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On excellence: craftsmanship and leadership: a presentation from the Maley "Spirit of Excellence" Breakfast in Columbus, OH, March 2013.

I would like to begin my talk by thanking the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association, Foundation for Technology and Engineering Educators, and the association's former Executive Director, Dr. Kendall Starkweather, for this opportunity; I am humbled that I was chosen for this honor. My talk will center on two areas of importance: (a) craftsmanship and leadership and (b) our profession, which I believe go hand in hand when discussing excellence--the theme and reason for this session. For those of you being honored this morning, today charts your journey; I challenge you to be a leader and keep students first. With that said, I would like to personally thank all of you for being the leaders that you are, and promoting excellence throughout our discipline.

We are here today to not only honor today's leaders, but to honor the legacy of Dr. Donald Maley. I never knew Dr. Maley personally, but I did attend his 1992 presentations (Making Problem Solving a Reality: Some Issues and Concerns for Implementation and Making the Integration of Mathematics, Science, and Other Subjects Into Technology Education a Reality) at the ITEA conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and studied his work and that of the University of Maryland in my graduate studies. I distinctively remember, as an undergraduate student, reading articles that appeared in The Technology Teacher written by Dr. Maley, and being in awe of his work. So, at the ITEA conference, I wanted to be an audience member in his presentations, which were both at capacity. I remember Dr. Maley's stature as he walked in and out of the room--a professional, someone to be revered. I cannot remember the content of his topics now, but I do remember his professionalism and cutting-edge titles. If it were not for the leadership of Dr. Michael Daugherty, who happened to be the key person who prepared me to teach technology education at Illinois State University and took all of the ISU-TECA members to the conference that year, I would have never attended that conference. My journey may have never been "charted" if it were not for this opportunity. Thank you Dr. Daugherty.

Some of you may know about my background. After high school, I completed an Associate's Degree in Cabinetmaking. After which, I worked for three different cabinetmaking and commercial businesses, on top of having my own business. After working in the cabinetmaking industry, I decided that I would like to teach my craft to others, so I completed my teaching degree. After teaching technology education at the public school level, I completed my Master of Science and doctoral studies, and am now in the position of preparing technology and engineering education teachers. While it would be fun to talk about how to build Queen Anne or Chippendale furniture, that is not why I am here; I am here to talk about craftsmanship and leadership as they relate to technology and engineering education.

I have a quote that I found several years ago that I have pinned in the center of the bulletin board in my office, and which is the impetus of my talk. The quote reads "Craftsmanship is never an accident, but is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution" (Russell, 2001). For me, this is one of the most powerful quotes that I have ever read. I may even sound like a nerd, but I read this quote every day I go into my office.

In my opinion, it is easy to either substitute leadership for craftsmanship or combine craftsmanship and leadership together into this quote. With that said, if you remove the suffix "ship"--which means having rank, position, or skill--from craftsmanship and leadership, you will notice that there is not an "I" in either word. I believe that one cannot be a craftsman or a leader without the education, preparation, training, and passion one receives from others. So, in examination of the first part of this quote, craftsmanship and leadership do not happen by accident, but are the positions you are put in because of what others see in you.

The second part of this quote reads "...always the result of high intention." The most important intention for me in my craft is being a person who can help prepare future and practicing STEM-based teachers, so that they can be the best that they can be for the betterment of their students. I firmly believe that if you intend to do something with the utmost or highest intention, you will succeed. I should have mentioned earlier that there is work for you to do at your tables. Yes, when you are the one delivering the speech, you are in charge! So, at your table you will find sheets of paper with questions. The first question for you to answer is: What is your high intention for technology and engineering education?

The third portion of this quote reads "sincere effort." "Sincere" means genuine, pure, or free of hypocrisy, while "effort" is the exertion of hard work. My father possessed sincere effort in everything that he accomplished; but I will admit that he liked to get on my case if I did not display his passion, especially if I was trying to help him on a project and I put my hands in my pockets. My father was a civil engineer. I know he wanted me to pursue civil engineering, but to be honest, I was not too fond of the mathematics requirements. But I sure did like working with my hands. Maybe I was a lucky kid growing up to have a parent who loved his craft and involved me in his craft--I bet I was the only kid in Central Illinois who used a transit in the summer to help lay out baseball diamonds and outfield fences or learned how to mix and place concrete. Each of you have that person or persons who have demonstrated sincere effort; otherwise you would not be here today. Your second question to answer is: What is your sincere effort for technology and engineering education?

