughout the workshops, these kind gentlemen supported my efforts and we garnered the trust and faith of all the teams.
What were the results of the trip, and how did the experience affect you?
The final day, each team wrote their School Site Plan and shared it with the other representatives. I had goosebumps as I listened to the commitments, excitement, and passion of each team. The Ministry created a final ceremony that left me speechless and with tears in my eyes.
Family involvement in public and private schooling captured my interest during my student teaching days. This interest blossomed into a long-lasting commitment to the importance of connecting families and teachers in every school community. My work with representatives from across Oman thus far has been the highlight of this passion.
During your years at Pepperdine, you have chaired many completed doctoral dissertations for the Doctor of Education degree. What is this process like? What about the experience do you find rewarding?
By the end of May 2007, I will have chaired 90 completed doctoral dissertations in education. Doctoral dissertations are an opportunity to develop an in-depth relationship with a future colleague. Although I received classroom teaching awards early in my career, mentoring a person from student to expert seems to me the highest form of teaching. I find great joy and reward in observing a talented person transform over time. The dissertation is a deeply challenging process, and I strongly believe that to achieve powerful transformations, human beings should have an encouraging, knowledgeable, and supportive mentor.
Do you remain in contact with many of your former dissertation students? Which of the many stand out most in your memory?
I have remained in regular contact with most of my former dissertation students. Last year, John C. Holmes, my third student, was honored by GSEP for his Lifetime Achievement as the representative for American Christian Schools International in Washington D.C. and as a Christian pastor. Sam Jackson, son-in-law of our third president M. Norvel Young, is a fund-raiser for World Vision and serves internationally. Other dissertation students serve as university presidents, college faculty, and district superintendents/school administrators. All fulfill Pepperdine’s mission to demonstrate “lives of purpose, service, and leadership.”
You mention that doctoral students are future colleagues. As colleagues, have any former students influenced your own scholarly work?
Tom Johnstone is an educational icon and change agent in Lennox USD. His dissertation led to my personal growth in family involvement issues within the Spanish-speaking community and is often quoted in national research studies. In Oman, I presented the Tom Johnstone Award to each of the site administrators who demonstrated Tom’s passion for family involvement.