University of Rochester


‘We Are in a Unique Position to Prepare Teachers’

Raffaella Borasi, dean of the Warner School, talks about the school’s efforts to educate ‘agents of change.’

Where do you see the Warner School going?

A few years ago we really made a major step in articulating our mission as promoting excellence and equity in education by bridging research and practice. And furthermore, we articulated that there are three major ways that we can accomplish that mission: One is by preparing educators that could be practitioners and researchers who are leaders and agents of change in the field. A second is to generate and disseminate knowledge that can move the field of education forward by informing better scholarship, policies, and practices. And the third is to participate directly in reform efforts that can improve education and the learning opportunities offered to students, particularly in our region.

These three elements have informed our work and our strategic plan for the future. We are in a unique position to pursue these goals because as a research school of education, we have a unique ability and opportunity to bridge research and practice. Research should and can inform the best programs to prepare educators—not just researchers, but also practitioners, because when you are aware of the best practices in the field, you can design better programs.

Research should also inform school reform. When one engages in school improvements, it’s important to start with a solid basis about what we know works and doesn’t work, about what are the best ways to support student learning, and to address the many issues and problems that affect performance in school. We believe that Warner can contribute that knowledge to schools and other community institutions that want to make change. But we also believe that it has to be a collaborative effort.

raeffaella borasi

CHANGE AGENT: Dean of the Warner School since 2001, Raffaella Borasi has overseen a 70 percent increase in faculty, staff, and students during her tenure.

Do Warner faculty suggest reform efforts to schools, or do schools come to Warner and ask for ideas for improvement?

It’s both, which is why I emphasize the collaborative nature of reform efforts. We need to work together with these institutions that know pretty well what their problems and their goals are but may lack some of the expertise that our faculty has. We have the capacity not only to provide consulting, but also to provide high quality professional development for teachers, administrators, or other personnel in specialized areas. We can’t do it for everything, but we have developed expertise, especially in math and science education, early childhood education, educational leadership, and program evaluation.

How will the school change in coming years?

If you look at the Warner School over the past seven years, you will see a lot of accomplishments that confirm our belief that we are going in the right direction. We have grown more than 70 percent in faculty and students in that time. Our grants have increased by more than three times over that same period. And we are aware that we have the potential to do more, but we would need more faculty in order to do that. So growth is in our vision for the future.

At the same time, we are envisioning a growth that is pretty contained and strategic. We are seeking about a 20 percent increase in faculty in the next five years or so to allow us to capitalize on our strengths and develop critical mass in certain areas, while at the same time maintaining our identity as a small school. Being small has served us very well in terms of enabling us to be more flexible in responding to opportunities and change and allowing us to be more interdisciplinary, because when you have a faculty of 40 to 50, you can more easily facilitate collaboration across areas than when you have a much larger faculty. And we really want to maintain those characteristics as they represent some of our greatest strengths and competitive advantages. But being able to do more and better will also require some investments in terms of faculty.

In order to achieve that, we also need new facilities. We have the same space that we had seven years ago, and we have 70 percent more faculty and students and staff—and we are talking of adding to that. It’s clear that this will not be possible unless we have not only more space, but the kind of space that can be the most effective in facilitating an internal learning community and collaboration with the local communities. Therefore, a new building is a key piece of our strategic plan moving forward.

A Brief Look at Warner

The Warner School traces its roots to 1956, when the University established a Division of Education to replace an earlier department. In 1958, the division was elevated to the status of College of Education and began offering doctoral degrees.

In 1993, the school was renamed the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development in recognition of Margaret Warner Scandling ’44, a former trustee who had been a leading supporter of the school and its programs. Her husband, William Scandling, endowed the school in her memory.

What makes Warner’s programs unique?

We pride ourselves on having state-of-the-art programs to prepare practitioners in a number of important areas and professions within education. Those include teachers, administrators, and counselors. We think those professions are important not only as they are thought of traditionally in K-12 schools, but also in other educational contexts. That could be universities, preschools, or even more informal learning settings like daycare centers, afterschool programs, and museum education programs. We really want to think of education more broadly than what happens in K-12 schools.

As an overall goal, we try to prepare education practitioners across fields who can be leaders and agents of change. We really want them not to be content with adapting to the status quo, to just learn techniques and skills that would make them proficient at being math teachers or science teachers or in any other profession within education. We want to infuse in them the desire to be the kind of teachers, counselors, and administrators that make a difference in the institution they will join. Recognizing that there are many challenges right now in education, we feel that there is a need for people to go into schools and universities prepared to engage in reform, and to do it in a thoughtful and effective way.

We were very intrigued with the Kaufmann grant for entrepreneurship education that the University received a few years ago because we realize that entrepreneurship can provide us with some interesting concepts and tools that can empower our graduates not only to do their jobs well, but also how to be agents of change and leaders in the institutions they serve.

What are the challenges facing education in the 21st century? And how is Warner preparing to address them?

There is a sense of challenge when you talk of globalization and the fact that the United States has to compete with nations that have more scientists and more people with technological backgrounds. That concern continues, but in a different way than it was in the 1950s or 1960s. The concern is to attract and prepare future citizens to be scientifically literate. At Warner, we are excited about a new grant that we received from the National Science Foundation to prepare math and science teachers for schools with high needs and think it is a concrete expression that we continue to take that very seriously.

But one of the biggest challenges today is recognizing the inequities that exist in today’s schools within the United States and recognizing that we need to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to achieve that excellence. We need to recognize that there are a lot of factors that affect the performance of students and their ability to achieve their potential as future citizens, and we need to work on those as well to achieve our goals.

One thing that characterizes the Warner School is our deep commitment to social justice and recognizing that education can play a major role in achieving that goal for society.