Q&A: Principal Tim Devine

Note from The Fund Team: Tim Devine was taught the importance of civic engagement from a young age. Many of his family members were active members of government. He attributes his intrinsic motivation to this desire to serve others. His passion and dedication to education was clear as we chatted to him about his work over the phone.

The Fund: Your family taught you the importance of civic engagement at an early age. How have those lessons impacted you?

Tim Devine: I am a born and bred Chicagoan who is committed to the city. I am a lifelong resident. I grew up in a family here in Chicago that has been and is very committed to public service. Our dinner table conversations included issues about the government, economy, social justice, etc. My father was Cook County’s state attorney for 12 years. I was his campaign manager in 1996, and my mother was an active leader in our school and church. My siblings (three of them) include an older brother who was a press secretary to a congressman, a sister who is the chair of counseling department at Taft, and a younger brother who is sergeant of detectives. Public service was part of our daily conversations.

I went to Loyola Academy. Part of the Jesuit tradition is service to others, and it was at Loyola that I came to know I wouldn’t drift too far from public service. I have been intrigued by the intersection of the social sciences and adolescent psychology, so throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, I honed in on wanting to work at the high school level. I was intrigued back then and still today with high school aged students, as high school is the time period in life when people are morphing from childhood (still a child beholden to mom and dad) to young adulthood by the time they graduate. The transitions that occur in those four years—intellectual growth, a broadening worldview, the formation of adult relationships, starting to ask epistemic questions of life (e.g. personal values, religious values, the importance of relationships)—are important, and I wanted to be a guide to students at that particular age level.

The Fund: What motivates you?

TD: There’s so much discussion in the field of psychology and business management about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. One book that addresses the concepts of motivation is Daniel Pink’s “Drive,” in which he compares intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. I tend to not be overly motivated in money or material things. I was taught by family and people close to me growing up that there really is something so noble about the profession of education; about being selfless enough to develop a strong and creative mindset and skill sets within adolescents. I have found value in teaching and honing strong mindsets and skills in my students through the lenses of the social sciences (history, government and economics, sociology, and psychology). My energy is largely drawn from a well-spring of intrinsic motivation that is combined with the extrinsic purposes of developing students who can aid in the creation of better societies and who can better identify and resolve varied issues and problems.

The Fund: What aspects of Payton excite you?

TD: Students come to Payton as highly charged and capable learners, but we do some really unique things within our all-honors and AP curriculum. We’ve created programs at Payton that twist the idea of education in healthy degrees. Each day we have 49 minutes of enrichment, wherein many things occur: academic tutoring or homework club; our physical fitness and interscholastic sports start during this time (we are the only CPS school that does this; student-athletes can invest themselves in interscholastic sports during a portion of the school day, which frees up time for them to pursue different interests without overly taxing themselves); we offer personal fitness opportunities like slow runner’s club and yoga, and; we embed our academic clubs (e.g. debate team, math team, science team, poetry slam team) during enrichment.

Every other Wednesday, we have seminars, seventeen of which are taught by students, on unique intellectual subjects such as a seminar on Morningstar Investments (stocks, trading), Judo club (two students participated in Paralympic Pan American games in Judo), Chicago architecture, Second City improv comedy club, etc. There are no tests, no quizzes, and no homework – students are learning for learning’s sake. We have the highest attendance at these learning seminar events. We put a fresh twist on teaching and learning.

The Fund: What’s an average day in the life of the Payton High School principal?

TD: I typically arrive to campus at 6 a.m. each day to start by writing a handwritten note to someone in our community. I certainly recognize that there are many, exceptional persons on campus who do much to advance the lives of our students, and it is important that they be thanked for their contributions to our student’s growth. I then do professional reading: journals, articles, books about the profession of education and organizational change and leadership and the like. Then, I open email for 30 minutes at 6:30 a.m. I tour the building with the engineer. Every day takes on a life of its own. I have meetings with a wide-array of persons — students, faculty, fellow administrators, policy-makers, folks from central office, professors and researchers, authors. At midday, I return to e-mail for 30 minutes. I meet with my instructional leadership team or administrative team for an hour. I have many formal and ad hoc conversations. By 4:30 p.m., I go to one or more student activities on campus. Then, I’m home around 6:15 or 6:30 p.m., unless it’s a late day.