Keith Larick: Educator, leader, award-winner
Keith Larick’s first teaching job was as a gym instructor at the YMCA 50 years ago. He was still in high school.
He’s been teaching ever since, and this year, he’s Professor of the Year for the Association of California School Administrators. The official award comes Nov. 9 at the ACSA meetings in San Diego.
With a distinguished career as a classroom teacher, principal, school superintendent and, most recently, chair and professor for Brandman University’s Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership program, Larick has seen his share of awards. Even so, “It’s truly an honor,” Larick said, during a phone interview from his home in Northern California.
It’s an honor, but not what inspires him.
“Something that touched me the most (over the years) was a couple of letters I had from people in my very first sixth-grade class. Now grown women, with grandchildren, they took the time to write me. One said, ‘You probably don’t remember me. At that time, I was being abused at home. You and that classroom were my safe haven.’”
The student eventually became a seventh-grade teacher.
“That’s the payoff at every level – whether the sixth grade or the doctoral program – to see those who make it and make their own contribution,” he said.
It’s an attitude that wins the hearts of others at Brandman.
“A professor of the year should be someone whose top priority is ensuring that students have the richest, most powerful learning experiences that will help them succeed, not only in coursework but in careers and life,” said Patricia White, Ed.D., associate dean of School of Education and longtime colleague of Larick’s.
“That is what Dr. Keith Larick passionately brings to the table at Brandman University.”
“I have had the pleasure to work Dr. Larick at Brandman for more than seven years, and his knowledge, professionalism, work ethic, student support and commitment to leadership never cease to amaze me,” said Tod Burnett, Ed.D., interim dean of the School of Education.
And as Assistant Vice Chancellor Barbara Bartels, Ed.D., a recent graduate of the university’s doctoral program puts it, “I truly believe his mission in life is to help others find value in theirs.”
Making mentoring happen
When the education doctorate was created, Larick was one of the first people to be included. “What we talked about, even though our roles have evolved, is continuing to see ourselves as teachers. Good leaders are good teachers,” Larick said.
Those years spent teaching in sixth-grade classrooms taught him the fundamentals. “As a leader, you go prepared to share and teach and to encourage people to grow. That’s the mindset that makes a difference, and we tried to put that into the Brandman program.”
Making sure the program included mentoring was key. “Cohort mentors are very special. They come because they want to contribute. They’re the heart of what we do,” Larrick said.
While the Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership sounds like it’s aimed only at education, Larick said the leadership aspect fits every kind of organization or company. The program’s goal, he said, is to provide the highest quality of student work, something he takes seriously when reviewing every dissertation proposal.
“The other thing I think is important is we wanted to open up the door to the Brandman program to students who didn’t have advantages. There are so many artificial barriers. That’s one of the great things we’re doing. We’re graduating leaders who represent the demographics of California. It will make an incredible difference.”
Ed Cora, a student in the Ed.D. program, is among the many who can credit Larick with inspiring them to enroll.
“Dr. Larick is a mentor for me for several different reasons. I love his wisdom, his knowledge, his demeanor. He’s always cruising at the same level. I try to model what he does,” Cora said, adding that he chose the Brandman program specifically to work with Larick because of Larick’s reputation as a school superintendent.
He needed help
Larick may inspire others to learn in part because he needed some help in that department as well.
He thought he was a poor reader, a marginal student at best. Although he came from a family of teachers, an elementary school teacher had convinced him that he just wasn’t that capable.
“I was one of those boys that started school at 4. It took a long time to mature and catch up with myself,” he recalled. It wasn’t until he was in a speech class as a 17-year-old college freshman, that a teacher challenged his perceptions.
“Miss Lizer called me up and asked me what my problem was because I didn’t want to do an assignment. I was always saying ‘I can’t do this and that.’”
Lizer convinced him he could read 10 times faster than anybody else in his class. “She told me I was smart, told me I could do things I didn’t think I could do. She demanded I do it. It made an incredible difference.”
His speech teacher, he said, had unleashed his potential. “That’s what we try to do with all our students. Unleash the potential that is there.”
As much as Larick inspires others on a personal level, he’s also interested in the bigger picture of education. “We have been making incredibly slow, frustrating progress. Things we were doing 15 years ago still haven’t bubbled up as general practices. We’re still tied to the textbook,” he said.
“We haven’t been bold enough,” said Larick who describes himself as a futurist. “When I was a doctoral student, I got involved with Security Pacific Bank, which had a futurist division. The head of it came and spoke (at the University of LaVerne), we struck up a conversation about projections and forecasting and future scenarios,” Larick said. He maintained that relationship and that outlook, reading every day about something that’s future-oriented so that he has the big picture ideas, not just about education, but across society.
His futurist outlook also gives him a keen interest in technology, something every school, district, college and university should share, he said.
“Technology has had the biggest impact. This generation entering kindergarten now has the highest IQ in history. Their brains are working differently. They must to process this massive amount of information we have. For them, the written word is too slow. That drives the structure that should go on in classrooms.”
Districts that once were unable to offer advanced classes because of low enrollment in individual schools now can connect four students in one school, five in another over broadcast technology, he said. “You can offer things you couldn’t offer before by leveraging technology.”
It’s an approach he continues to explore at Brandman with the growth of virtual cohorts and students in Puerto Rico, the Middle East and across the U.S. “The technology has to be right on the mark.”
It all circles back. Technology works, he said, because it has the potential to be personal. “Learning is personal. People make their decisions based on who and what program is going to care about them. People want connections.”
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