Rod Uzat, PhD, is an assistant professor in the College of Education’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program and Superintendent Certification program. In addition to teaching, Assistant Professor Uzat acts as a field supervisor, assisting students in the practicum (internship) component of our online program. He was gracious enough to answer some of our questions and shed light on what our online program and expert faculty members can offer students.

Our online MA in educational leadership is designed for students interested in leadership roles in K-12 settings, especially principalship. What is unique about this career path?

Whether it’s students, parents, faculty, support staff, or neighbors, they’re all part of the mix. Everybody has been to school, so people feel that they have some understanding of what it’s about, and they have some vision of what they’d like to see for it. It’s a very rewarding form of work that’s also deeply personal for everybody involved, and in that way, you can’t really compare it to anything else. 

Many educators pursue a career in educational leadership out of a desire to have a greater impact on student success. What is the connection between administration and teaching?

For me, there’s a direct line from administrative work to teaching and learning. Sometimes that line gets lost a little bit for people because of the nature of the work. At the schools I’ve served, one of the requirements was that regardless of the position you held—principal on down—you’re going to teach one class, so I’ve always maintained a connection to the classroom. Maybe that’s made it easier to see it that way, but I believe that any decision you’re making should be made with that lens in mind.

Our online MA in educational leadership program requires students to complete a supervised internship in a school setting. What’s that like for students?

In the field experience, interns complete a Professional Improvement Project (PIP) plan focused on teaching and learning. We’re hopefully providing a service whereby people who want the experience of becoming administrators are getting a chance to get their feet wet in terms of active, practical research to improve teaching and learning. I’m there to help see them through this project.

In the meantime, they’re submitting videos, where I get to watch them in the pre-conference and post-conference meetings they’re having with teachers. Then I can assess and talk to them about that, and there’s an opportunity for the candidate to do a lot of reflection on where they want to take this next, and it’s my job to ask, “Where is it that you feel a little uncertain? Let’s explore that.”

Students receive real-world experience in the internship portion of our online MA in educational leadership program. Why is this essential?  

The combination of theory and practice is critically important. In the program, the idea is that you need to pursue work in your day that is, in fact, the same work that an administrator would be doing. Some of that’s a little bit of drudgery. Some of it is a little more to the bone as far as holding conferences with teachers and checking in a collegial manner on the progress students are making.

When you require interns to have different experiences in different domains as is outlined in the TAC (Texas Administrative Code) guidelines, which is what we’re doing, then they see the demands that come upon somebody who’s working in an administrative role. It’s an eye opener. Every intern has said to me, “Wow, I knew that principals had to multitask, but I did not know to what degree.”

What is an example of an authentic field experience a student might benefit from during their internship?

Walking into somebody else’s classroom is not easy, and some people are going to be better at it than others. I think there’s anxiety on both sides because teachers usually have that domain to themselves, right? For the intern coming in to observe, they might think, “How are they going to feel about this? How am I going to feel about this? How certain am I that I can talk about what’s going on in this room?” Those are all human, real, emotional reactions.

The natural thing is for interns to want to break the ice by doing an observation in a subject field they’re familiar with. The next step is for me to say, “Hey, how about next time you try going into somebody else’s class with a subject area you’re not familiar with.” It’s easier to have a conversation with somebody you have an existing professional relationship with. They know you; you know them. That’s not the nature of what’s going to happen in an administrative position. You’re going to have to evaluate all people, and hopefully, you get to know them all. That’s the way in which you build those relationships.

Do you find that students are more confident with walking into classrooms, meeting with teachers, and assessing student progress as their internship progresses?

My experience has been that as people leave their comfort zone, they walk away feeling a lot better about that. I can see the confidence in people growing already just by virtue of getting used to doing that kind of work and putting themselves in those roles, regardless of what they are, because the ice has been broken, so to speak, and they can just go about their business and do the work.

Internship aside, courses in our MA in educational leadership program are online and feature asynchronous elements. How do you support your online students?

For me, providing the best learning experience means I need to talk to you personally. I can’t just say, “Here are these canned lectures. Here are these assignments. I’ll evaluate them when they come in.” It behooves me to make contact with you as a student and to check in with you beyond when assignments are up because I need to get to know who you are as well. That’s been my experience in any course that I’ve taught. You get to know the people who you have in your class.  

Why might educators, especially those with busy schedules, benefit more from our online program than an on-campus program? 

Particularly in this profession, the people who are going to get into this program are already working in the field. It would be very difficult, if not impossible in some cases, for them to finish their work, come out to evening classes (even if we offered them), and get home to take care of personal matters. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that way. At the same time, does that mean that people should not be afforded an opportunity to become the professionals that they want to become? Do those communities not deserve the best leadership that they can get?

The online MA in educational leadership program creates the opportunity to save that time. What you do with that is totally based on what you’re offering.

Do you have any final thoughts on what UT Permian Basin can offer students?

UT Permian Basin reflects West Texas. People here care; people here are authentic. There’s a lot of very diverse and very bright people here, and so it goes at the University. I think there’s a light there to which people can make their way, and they can bring that light into their communities.

Bring a Light to Your Community

Interested in gaining the knowledge, skills, and real-world experience needed to succeed as a school administrator or principal? Visit our educational leadership program page or apply now if you’re ready to pursue a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from UT Permian Basin.