The fourth portion of this quote includes the words "intelligent direction." When I contemplated leaving the cabinetmaking profession for teaching, I met with a person named Franzie Loepp from Illinois State University. I quickly learned from Dr. Loepp about the teaching field and what ISU had to offer--his enthusiasm for our field was and continues to be contagious. There are lots of people I could talk with you about who have provided me intelligent direction, just like you can document individuals who have helped to guide you. The part that I don't want you to miss is that the people in your life who provide you this direction do not come out and tell you to follow a specific path--they provide you with the knowledge, skill, and ability so you can have intelligence to decide your direction. Your third question to answer is: Where are you headed, and why are you headed in that direction?

The fifth and final portion of this quote contains the words "skillful execution." For me, it is easier to think about execution and skillful in reverse order. It is one thing to perform a task, but it is quite different to perform the task skillfully. To be skillful, one must have the knowledge, ability, and skill to execute the task for a specific reason, which brings me to the Technical Foundation of America, The Ohio State University, and the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association. Some of you in the audience know Dr. Gene Martin and his role with the Technical Foundation of America. Without the skillful execution of Gene's work, I believe a lot of professionals in our field would not have fulfilled their true craftsmanship and leadership, nor would I have met one of the most influential people in my life, the late Dr. Michael Scott. For those of you who knew Mike Scott, I am sure you have fond memories. For me, Dr. Scott was not only a professional colleague, but a person who possessed the knowledge, skill, and ability to take you to a level that you did not know existed. Lastly, I was afforded the opportunity to be elected the Region II Director for ITEEA in 2003. While I honestly admit not missing the barrage of email and telephone calls every day, I do miss the collaboration. Very few members of our association know how hard the ITEEA elected officials work for the betterment of the association, including our former Executive Director, Dr. Starkweather. I would challenge you throughout this conference to thank ITEEA and its wonderful staff for helping move our association forward, all without any accolades. Your final question to answer is: What specific skill needs to be executed for you to help others to be a technology and engineering education leader?

The second part of my talk this morning, which you will be happy to know is shorter than the first, relates to our profession. Like most of you, I have witnessed the transitions in our field from the industrial arts (I am not old enough to have witnessed the manual arts) to today's technology and engineering education. I am proud that we have still maintained our focus on hands-on learning, which we do better than anyone else in the school curriculum, but I am growing fearful that we are losing our balance between hands-on learning and a lot of seatwork using computers and simulated experiences. As a teacher educator, I readily understand my craft, but wonder what craft students in the public schools will leave with. Let me be clear here that I am not advocating for the return to the industrial arts preparation of students. I wholeheartedly believe in technology and engineering education and the emphasis on STEM-based learning, but I do believe that we need to do a better job focusing our efforts on innovative methods to prepare students for our technological world while using their hands--developing their craftsmanship.

Students need more experience getting their hands dirty troubleshooting, researching and developing, inventing and innovating, and experimenting in engineering design. For most of us in the room, we grew out of a hands-on program that helped propel us to where we are today; that is, we got excited about our craft and are leading by example. Will tomorrow's students possess craftsmanship? Will these students be excited enough to continue their education and eventually enter the teaching field? As I conclude my FTEE talk, I would be remiss if I did not say thank you to all of my family, including my wife of 21 years and three children, friends, and colleagues for helping to position me where I am today; I hope one day I can be a leader and craftsman like Dr. Maley. The challenge for each of us is to believe that craftsmanship and leadership do not occur by accident, but rather because of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution.


Russell, W. F., (2001). Russell rules: 11 lessons on leadership from the twentieth century's greatest winner. New American Library: New York, NY.


Chris Merrill, Ph.D., DTE is an assistant professor at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. He can be reached at
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Author:Merrill, Chris
Publication:Technology and Engineering Teacher
Geographic Code:1U3OH
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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