In his “state of the university” speech recently, Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill discussed making the university the most innovative center of higher learning in Virginia and beyond with a focus on teaching, research and service. That sounds like an excellent goal.
What is Radford University’s “brand” today? When you think of Virginia Tech, you often think engineering.
With Syracuse University, many think of the Newhouse School of Communications. Harvard may bring to mind its law school. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania is known for business.
Radford University is, of course, a multifaceted institution of higher learning with a variety of different majors.
However, it originally started as a “normal school,”—a college preparing teachers for elementary and secondary education.
With a focus on teaching, research, service and, of course, innovation, Radford could become the top teaching (teacher education) school in the United States.
According to World University Rankings, the top five universities for education majors in the U.S. are Stanford, Harvard, U.C. Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
The University of Virginia was the first listed school in Virginia at 21 (number 38 in the world).
Could Radford University become one of the premier schools of education in the country?
A few weeks ago, this column included suggestions for creating a regional Career and Technical Education center called, for the purposes of discussion, New Visions.
It would be based in Radford and serve Radford City as well as the surrounding NRV counties of Pulaski, Giles, Montgomery and Floyd.
This initiative would be a joint endeavor involving the various school systems and similar to the Governor’s School. New River Community College, Radford University and Virginia Tech, as well as industries in and around the New River Valley, would be involved in the development of the curriculum and programs.
Similarly, Radford University could become the hub for educational development programs in the New River Valley.
Instructional leaders from the same five school systems could develop their individual instructional initiatives, but have access to programs for joint endeavors, also.
An instructional council would meet at RU, with RU becoming the innovation center for teaching and learning. For expediency, let’s call this the Teaching and Learning Center—TLC.
One of the biggest criticisms of teacher preparation programs is the theoretical distance between K-12 classrooms and those of the university. The TLC would eliminate that distance.
Teachers from the five districts would have the opportunity to attend TLC professional development offerings in areas such as Project Based Learning; inclusion; integrating instruction; building a classroom community; reading, math, writing (all subjects) instructional strategies; Professional Learning Communities and teacher leadership development to name just a few.
Principals and assistant principals would also have opportunities to work together on lead evaluator training, school leadership, clinical supervision, community building, PBIS, data analysis and many other areas, too.
RU could use these opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students as well as for in-service teachers and administrators.
In all of these offerings, students, teachers, administrators and university personnel would be working together with the goal of developing new research, innovation, and the advancement of best practices that would cycle between the TLC and the districts’ classrooms.
Cutting-edge experts in various instructional areas could be brought in for professional development, presentations and conferences. Communication among instructional leaders would be enhanced.
College staff would work with students, teachers and administrators at the TLC and directly in the field (RU has begun something similar with inclusion).
In addition to the superb elementary/secondary education preparation program offered between the TLC and the school systems, RU would be the top center for teaching and research in special education, speech-language therapy, ELL and many other study areas.
Other career paths such as counseling education, psychology and social work would have exemplary programs because they, too, would be coordinating with the TLC.
Teacher leadership programs would be a dominant strand. Courses for teacher leaders in curriculum development and instructional practices will give teachers the opportunity for leadership positions in schools or could lead to administrative leadership tracks.
Student development programs may begin with high school juniors and seniors having teaching/instructional experiences through New Visions. They would continue through advanced degree programs.
University and division staff members would work closely in supervising experiences in theory classes, student teaching internships, etc.
Instead of choosing other universities, the best and the brightest in the NRV will get scholarships from Radford. That way the NRV keeps excellent teacher prospects who can be developed right at home.
The NRV will receive and retain outstanding teachers who help create the best schools and school systems anywhere.
Businesses and industries would want to relocate to the NRV because of the excellent schools and, between New Visions and the TLC, the best-prepared workforce in the country.
Radford builds its brand as a distinguished teacher, special education, counselor education, school psychologist, leadership, social worker (basically all education-related majors) university with undergraduate and graduate students from around the country competing to attend.
With New Visions and some TLC, Radford University and the NRV will be the educational epicenter of the state and possibly the country. As with many worthy goals, it would create a win-win situation for everyone.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.