Jamie Sheahan, digital curriculum project lead for an alternative high school in Minnesota.

Alumni Spotlight: Jamie Sheahan, M.A.Ed. in Educational Leadership

Jamie Sheahan graduated from Concordia University St. Paul with an M.A.Ed. in Educational Leadership and currently works as the Digital Curriculum Project Lead for an alternative high school in Minnesota. Her current role tasks her with overhauling her school’s online curriculum to provide more engaging, relevant, standards-based learning experiences for their students. We asked Jamie to share with us her experience at Concordia University St. Paul. See what she had to say below.

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

Like many educators, I had a handful of teachers during my school-age years who inspired me to embark on a career in secondary education. Each of them encouraging words along the lines of ‘You’d be great at it.’ Student teaching experiences and early substitute gigs offered me some validation of this message. However, more impactful in my decision to stay in education were the sixth grade Newcomer English Language (EL) students I met during my first long-term substitute teaching job. Their unabashed eagerness for school reminded me of exactly what I truly want learning to be for all students: positive and fun. When I witness a glimmer of this in a student, or even in a colleague, I am inspired to continue.

Why did you choose Concordia University St. Paul for your master’s degree in educational leadership?

When I was considering furthering my education, three factors were my priority: geographic location, class time offerings that coordinated with my schedule, and value (financial cost + knowledge and skill sets gained). Concordia University St. Paul is located just off of I-94 and Snelling, very convenient for my Northeast Minneapolis residence. The evening, once-a-week cohort option was a perfect fit for my busy calendar. The breadth of topics covered in the Educational Leadership program and ample opportunities for deep conversation and leadership practice within each course was ideal. What’s more, with the lane change I made after obtaining my master’s degree, I will have already seen a positive return on my investment just a few years after graduation.

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

Among the plethora, two pragmatic skills I sharpened through my program were: 1) an increased confidence presenting to colleagues and 2) more effective communication strategies, especially with difficult-to-deliver information.

Each course required an individual and/or group presentation, and as much as I dreaded it at the beginning, I am grateful for each opportunity I had to practice. Where I previously had great anxiety in front of peers, to the point of forgetting major points I wanted to make, I can now confidently deliver content on professional development days in a more clear, concise, and engaging way.

One of the courses allowed us to learn our specific strengths and weaknesses in leadership and how to consider these in communicating effectively to people to improve teaching and learning for all. Each month, I facilitate content area meetings with groups of teachers who are working very hard to write their own curriculum. I am required to ask for even more from teachers with already full plates, so I use what I learned about delivering difficult information. I can carefully navigate pushback with discerning questions instead of what teachers often feel: judgement and disregard. I can guide teachers to reach and trust their own conclusions with intentional prompts and reminders of best practice research. I use my collaborative leadership style to increase buy-in and progress.

How has your master’s degree impacted you in terms of your current position or a position you’d like to attain in the future?

My master’s degree has had both a financial impact and an insight-gaining impact on my current position. I believe I was hired for my current role because I was in the middle of obtaining a higher degree in educational leadership. Administration saw me as someone who wanted to continue to learn and stretch professionally. Once I completed the program, I acquired a lane change and, of course, the raise that accompanies.

The way that the M.A.Ed. in Educational Leadership program requires coursework from the various, layered pieces of education, from curriculum and instruction to legal and ethical issues, I have a better handle on why this institution functions the way that it does. I am better at asking the intentional questions to motivate change and equity. I am better at considering the perspectives of stakeholders who are not classroom teachers which has allowed me to navigate professional conversations in a new, more effective way. I am trusted by my administration to take on more responsibility. I have even been encouraged by colleagues to become part of the administration team — something I am seriously considering.

What was a challenge you faced during your educational leadership master’s program, and who or what helped you overcome it?

About five months after starting the program, my partner and I found out we had another baby on the way, and we were still getting used to our son who was born the previous summer. I knew I could handle continuing classes while pregnant, but I was certain I was going to need to put the second year of the program on hold. While my partner was a huge support in my decision to keep going, it was the instructor of the second course of year two who truly made it feel possible. As I was nearing my due date, she and I met to discuss the remaining assignments. Her immense willingness to be flexible with deadlines put me at ease. She even encouraged me to bring my baby to class! I will never forget standing in the front of the classroom during our final presentation and seeing my amazing instructor swaying my 10-day old daughter to sleep in the back.

What was the biggest takeaway from your master’s program?

Beyond the aforementioned professional skills, my biggest takeaway was insight into my own ability to balance more than I ever thought I could. Taking on higher education while working as a full-time teacher and adding humans to my family was intense and at times a real struggle. The experience taught me so much about my own strength and endurance. A cohort of supportive colleagues and quality instructors were both key in making the challenge a positive one.

What would you tell (or what advice would you give) prospective students considering the Educational Leadership M.A.Ed. program at Concordia University St. Paul?  

If you are considering furthering your education, but you are not quite sure which program to choose, this is a great one. It will provide great insight into how the institution of education functions and open a variety of professional possibilities (i.e., curriculum lead or continue to become an administrator). Throughout the program there are opportunities to network with colleagues and instructors that are leaders in education around the Twin Cities. The coursework will push you out of your comfort zone and help you develop leadership skills you can use in all facets of your life.