Influential educator and ISU alumnus co-authors educational bestseller

April 12, 2013

Performing with Yo-Yo Ma, travelling through Germany and Australia while on tour and co-authoring a bestselling book highlight accomplishments along Howard Pitler's life path.

It is a journey began at Indiana State University in the early 1970s. As a student, Pitler discovered a passion for teaching and created a foundation for his love for music.

"I loved teaching; it's my favorite thing in the world," said Pitler, who taught and worked as a principal in Wichita Public Schools for 29 years. Still in contact with students he taught--sometimes weekly--he spoke about the fulfilling aspects of teaching.

"At the time, it was the accolades the program received. Now it's seeing the success of former students, to see them grow up and do wonderful things," he said, giving the example of students who are now band directors themselves and have been selected for regional competitions.

While in Wichita, Pitler received the honors of 1997 Kansas Principal of the Year and National Distinguished Principal, which recognized his excellence in teaching.

In addition to influencing his own students, Pitler recalled professors at Indiana State who had impacted him.

"Without question, the head of theory and private teacher Neal Fleugel," he said. "He took a real strong interest not only in my performance, but outside of the classroom, to make sure we were not doing stupid things with our lives. That's certainly a foundational piece."

Pitler also referenced John Spicknall as an important mentor from ISU, recalling playing with the professor in a jazz quartet.

Passionate about the genre, Pitler later started a jazz program at a high school in Wichita. He reminisced about an alumni concert he played at the high school a few years ago. After rehearsing for half an hour, the quartet performed a two-hour concert.

"Getting back 30 years later on stage and all of a sudden we're back in the 70s," said Pitler, a percussionist.

In addition to teaching, he performed with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra for 29 years.

"[As a percussionist], we didn't always do much," he joked, adding that the role gave him time to talk with sought-after performers such as Sara Chan or Yo Yo Ma.

After teaching and performing, Pitler transitioned into a new position as chief program officer at the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL), a Colorado-based organization comprised of educational consultants that offers research-based training and solutions for schools. He oversees research evaluation and program delivery.

At McREL, Pitler has co-authored a number of publications including "Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd ed."," Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, 1st and 2nd eds." and "The Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd ed."

Forty years of research, coupled with tried and true teaching methods, serve as the foundation for the nine strategies that define best teaching practices. The books made the best-seller list of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

"We didn't suggest anything in the technology book that we have not actually tried with kids. Anything in the handbooks is something we actually did in the field," he said.

Because the books are geared toward teachers, Pitler said the books are written in a "teacher voice." Instead of lengthy scholarly discourse, he said they translated a large volume of research into classroom vignettes and to what it's like to learn as a student.

"We want to give teachers concrete things they can do in a classroom tomorrow," said Pitler.

The experience of four teachers poured into authoring the handbooks, a process which Pitler described as "humbling."

"As you write, you realize how much people know. You're bringing that all together," he said.

Pitler now travels, putting on workshops and presentations, as well as training those who will train teachers.

"It gets us into schools to stay fresh with the content," he said. Travelling to places such as Chicago, Florida and Melburne isn't half bad, either, he said.

Pitler works with a lot of districts and state educational systems, including a current partnership with Florida's education department.

During his time at McREL, Pitler has also implemented some ideas he first encountered at Indiana State. Prior to being remodeled into the Bayh College of Education, a brown building served as the host site for a university lab school.

"As sophomores, we were able to go out into the teaching field," he said. "What a great idea."

Pitler noted the benefit of seeing teaching early, as opposed to students walking into student teaching their senior year and realize it is not their passion. Pitler brought the idea to McREL, which now has a lab school. It's one example of the way ISU has made its mark for Pitler.

"Most of the teaching I look back and am most proud of...ISU was the beginnings of it."

Photos:http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/Pitler-photos/i-hvnQJwv/0/L/New%20Pitler%20pic-L.jpg

Howard Pitler Courtesy photo

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Howard Pitler playing drums during a conference in Saipan. Courtesy Photo

Writer: Bethany Donat, media relations assistant, 812-237-3773, bdonat@sycamores.indstate.edu