Leigh Anne Sharp found the sweet spot in her career when she returned to her hometown of Gower, Missouri, to teach at East Buchanan Elementary School eight years ago.
“Being young and in high school, I always thought I would end up in New York City or somewhere far away,” she said. “By the time I got married, I wanted to settle down and start a family. What better place to be than my hometown?”
Sharp also complemented her experience within those friendly confines as she graduated from the Master of Science in Education (MSEd.) in Educational Leadership online program at Northwest Missouri State University in December 2020.
Several of Sharp’s relatives attended Northwest, and she credits her father-in law, Chris Sharp, with steering her toward the MSEd. in Educational Leadership program.
“He got his master’s degree at Northwest and is a former school principal,” she said. “He said, ‘Back when I went, I had to drive there after work to campus. You can do it online. That’s amazing.'”
Sharp started off taking one course at a time in the program. She switched to two courses per term as the pandemic took hold of the United States.
“I know that COVID-19 has not been great circumstances for everybody, but all of the stars aligned for me,” she said. “I always have a big school project after the new year. I wanted to finish in December to focus on it.
She doubled up on courses in March 2020 when pandemic shutdowns began to proliferate. She could devote some of the newfound downtime to working on her master’s degree.
Mi Classroom Es Su Classroom
While in high school, Sharp earned 17 dual college credit hours, but she wasn’t sure which career path to pursue.
“At my freshman orientation, my mom, who was also teacher, told me I should go into teaching and that I would never regret it,” she said. “In my mind, I wasn’t sure. I wanted to try some different courses.”
Sharp received the outstanding marketing graduate award when she completed her bachelor’s degree with double majors in marketing and Spanish and a minor in biology from Missouri Western State University in 2007, which included a study-abroad experience, too. She then returned to her alma mater and added another bachelor’s in elementary education in 2010.
She taught high school Spanish for three years before coming home to Gower. Prior to enrolling at Northwest in August 2019, she had not taken an online course since the dual credit ones she completed in high school.
“The platform that they use at Northwest, Canvas, is amazing,” she said. “It’s super organized. I was a little intimidated by it at first. The faculty always had great instruction. It’s easy to navigate.”
Sharp broadened her horizons as an educator with each course in the online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program curriculum.
“Every single one was so individualized and so specific,” she said. “They were all hands on. There were practical experiences that tied in with everything I learned.”
She especially enjoyed finding new ways of thinking and study techniques she hadn’t used before.
An added benefit to the program for Sharp was the camaraderie and networking with her classmates. She hopes to walk the graduation stage if there is an in-person commencement ceremony in May 2021.
“I talked to people in the same shoes as me and made some friends in the program,” she said. “I love how they break down the discussion groups, too. We split up into our sub-groups and met our people.
“You are talking to different people with different experiences from all over. One guy was already a principal who was learning it and in the moment. It was neat to hear his perspective.”
Sharp still enjoys being in the classroom but is keeping her options open now that she has a master’s degree. She and her husband, Zach, have two children — Brittyn (10) and Beckett (5).
“I would like to be in any capacity of leadership,” she said. “I love teaching. I am not in a huge rush, but I am not going to pass up an opportunity.
As soon as she finished the master’s program curriculum, she began entertaining the idea of pursuing a doctoral degree.
The experience in Northwest’s online master’s program enriched Sharp as an educator, and she hopes to convince her peers to follow suit and return to college, too. Education was always a priority in her family. She grew up hearing about the power of education, as a lasting asset, to expand one’s world in unimaginable ways.
“I am also trying to set an example for my kids and show them you can do anything,” she said.
Sharp, who enjoys cooking, traveling and decorating for holidays, believes that the program also helped her improve her time management skills without leaving home.
“I learned so much from the discussions and the collaboration with other people,” she said. “Even if it was a short reply, I went in there [to post] every day. I read the responses and learned from them.
“It’s important to be active and involved in the program — you won’t regret it. The people who put in the time and effort are going to learn a lot.”
Learn more about Northwest’s online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program.