Clinical Partners Overcome Obstacles, Aspire to Future Successes

Three new videos are available this week in AACTE’s Research-to-Practice Spotlight Series highlighting clinical preparation and partnerships of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) College of Education. The latest videos focus on the importance of building clinical partnerships around “natural connections” with the community, the key challenges to keep programs going, and aspirations for the future of the UNLV-Clark County School District partnership.

The University of Las Vegas (UNLV) and its clinical partners, including the Clark County School District (CCSD) and the on-campus CSUN Preschool, have cultivated strong relationships that allow them to weather obstacles together and share hopes for the future.

Asked for his advice to other education deans looking to build this kind of program, UNLV College of Education Dean Kim Metcalf said the main focus must be on providing needed services to the local schools, families, and communities. He also emphasized the importance of understanding clinical practice as central to all aspects of the college’s work—not just as a side element useful for practice teaching.

Assistant Professor Norma Marrun agreed that researchers as well as teacher preparation faculty benefit from clinical connections. She said faculty members have a greater purpose than to “write books and stay in their offices,” pointing out that public universities’ mission is to serve their surrounding communities.

Paradise Elementary School Principal Kristie Cole advised new and prospective partners, “First and foremost, be open.” Be ready to set egos aside, she said, and change assumptions and habits in pursuit of the larger common goals. “It’s a work in progress every single day,” she said, “but if you know it’s what’s right for children and you know it’s what’s right for education, you can’t back down.”

Mike Barton, chief academic officer of CCSD, said a strong partnership has indirect as well as direct benefits, such as helping both parties handle scrutiny from the media. “If you want to stifle some of the critics out there about your teacher prep programs or your district, team up and focus on the right work and stay committed,” Barton said.

In addition to public criticism, the partners face a variety of other external and internal challenges. They cite securing funding, maintaining the strength of partnerships, and finding ways to tackle persistent teacher shortages as some of the obstacles threatening their success. Other challenges include a steep learning curve for newcomers arriving in a complex system and large school district; the conflicted loyalties some faculty confront in working with charter schools and alternative programs; and, in some cases, a lack of similar research in the field to help benchmark their work and progress.

As they overcome these obstacles together, leaders in both the university and the district have high hopes for the coming years. They expect the program to have longevity and continue to prosper in areas of recruitment, retention, and coaching. Faculty are excited about boosting the pipeline into the profession, bringing more students of color into their preparation programs, and building a more robust induction program for novice teachers. Others hope the partners will continue to expand their scope of research on different aspects of teacher preparation and student learning, such as through the recently launched Zoom collaboration to elevate achievement among English language learners.

Dean Kim Metcalf also dreams of opening an on-campus elementary school modeled on a teaching/research hospital. Rather than pushing any specific model of school reform or school improvement, he envisions “an environment in which we can use the ongoing provision of services to families and the clinical preparation of educators to support innovation in all of those areas, [and] that will move us forward over time.”

To watch the video interviews of UNLV faculty and partners, visit AACTE’s Video Wall.

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Sarah Verneret

AACTE Intern