In 2014, Amy Russell began our online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program as an instructional services director. When she graduated just one year later, it was as an elementary school principal. We caught up with Russell, who now helms Bowie Elementary School in Odessa, and she was eager to discuss her journey to become a principal and how our program helped her along the way. Aspiring principals and assistant principals considering their next steps will want to hear what she had to say.  

The Decision to Take Courses Online  

Russell has over a decade of experience as an educator and administrator, but qualifying for principalship, she knew, would mean going back to school and earning her master’s degree. The problem was finding a program that could accommodate her busy schedule. At the time, she worked full-time as an instructional services director. Ultimately, she decided to pursue her degree online. “[G]oing virtual allowed me to take their work that had to be done and apply my schedule to it and remain on top of what needed to be turned in,” she said. 

Her First and Only Choice 

Russell had an easier time choosing which college to attend. Having earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting from our University years ago, she never forgot the professors who supported her or the high-quality education she received. When it came to graduate schools, The University of Texas Permian Basin was her first and only choice.  

The Convenience of Online Learning 

“Being online, you could email, you could chat, you could send a message to your professor,” explained Russell, “and all of them responded within 24 hours.” Our faculty is composed of professional educators, each of whom has years of experience in teaching or administration and strives to provide the support students need to thrive in an online setting. Whether its questions about an assignment or concerns with their course load, students can always find help at UT Permian Basin.  

Standout Courses  

Russell’s favorite online course was School Law, which teaches administrators to promote the success of all students by acting with integrity, fairness, and appropriate professional ethics. “I think that was my favorite course because it brought cases that were at each end of the pendulum of ‘Wow, never thought of it that way,’ she said, “and they even had a local example in that book: someone from Odessa.” What was most fascinating, she shared, was how everyday decisions can lead to long legal battles, creating a ripple effect throughout education.   

Cultural Diversity in Education and the Social Sciences was another standout course for Russell. Students take an in-depth look at special populations: students with diverse needs who may not have access to education resources and opportunities. “Sometimes we looked at laws as impeding or making barriers,” she said,” but then the class helped me see that this was to actually help and remove barriers for these children to access education.” Like our other online courses, Cultural Diversity in Education and the Social Sciences teaches aspiring administrators how to overcome challenges encountered throughout education.   

More to Offer 

Our online program, although flexible, is no less rigorous than an on-campus program. In fact, Russell would argue that our program can offer more. “[W]hen you’re engaging with these online sessions, you have deeper discussions,” she said, “so instead of sitting in the classroom and being disengaged because of the amount of discussion you had to turn back in, it forced you to be engaged.”  

The Importance of Practical Knowledge 

No two days are alike for principals and assistant principals, and theoretical knowledge can only take you so far in the real world. “[T]hey had us go through scenarios where you have your day planned, right, as an administrator,” Russell began. “Well, what happens if the school gets put on lockdown? Now what are you going to do with this beautiful schedule that you made?” Russell learned to think on her feet, to make decision after decision without succumbing to frustration. In other words, she learned to think like a school principal. “[W]hat I was literally learning in class one evening or weekend, I was implementing and seeing how it affected my job the very next day,” she said.   

When it comes to gaining practical knowledge, there’s no substitute for hands-on learning. During Practicum I and II, students document 160 hours of practical administrative experience in a school setting while guided by both a field and site supervisor. Russell, who was hired as an assistant principal before she graduated, found that her experiences during the practicum component of our program perfectly aligned with her duties as a campus leader.  

The “Ultimate Hot Seat”  

To achieve her goal of becoming a school principal, Russell would have to become certified, and she did. Aligned with the Texas SBEC Principal as Instructional Leader certification competencies, our program helps ensure that students have the knowledge and experience needed to pass the certification exam. “Back then, they would open up your certification test before you even graduated,” she explained. Russell earned her principal certification and put it to good use, becoming the principal of Travis and then Bowie Elementary School.  

Russell credits our program with preparing her to communicate with stakeholders: students, counselors, angry parents, happy parents, colleagues, and administrators. Our program, she assured us, produces well-rounded leaders. “I do think that this program prepares you for the ultimate hot seat, which is the principal seat,” she said. After graduating, Russell felt more prepared for the day-to-day duties of school principalship and all the responsibility that comes with it.  

The Next Step to Become a School Principal 

Russell is a staunch supporter of our program and has recommended it to colleagues, including those who are considering going out of state or even outside their district to continue their education. She didn’t mince words when discussing the dedication expected of our students, however. “The program’s going to demand that you give 100%,” she affirmed, “but if you’re even thinking of stepping up into leadership, you need to know up front that it’s going to be demanded of you day to day in your job to give 100%.”  

Are you ready to give your all to students, teachers—an entire school? If so, UT Permian Basin’s online MA in educational leadership program will prepare your for leadership roles in K-12 settings, particularly principal and assistant principal. Check our program page or apply now if you’re ready to take on the responsibility of a campus leader. Our faculty will be here to guide you every step of the journey.