A Celebration for an Exceptional Educational Leader: Dr. Ena Shelley


I met Dr. Ena Shelley, Dean of the College of Education at Butler University, on April 10, 2006.  What a lucky day for me.  Ena called me, I remember, at The College School to invite me to come to Indianapolis to speak with the Indianapolis Reggio Collaborative. The minute I heard her kind voice on the other end of the line, I knew that we would become friends.  That first visit led us into a rich and beautiful professional relationship and a warm and dear friendship.

Ena brought teachers and professors from Butler University a number of times to visit our schools in St. Louis and to attend conferences that our St. Louis Reggio Collaborative hosted.  I returned to Indianapolis and instead of staying in a hotel, Ena invited me to stay with her.  We traveled to Reggio Emilia together on a Professor and Student Study Tour. 

In 2008, I left my teaching position at The College School and Ashley and I launched Cadwell Collaborative, our consulting business for curriculum development and school design.  From that moment on, Ena became a way paver for both of us.   She provided us with many beautiful and memorable opportunities that have become milestones in our careers.

I told Ena that I dreamed of teaching a university course with her and she made that happen three times.  In 2011 we co-taught Living the Questions: Learning for the Future, focused on the fundamental principals and practices of the Reggio Approach.  In 2012 and 2013, we co-taught A Field Study in Early & Elementary Educationat Opal School in Portland, Oregon.  

Field Study in Early and Elementary Education, Butler University at Opal School

Field Study in Early and Elementary Education, Butler University at Opal School

Ena hired me to be a consultant for the new Indianapolis Public School Butler University Laboratory School from 2010-2015 working with Ron Smith and his faculty as well as the Butler faculty who taught courses on site.  This long term consultancy provided me with confidence and time to grow into and understand how I might best work with teachers and administrators. 

In 2010, Ena spearheaded an initiative to renovate and redesign an old Georgean elementary school on the Butler campus to be an innovative center for the Butler College of Education. Butler hired HOK, Gyo Obata, and Ashley Cadwell to work on that design.  Ashley and HOK authored a presentation on 21st century pedagogy and school design that was noteworthy at the time and a reference point for school architects today.

Rendering: Plans for new Butler College of Education building, HOK

Rendering: Plans for new Butler College of Education building, HOK

Last Monday, we attended the retirement celebration for Ena at Butler in the new College of Education building (a different one than HOK and Ashley designed but including many of their design principles).  I conclude by quoting some of what Ena said at her retirement celebration and much of what she wrote in her last column as dean before she retires.  There is so much wisdom here for all of us.  May we all continue to dare greatly, find joy and humor in life and in our work, listen to the children around us, and reach for the stars together.  

Resource Library at Butler College of Education: Dr. Ena Shelley Collection

Resource Library at Butler College of Education: Dr. Ena Shelley Collection

From the Newsletter Transforming Education by Ena Shelley

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” –Winnie the Pooh, author A.A. Milne.  

At the end of May, I will officially retire after 36 wonderful years at Butler University. I began my teaching career as a kindergarten teacher and Winnie the Pooh was present in several ways in my classroom. When I read this quote, I thought how perfect it was, sort of like a bookend to a career of learning that has filled my heart and soul with joy. If you have read the work of A. A. Milne, you know that his characters speak words of wisdom about lessons in life. I am taking this opportunity to share with you some of the lessons I have learned over the years along with a request for action that I offer as a “provocation” or opportunity to consider.

Lesson #1: Heroic work with children of all ages happens in schools and other learning institutions like museums, community programs, and hospitals every day! Through the years when I have encountered those who share their perspective that schools are failing and that the “system” is broken, I invite them to spend time with me in schools. Many times, I have found these individuals are relying on what they have heard or read but have not actually engaged with the people doing the hard work.

Provocation: How do you share your stories with others? Could your students write to policymakers or create videos of their own version of the evening news with a spotlight on “good things?” Can you invite into your setting those individuals who hold a less than positive view of education and engage them in thoughtful, ongoing dialogue?

Lesson#2: Future educators are sitting in today’s classrooms. The teaching profession is still a noble profession and is the foundation of a democratic society. As educators, we must encourage students who could be great teachers.

Provocation: I share this with you as something I have actually done numerous times when recruiting students into education through the university admissions process. We have an event with the prospective students and their parents at the Butler Lab School. I ask the parents to close their eyes and with a show of hands or a nod, indicate if they are worried about their child selecting education as a major, if they are worried about the salary of a teacher, if they are concerned about all of the challenges, including safety, teachers are facing. Each time I have done this, at least 95 percent of the parents indicate their concern. Then with their eyes still closed, I ask them to remember a teacher who positively impacted their lives. I ask them if they can picture the teacher in their mind, hear their voice, and remember what the teacher did that made a significant change in their life. Then I ask them to open their eyes, look at their child, and realize that their child can be that person in the life of someone. This is when it seems to “click” for them—YES, they want their child to be that person in the life of others. How can you create your own version of lifting up the profession by reminding others that behind every person is a teacher(s) who made a difference?

Lesson #3: Find the joy in what you do every day; even on the hardest days good things have happened—pay attention! When I student taught, one of the best things my cooperating teacher had me do was write down three to five good things that had happened during the day.  She told me even on the days when you felt like nothing went right, good things had happened. I still do this even today and I believe it is why I still love teaching. Don’t get caught up in negative talk because that spiral is an endless one-way road to being hopeless.

Provocation: If you don’t already keep a journal with positive notes, start one. Or, what if at the end of the day or end of the class period you ask your students to share good things that happened? The old saying “It is all in how you look at it” was best lived out in a conversation I had one day with a second-grader. I noticed his shoe was untied and I mentioned it to him. His reply was “The good news is the other one is fine.” Oh the wisdom of children—pay attention to them!

Lesson #4: In my role as Dean of the College of Education, I have learned that you surround yourself with incredible talent, develop a shared vision, and then run the race together, asking your peers what support they need and then provide it to them. Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind, described thriving organizations that had solos but also played harmoniously as a symphony. Ensure that individuals are thriving and developing their unique talents but always be mindful that they play a part in the larger organization that is the symphony.

Provocation: Are you playing a solo or do you see your role in the larger symphony? Is there someone who seems isolated in your organization who you could engage to work with you and others? Do you have a shared vision so you know what musical score you are playing?

I know that the COE will continue to DARE GREATLY and it has been my honor to be on the journey with you.  I also want the College of Education to remember, there is NO FAILURE, there is ONLY LEARNING.  When something doesn’t work out, it was a gift, a lesson, to guide you to the next step. May all of your steps be pavers to continued greatness.

Planting project at new IPS Butler University Laboratory School

Planting project at new IPS Butler University Laboratory School