Taking the Lead

A Q&A with Dr. Sabrina Zirkel, the new dean of the School of Education and Counseling Psychology

Dean Sabrina Zirkel says a combination of curiosity and constant reflection makes an educator more successful.

Dr. Sabrina Zirkel, the new dean of the School of Education and Counseling Psychology, is an experienced leader in education who has a lot to offer in the way of inspiration here at SCU.  I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dean Zirkel a few weeks ago to get to know her and to find out what brought her to SCU.   

TV: What attracted you to come to Santa Clara University?
SZ: I'm very attracted to the Jesuit mission of Santa Clara, and was really impressed by the faculty, Provost Dennis Jacobs, and the President, Fr. Engh. Everyone here is so committed to the School of Education and Counseling Psychology being a premiere center where students know they can come and get top-notch preparation but also where they can make an impact in the community. For example, all of the work that we’re doing in East San Jose is very exciting. That we're doing this for a purpose and that there is a deep commitment to making a difference all the way up and down the university attracted me.

TV: So talking the talk and walking the walk?
SZ: Yes, exactly. Teaching, educational leadership and counseling are also service professions. We're here to serve our students, but we're also here to prepare students to serve the broader community. That there was a real passion for both of those things all the way up and down the chain impressed me. 

TV: You mentioned impact. What kind of impact do you feel that you can make as the dean of the school? What kind of impact do you want to make?
SZ: I think everybody agrees that this school is on the cusp of moving to the next-level of impact in the community, the next-level of being seen as the leader in the community. If someone wants to get a teaching credential, Santa Clara should be the first place they think about. If someone wants to become a counselor, Santa Clara University should be front of mind. I want people to turn to Santa Clara for answers as they think about the social problems facing our area, and the problems facing our area are those facing so many communities: Ensuring schools are effective for all students; working to make sure that our children and families from all over the world live, work, play and go to school together to know our common humanity. The School of Education and Counseling Psychology at SCU can be a big part of helping people grapple with these dilemmas. 

TV: You have a deep commitment to the issues of diversity, justice, and inclusion. So what sparked your interest in studying race, ethnicity, gender, and class across all sectors of education, and how does that passion translate to your position and the Jesuit values the school has?
SZ: I think my passion emerged just from what I would see in my own classrooms and the classrooms of my colleagues. I’m passionate about looking at the ways inequities get structured into our schools and colleges throughout the system and want to make a difference and then working to remove barriers for students. Jesuit schools have a strong social mission, educating people for something greater than just themselves or something greater than just intellectual achievement. I see these values translated into the work everyone here at the School of Education Counseling and Psychology does every day. The commitment that the School has made in East San Jose and in surrounding areas to create the highest quality of educational experience possible in communities that have been underserved is very important to me. Similarly, our Counseling Psychology faculty and students are committed to being with people through their most challenging times and experiences. One example is the work our counseling psychologists do to help individuals and families with loved ones in hospice. I hope to continue extending those Jesuit values into the community.

TV: So what is the most important trait or characteristic an educator should have, in your opinion, to be successful?
SZ: I think it's important for an educator to be curious, and that, maybe, is the most important thing.  To be curious about what's working in the classroom and curious about what's not working, curious about why some students are learning and other students aren't learning. Sometimes I see educators approaching education like a technical job, "I do this, and that will happen." This isn't technical work, it's very nuanced people work. So going home and having that thing that you can't quite figure out and sort of mulling it over in the evening, "Why is that kid not getting it when I explain it that way?" or "Why is so and so struggling with the reading?" Sort of really seeing teaching as something that requires constant reflection about what you're doing.
TV: So what advice would you give to students who are studying to become educators? What would stand out as the most important thing that you would give advice? And, would you encourage people to go into education?
SZ: Yes, I certainly would encourage people to go into education. I would encourage them to go into education because they have a passion for children, because they like children, and to remember, assuming they're teaching in K-12, that their students are children--even those seventeen and eighteen year olds are children. I’d encourage them not to lose sight of the fact that children need to play and they need to have some time outside of schoolwork.I’d also encourage teachers to be kind to themselves, to give themselves time to play, to give themselves time to relax. They need to know that sometimes the job can feel like it's never finished right up until that end of June, and they need to take care of themselves as well as being kind and taking care of their students. 

TV: I like that advice. It's kind of like a mom also or a dad. You can't give to others or your children until you give to yourself. So if your cup is not full, then you can't really share it with anyone else.
SZ: Yeah, and if you're not kind to yourself about making sure you have time for a full life, you're not going to see the need to do that with the children in your classroom. I see too many teachers piling on the work and not really thinking about how it all fits into some greater picture of childhood development and education.



Education, Counseling Psychology
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 Dr. Sabrina Zirkel, Dean of Santa Clara University's School of Education and Counseling Psychology. Photo by Joanne Lee/Santa Clara University