One Body, Many Parts: Dan Reynolds on Daughters, Deanships, and Doctoral Studies
Dan Reynolds, like most of his colleagues nearing the end of their doctoral programs at Vanderbilt University, has no shortage of things to do. Grant proposal deadlines loom on the horizon, data from his most recent study on high school-level reading comprehension await his analysis, and manuscripts demand his revision. Amid this already full-time juggling act, one that recently earned him the Literacy Research Association’s Student Outstanding Research Award, Dan and his wife Laura—both graduates of ACE Teaching Fellows’s 13th cohort—are raising three children under the age of 4 and directing their parish’s Youth Group at St. Ann Catholic Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Moving within and among the worlds of educational research, parenting, and ministry, Dan and Laura can say with certainty that their work is never finished. There is always more to be done.
For Dan, the realization that there is always more to be done, is one he experienced in profound ways while working at San Juan Diego Catholic High School in Austin, Texas, where he was asked to take on the role of Dean of Discipline in his fifth year of teaching. The former dean, a Holy Cross Brother, had been re-assigned to Rome mid-year, meaning that if no one assumed the deanship, the disciplinary responsibilities would be parceled out among several different teachers. Knowing it was in students’ and teachers’ best interests to centralize the disciplinary duties, Dan agreed to take on the position for a semester. Almost three years later, he was still Dean of Discipline, and he would probably still be had he not decided to make the move to Nashville to pursue doctoral studies.
Without an operational guide or a set of instructions, Dan had to learn through experience. His last trip to the Dean’s office had been almost ten years earlier, when he received a referral for riding a boogie board down the steps of the school as a high school student. His father had actually saved the referral slip, and upon learning Dan had accepted in the position, sent it with a simple reminder of his own humanity, “Lest you forget!” Needless to say, Dan didn’t forget—about his own humanity or the humanity of the students and families he served.
As a high school English teacher, Dan had witnessed the ways that a school’s disciplinary policies played out in a single classroom. He had sent students to the Dean’s Office when they could no longer conduct themselves in a manner conducive to the learning environment. As Dean, though, he received all of those concerns he had previously sent to the office. He had to be the one to look parents in the eye and say, in the case of an expulsion, “I’m sorry, but your child can’t come back here.” And with every painful conversation of that nature, he had to question, “What are we, as a school, doing—or what more could we be doing—so I don’t have to see that kind of hurt in a parent’s eyes again?”
From his vantage point as Dean of Discipline, Dan came to see a school as a collection of individuals—one body, comprised of many parts—each individual or part implicating the many others. While it had been tempting to think of his classroom as a closed system, his deanship forced him to see otherwise. Made keenly aware, by his experience as Dean, of the ramifications of one person’s decisions and behaviors on the community at large, and vice a versa, Dan is quick to remember that there is always work to be done, and it is work that matters deeply to a larger community. Whether intervening in high school students’ reading comprehension in classrooms throughout Nashville, explaining to his three-year-old why she can’t indulge in a second bowl of cereal, or playing Laser Tag on a Sunday with members of St. Ann’s Youth Group, Dan—along with Laura—is living out the reality that we are all implicated in each other’s lives. With so much at stake, the work is never finished. There is always more to be done.