Recognizing a gap between what universities teach and what public schools actually need, Southern Utah University has created a solution by employing a corps of mentors in education.
Twenty-five education leaders have joined with the SUU Beverley Taylor Sorensen College of Education and Human Development as adjunct instructors – 14 are either currently or recently employed as school superintendents. Hailing from districts throughout Utah, they teach online classes supplementing efforts of the College of Education’s full-time faculty. And because they are currently working in the field, they offer practical knowledge and prepare SUU graduate students to meet the up-to-date demands of public schools.
Dr. Bart Reynolds, associate dean of the SUU College of Education and Human Development, described the effort as one that fills a very real need. According to Reynolds, SUU’s education department realized most universities focus solely on educational theory, which offers broad definitions and theoretical concepts of education. “We decided to give students the best preparation possible by creating ‘the third space,’” he said.
The program name comes from the idea of drawing two circles: one labeled theory and the second labeled practice. Where the two circles overlap is the place where theory and practice can meet, or “the third space.” The program’s purpose is to offer enhanced training and career preparation for future elementary, middle, and high school leaders in education.
“We invited some of the best and brightest educational leaders in Utah to teach classes as SUU instructors,” said Dr. James McCoy, associate professor of teacher education. “Together, we form a common effort and stewardship to shape future leaders in the field of education.”
SUU has the largest educational leadership preparation program in Utah with recent enrollment reaching 490 students. “The size of our student body is a significant motivating factor,” said McCoy. “We are continuously working to enhance SUU’s curriculum to ensure SUU’s ‘principal factory’ is doing it right.”
Wasatch High School Principal, Shawn Kelly, is among the group of SUU education adjunct instructors. “When professors who are currently working in the field are doing the teaching, their lessons are based on everyday experiences,” he said. “This provides unique perspectives for future administrators.”
Suraj Syal, director of special education for Washington County School District, is an SUU education graduate and is now also teaching with “the third space.”
“When I was a graduate student at SUU, my professors recognized we were current educators with obligations on contract. They were always willing to work with us,” Syal said. “I could tell they had a focus on preparing the future educators as well as possible. I knew by studying at SUU I’d get a job.
Now, Syal hopes to give back by mentoring, connecting, and building networks with students that will last for years to come. “Our goal is to help prepare, train and support successful future leaders in education,” Syal said.