What started as a practical problem to solve—how to traverse a mountain stream without getting wet—morphed into a long-time education researcher’s reflection on what it means to be an educator and professor of education.
Michael Knapp, professor emeritus of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Washington, is author of the recently released book To Build a Bridge: Reflections on an Academic Career in Education (available on Amazon).
Inspired by his spare-time hobby of constructing footbridges to cross creeks in the Cascade Mountains, To Build a Bridge explores how the work of an educator in and out of a professional school can be understood as building bridges between people, ideas and possibilities.
“Bridge building takes many different forms in education, and the bridge building that educators do is often hidden,” Knapp said. “It’s the infrastructure for things that are more visible. For example, the interpersonal and intellectual bridges you build between teachers and students in a classroom or between teachers and the central office that are crucial to supporting learning.”
Knapp, who retired in 2015 after a 35-year career in academia and education research, said that as educators work to build bridges—whether in their teaching, research, mentoring of students, collaborations, or other work—they need to pay attention to the obstacles that exist, in other words, the “creeks” to cross. These obstacles “sit out in the educational system, within the professional school, and inside ourselves.”
“You have to see and understand what’s standing in between where people are and where they want to be,” Knapp said. “Between a school and the community, for example, and what people want for their children.”
While Knapp’s book has implications for anyone in education, it is written for “fellow academics” at any stage of their careers, and especially for “pre-academics”—graduate students considering academic work in a university or related setting, as well as recent graduates who assume a variety of roles in or adjacent to academia.
“I’d like them to see what’s possible in this line of work,” he said. “To visualize what being an academic or semi-academic can be, where they’re headed and how they could approach the work.”
Visualizing these possibilities, he argues, are key to traversing the inequities that confront us all and to connecting what academics do with the needs of the field.
Knapp served as director of the UW Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy for two decades and focused his teaching and research on educational leadership and policymaking, school and school system reform, the professional learning of teachers and administrators, and methods of inquiry and policy analysis. His other books include Connecting Leadership with Learning: A Framework for Reflection, Planning, and Action (2006) and Learning-focused Leadership in Action: Improving Instruction in Schools and Districts (2014).
Michael Knapp, Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications