Baillie Smilie was a special education teacher not long ago, and like many teachers, she noticed the systemic problems in education. Supporting students, she knew, would mean stepping out of her comfort zone. “I knew that the only way to make greater progress and change was to be one of the changemakers,” she said. This led to her to The University of Texas Permian Basin, where she earned a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership online in 2019.  

We caught up with Smilie, now a student support services instructional coach with Conroe Independent School District (ISD) in the Houston metropolitan area. She praised our online MA in educational leadership program for preparing her for this role but revealed that UT Permian Basin was only one of many colleges she had considered. Until her phone rang, that is. 

“Do You Have a Second?”  

Program Coordinator Kevin Badgett reached out to Smilie to discuss the online MA in educational leadership program, the perks of online learning, and the vision shared by our administrators, albeit at an inopportune moment. “I was in the McDonald’s drive-through,” Smilie chuckled, “and he just said, ‘Do you have a second?’ So I pulled over and it wasn’t like any phone call I had expected to receive.”  

Colleges had by then reached out with emails and brochures, none of which she found reassuring. She wanted to know that support would be available before committing to an online program. The call with Dr. Badgett assured her that UT Permian Basin was the best option, regardless of its physical distance: an eight-hour drive from Smilie’s home in Conroe. “I felt a connection right away,” she said. “I knew that I was going to have backing up front, and it proved to be true throughout the entire experience.”  

“Great Leaders Training Great Leaders”  

As a student, Smilie enjoyed the detailed course modules and clear-cut learning objectives in Canvas, our online learning platform. “I am a planner and prepper and I had a busy, busy, busy life,” she explained, “but I never had a question of what it was that I needed to get done when it needed to be done.” Guidance was also provided in the form of feedback, which she found helpful whether it contained praise or constructive criticism. When she’d reach out to her professors, she often received a response within a day. “Great leaders training great leaders,” she said.  

“We Really Created Our Little Community” 

Smilie was also supported by other students within her cohort, whom she bonded with despite the miles between them. “There was so much interaction between us that we really created our little community,” she beamed, “and then we would contact each other outside of the coursework to, you know, collaborate.” As part of UT Permian Basin online, she felt more connected to her peers than she did while attending undergraduate courses on campus. We can think of no higher praise.  

“A Full, Comprehensive Understanding” 

Our online MA in educational leadership program prepares educators for leadership roles, including principalship, in K-12 settings. Courses are updated regularly to reflect the latest trends in education, and lessons teach practical skills that help leaders see the big picture, as Smilie puts it. Everything is purposeful, which was something she appreciated about our program:  

“[F]rom the very last course that I took to the very first course that I took or even the courses I was taking at the same time, there was like this golden thread that weaved between that really helped me get a full, comprehensive understanding of what it was that I was getting my master’s for in the first place”  

As much as she enjoyed working online, Smilie favored our program’s practicum (internship) component. During Practicum I and II, she gained real-world experience in a school setting under the mentorship of a field and site supervisor. “[I]t’s one thing to talk about your learning,” she said, “but it’s a whole other thing to actually live and experience it and put it into play.” Experiences like these helped Smilie earn her Principal as Instructional Leader certification and excel in her current role. 

“What Leadership Should Look Like”  

After graduating, Smilie leveraged her new credentials to secure a position with Conroe ISD as a student support services instructional coach. Now, she helps campus administrators establish systemic policies, procedures, and supports, achieving her goal to create change for teachers and students. “I’m better able to understand what leadership should look like on a daily basis,” she said, affirming that the insight she gained at UT Permian Basin helps her coach administrators on how to overcome the challenges encountered in education.  

Smilie described herself as an extreme introvert. With the help of our program, however, she realized that she already had the skills needed to step into a leadership role, and in her own words, live it. “I never would have imagined that I would be doing what I’m doing if it weren’t for the program,” she said. To succeed as an instructional coach, she found that she need only apply the lessons learned at UT Permian Basin.   

Our online MA in educational leadership program helped Baillie Smilie advance her career, guide administrators, and create change in the classroom, and she recommends our program to aspiring campus leaders with the drive to see it through to the end. If you’re also interested in creating change at the campus level, apply to our online MA in educational leadership program. We assure you: You have what it takes to be a campus leader.