Christina Diederich didn’t waste any time contemplating a career path.
“I decided on the first day of kindergarten that I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I love kids. I have never wavered from that passion.”
Diederich has fueled that passion by continuing her own education. She graduated from the online Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership program at Northwest Missouri State University in December 2019. Eight years earlier, she graduated with a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Baker University.
Diederich teaches first grade at Pleasant Hill Primary School in Pleasant Hill, Missouri. She has taken advantage of multiple leadership opportunities during her 12 years there.
“I like being in leadership roles, supporting my colleagues and polishing everyone’s areas of expertise by providing professional development and going to trainings,” she said. “After I enrolled, I fell more in love with the idea of being in an educational leadership role.”
The faculty at Northwest solidified Diederich’s love of teaching by providing patience and understanding when difficulties arose. First, her stepfather was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.
“He got very sick and was pronounced terminal,” she said. “When I reached out to my professor, he said, ‘I want you to focus on your family. That is the most important thing right now. Close your computer and put your schoolwork away.’
“He checked in with me once a week and said, ‘I’m thinking about you. Let me know if you need any help.’ He was super helpful getting me caught up on my assignments and very supportive. It was nice to have that grace.”
Two weeks later, Diederich had carpal tunnel surgery on both of her wrists. Once again, she was blown away by the consideration she received.
“When I told my professor that I had to have bilateral surgery, she said, ‘No worries. Let me know how you’re feeling,'” she said. “It was nice that they were so helpful and supportive when these crazy things were happening.
“The best part of the whole experience was the professors. It was a fantastic group of people. They really care about your learning.”
On the Map
Diederich grew up in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree as a double major in elementary education and early childhood from the University of Central Missouri in 2008.
When she heard about the online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program at Northwest from a recruiter who visited her school, she jumped at the chance to return to college. She became the first person in her immediate family to earn a master’s degree.
“The first thing was the cost — it was doable,” she said. “It was a little less expensive than my first master’s degree. That was enticing. The second thing was that everything was online, and I did not ever have to go to campus for anything. I didn’t even know where Maryville was until I went to graduation.”
In fact, two of Diederich’s colleagues enrolled in Northwest’s online MSEd. in Curriculum & Instruction program at the same time she started in Summer 2018.
“If you can, find a friend to do it with you,” she said. “Whether or not you’re taking the same classes, it’s nice to have a cheerleader.”
The online format was the only way Diederich could return to college while teaching full time. She and her husband, Michael, have a daughter, Lily (5).
“It was amazing,” she said. “After you got into the program, you realized that everybody had the same expectations, so it was easy to start planning when you were going to do your work.
“You had assignments due the same day of the week every time. You had discussion board questions or responses due. You got into the flow of what you knew you had to have turned in.”
Although Diederich was nervous about taking EDUC 61665: School Law, it ended up being her favorite course in the online MSEd. in Educational Leadership curriculum.
“There are so many legal issues that can occur in our world right now,” she said. “You have to be super careful of them. I was nervous about remembering them or not understanding them, but the professor made it fun and engaging. It’s not as scary as you think it is once you learn all of the mandates that they have to support the laws.”
Off the Charts
Although Diederich hadn’t planned on earning a second master’s degree, she gained an invaluable amount of information in the program.
“Everything was applicable, which makes it the best,” she said. “In teaching, you can’t learn anything without actually trying it. All of the assignments and all of the discussion questions were centered around what you were doing in your own classroom.
“The best part about the side of administration was you had to step out of the lens of your own classroom and look at it from somebody else’s perspective. It was nice that I had dual lenses. I would do it this way, then look at it from an administrative perspective. It broadened my horizons.”
Plus, Diederich enjoyed having conversations with her online classmates and hearing their perspectives.
“We had people in Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and even further out,” she said. “It was nice to have that community. We were all going through it together. We were all in the classroom and in different places in our lives. It was very interactive.”
Diederich also had the support of her family as she fought through some tough times to come out on the other side with a degree.
“They were excited,” she said. “When I told my husband that I was thinking about going back, he said, ‘Awesome. We’ll support you.’ He took on extra dad duties. My family cheered me on.
“Our daughter was also supportive. She knew when it was time for Mommy to do her homework, she had her own little desk where she would do her homework, too. When I was working, she was coloring pictures or reading a book.”
Diederich believes that time management and self-reflection hold the key to success in an online degree program like Northwest’s MSEd. in Educational Leadership.
“You have to make sure to look ahead and figure out the times you are going to work on your schoolwork,” she said. “You have to think about your own experience that you’re living as a teacher in the classroom.
“How are you going to apply what you’re learning to what you’re doing in the classroom? That’s how you’re going to find the best takeaways. We want real application. We don’t want the busy work. We don’t want things that aren’t meaningful for us. We are going into this to change our careers. We want to make sure we’re thinking about our students.”
Now that Diederich is ready to take on more leadership roles, she has her eye on a long-term career goal.
“I would like to teach college one day,” she said. “I want to teach future teachers and help them find their own paths. I am very passionate about it, and I am very good at building relationships. I want to help other people find their passion.”
Learn more about Northwest’s online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program.