Healthy relationships maximize students’ potential, says dean

Bryan Duke has taught both child and adolescent psychology. (UCO/OFFICIAL)

Bryan Duke, dean of education and professional studies at UCO, has confidence in his students — an important step in those students developing confidence in themselves. 

“I believe you’re capable. You can grow, you can push, you can be uncomfortable. But if I didn’t believe you could learn, then I shouldn’t be here,” he said. 

Duke emphasized the educator-student connection and the importance of a collaborative, personable environment.  

“I had so well ingrained in me, by my parents, and my mentors, and my colleagues, that relationships are critical. You know, learning is going to happen in the classroom, or maybe not no learning. But I will say, you’re not going to maximize the learning potential in your classroom without really healthy relationships,” Duke said. 

He gave more detail about his background, showing the breadth of his educating experience that led to his current position as dean.   

“This is my 33rd year as an educator. I started my career as a teacher in Moore public schools. I was a junior high teacher for three years. And then I was a high school teacher for seven at Westmoore High School. And then I was an assistant principal, for a few years before coming here. And I’ve been at UCO, now, this is my 22nd year here as a professor,“ he said. “I was in the Educational Sciences, foundations Research Department, which trains teachers, helps with some of the courses for school counseling principles, and so forth. And then had been with the dean’s office, you know, as assistant and associate, and now the dean for over 10 years. So, I’ve been in education a long time at the different levels and have really enjoyed my journey,” Duke said. 

He said, “integrity is critical,” and while no one is perfect, he tries. 

“I try to make sure that I’m good on my word. And professionally, that’s the same way, but also professionally, I try to make sure that I honor and respect that what people bring to the classroom is their journey to learn. They all come at different entry points, and they’re all going to leave in different places, but trying to make sure that the time we spend together and the environment that we co create, and the lessons that I provide are meaningful.”

Duke had encouraging words for future educators who may feel daunting about entering the field. Focus on the students, he said. 

“Teaching is so hard, and it’s so complex that there are multiple things that I’ll throw out here. But first of all, you have to have a heart for it. You have to be passionate about it. And you have to really understand at some point that it’s not about you. Teachers, I think at first when you go into the classroom, you’re so worried as a new teacher about the things that you’re doing. But at some point, you have to shift and you certainly have the responsibility but you certainly have to focus on what is this like for the student experience,” he said. 

Teaching and studying are both not easy. Duke highlighted the people-centered aspect of the field. Here was his advice for those studying education now. 

“Make sure that it’s really student focused and student centered. And that doesn’t mean that we students are going to like every assignment or decision because learning is tough, sometimes it should be challenging, and it should push us from our comfort zone. And it’s like a good workout in the gym, you know, you’re gonna sweat through some things, and you’re going to feel the burn and you know, and to me, those are signs of a good education. But it certainly should be challenging, relevant, respectful. Those are the qualities that teachers need to bring, not only in the instruction, and the lessons, but also in the relationships they build with students in and how they manage the classroom,” he said.

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