Gail Wiercioch, English teacher at a high school in Illinois.

Alumni Spotlight: Gail Wiercioch, M.A. Principal Preparation Program

Gail Wiercioch graduated from Concordia University Chicago with an M.A. Principal Preparation Program degree and currently works as an English teacher at a high school in Illinois. With 11 years in the classroom and a wealth of other experience under her belt, we asked Gail to tell us about her experience at Concordia University Chicago.

Why did you want to work in education? What inspired you?

I often wish that I had a more inspiring answer to this ubiquitous query. Most other educators seem to have heartwarming tales to share or touching moments to relate, but I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a teacher. If anything, perhaps it was my sister who inspired me. When she sat in my bedroom each evening for a month teaching me cursive because I skipped second grade – the only grade during which that skill was explicitly taught – or took me into our basement to learn how to execute the perfect roll step because I was in Australia during the few practices that were intended to prepare all incoming freshmen for our first marching band parade, I felt my desire to be a teacher reaffirmed. The feeling of working with someone toward a goal – whether it be as tangible as writing and marching or as abstract as critical thinking and engaging with literature – is indescribable. Wouldn’t everyone want to spend their day helping others to achieve their best? Education truly always struck me as the perfect career.

Why did you choose Concordia University Chicago for your M.A. Principal Preparation Program degree?

I chose Concordia for my M.A. for two main reasons: the quality of the faculty and the convenience of the program. The instructors with whom I would be interacting were a significant factor in my decision. I knew that many of the teachers were current or retired administrators, and I believed that learning from those in the trenches, so to speak, would be invaluable.

I also appreciated the organization of the program. I was in a cohort, meaning I would remain with the same peers throughout the program, working with and learning from them as we went to class the same day each week at a location close to where we lived and worked. As any educator knows, time is precious, so finding a program that provided rigorous instruction from experienced educators on a fixed schedule was what helped me decide on CUC.

What skills did you gain or sharpen through your program at Concordia University Chicago and how do you use them today?

Much of my coursework at CUC addressed how to create sustainable change in a school. Although change does, of course, take various forms, I decided to focus much of my attention on Professional Learning Communities. As a classroom teacher and PLC leader, I realized that systemic change can occur on a smaller scale, and I worked to apply what I learned about school-wide leadership and reform to how I work with my colleagues. I also sharpened my skills in terms of research and critical reading of educational literature, skills which I am constantly applying as an educator.

How has your M.A. Principal Preparation Program degree impacted you in terms of your current position or a position you’d like to attain in the future?

As a classroom teacher, the degree has impacted me on a smaller scale. I knew when I began the program that I wanted to continue in the classroom for the foreseeable future. I apply the skills that I’ve learned daily, particularly with relation to working in PLCs and using data to make informed decisions about student learning. I do hope in the future to work as an instructional coach, working with other teachers and staff members to create positive improvements in student achievement.

What was a challenge you faced during your Principal Preparation Program, and who or what helped you overcome it?

The challenge I faced in my program was a logistical one: my cohort always met on Tuesdays. However, when it came time to complete our internships and meet every few weeks with our advisor, my cohort combined with several other cohorts, and we were to meet on Wednesdays. Although it may seem ridiculous, I have a commitment to play in a community band that I have been a member of for many years, and I struggled with the idea of letting them down mid-season. All of the staff at CUC were incredibly generous and flexible; they allowed me to join a different group with an advisor who was kind enough to let me impose. Everyone was so understanding of a situation that truly was only significant in my small circle of the world.

What was the biggest takeaway from your Principal Preparation Program?

My biggest takeaway from the CUC Principal Preparation Program is that leadership is not a position. There are so many ways to demonstrate leadership. A large school district’s superintendent demonstrates leadership through her actions, not her title; in the same way, any individual, regardless of her position, can demonstrate leadership, ranging from interacting with colleagues to championing school-wide change.

What would you tell (or what advice would you give) prospective students considering the M.A. Principal Preparation Program at Concordia University Chicago?

Do it! As a classroom teacher, I apply some of what I learned in my classroom each day. Conversely, some of what I learned has yet to have any impact on my daily work. Even those classes, though, like School Finance or Educational Law (one of my favorites!), were incredibly eye opening to me. I think that staying informed and being an eternal student are essential qualities. Even though I had and still have no ambitions of being a school administrator, understanding the broader context and issues that impact schools and students is important to being an informed educator. Committing to learning, even learning that may not seem imminently practical, is committing to being a strong and passionate educator.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Sometimes, being a teacher can feel demoralizing. I find that the best way to stay invigorated is to talk with colleagues. Being in school always makes me feel more confident, refreshed, and knowledgeable. I am not an expert, but I work hard every day for my students, and I know that I am a better educator when I am working with others to help each other do our best. Even if you aren’t in school at this time, try to find other communities of educators or outlets you can use to share ideas and support one another.