Principal at Odyssey Elementary School
Master’s of Education, 2018
I’d been working as a teacher for 7 years and never expected to go into administration. I just loved being in the classroom too much! However, I was soon asked to support other teachers and do some coaching and cooperating educational teacher modeling. Not long after that, I was asked to apply for an instructional design position where I worked with new teachers (who had been teaching for just 2-3 years) on assessment and professional development.
These new roles took me out of my classroom and illustrated how essential a strong, good leader is, so I decided to go back to school. As Principal, as a leader, it’s my responsibility to foster growth in my teachers. My educational training and work experience have given me the background I need to tailor that growth to where they are in their careers. For new teachers (1-3 years) that might be time management in the classroom; for mid-career teachers (6-8 years) that might be helping them try new things in the classroom; for experienced teachers (9+ years) that might be helping them with ideas for writing or figuring out how to have a greater impact. As Principal, I may not be in a classroom, but I still work with students, families, and communities. One of the cool things about being a principal is utilizing my experience as an instructional designer, teacher, and skills in observing and providing feedback.
I also lead the effort to create a safe and positive space for students. Odyssey Elementary is a high-impact school with 100% free lunch; most families live at or below the poverty line. I recognize that the challenges of being an administrator are different depending on the socioeconomic factors surrounding a particular school, but high-impact schools are the most rewarding. You aren’t just making a difference in the classroom; you’re making a difference in the community.
Anyone considering a degree should consider education. Education is a job where you never go home without having made a significant impact. A career in education is time-consuming, hard work, and the higher your position the more that is demanded of you, but you also have a greater impact. As a teacher, I had an impact on all my students and their families. As a principal, I have a global impact. Daily, you get to interact with students, families, teachers, other admins, and community members. The pandemic made these relationships all the more vital. My number one takeaway from the pandemic is that relationships matter. Nobody can have an impact without having a relationship.
I chose the ELP program at the UofU because I wanted hands-on, face-to-face classes. Plus, my cohort was very supportive. We called each other “Phone a Friends” because we were there to support, help, and encourage one another. Most of my cohort are still friends, and I love watching their careers grow. The program was also very friendly for working professionals. Most of my “Phone a Friends” worked while going through the program. Working while going to school was difficult but did enable us to immediately apply what we were learning on our projects and in the classroom to our everyday working life. The program’s training and networks, along with my work experience, helped me get a job before I even graduated.
*Sonja has continued to advance her career and today she is the Director of Student Advocacy for Ogden School District.