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Department Spotlight

Whitworth Education Professor Named Distinguished Educator
by Phi Delta Kappa International

Whitworth Visiting Professor of Education O.J. Cotes was recently honored with the Distinguished Educator Award from the Washington State Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa International. Cotes received the award in December 2006 for her exemplary leadership of the Washington State Teachers Recruiting Future Teachers program.

The WSTRFT is a state-wide program modeled after a similar program in South Carolina that was launched to address the state's teacher shortage. During the past 25 years, Cotes has served in many capacities within the WSTRFT, including the positions of president, conference chair and board member. In the early stages of the organization, she helped develop a curriculum that met Washington-state teacher standards.

"Awards rarely recognize the importance of all the people who have influenced the changes, ideas and growth that occur within a program and a person," Cotes says. "I am deeply indebted to those people who have encouraged me and modeled their passions and skills during my journey."

Cotes counts her father, an enrolled Colville Indian, as one of her chief mentors, and considers her Native American heritage to be a strong influence on her career as an educator.

"My father was my first teacher and mentor," Cotes says. "He lived a life of respect for his family, the earth and his God. He taught me how to be quiet while hunting, how to have respect for the animal who would feed us, how to work hard and enjoy working hard, and how to be a good person. During my teaching career, I have also had great mentors who have demanded that I learn and do my best. These mentors challenged me to rethink or redo an endeavor until it was done much better than I thought I could do."

Cotes' primary concern and passion as an educator is recruiting model teachers of color and increasing diversity among teaching staff.

"Everyone benefits from a diverse teaching staff," Cotes says. "Early on I became involved with finding ways to increase the staff of color in Spokane School District 81. It became apparent that we have many very capable students within Spokane who could become these much-needed teachers if we set out to encourage them and support them in their careers."

This passion led Cotes to work with The Teaching Academy, a program in Washington high schools that recruits and encourages junior and senior students to pursue teaching careers. The curriculum, training and standards for the program came from the WSTRFT. The Teaching Academy operates in nearly 70 Washington high schools. While participating in the academy, students take a semester of basic-education skills and curriculum and then do a student -teaching practicum in an elementary school for one semester. 

Cotes was also involved with the Future Teachers of Color program, which targeted high- school students of color in Spokane. In this program, students were matched with a teacher of color and attended monthly evening sessions to explore teaching ideas. The students also took part in dinners and activities that linked them as educational partners with their parents and teachers.

Cotes holds a master of education degree in administration from Whitworth. She worked with the Spokane School District for 34 years as a teacher – she taught at both the middle and high school levels – and as an administrator in staff development. In this position, Cotes worked with administrators and teachers in the areas of instructional skills and strategies. At Whitworth, Cotes coordinates the secondary program in the Master in Teaching program, teaches general secondary methods and critical-issues courses, and supervises MIT secondary student teachers. She is also involved with several diversity initiatives with the Whitworth School of Education.

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