Messina Lambert, M.S. ’18, served as a teacher for Bloomington Public Schools District 87 for almost two decades before taking on her first principal role in the same district at Irving Elementary.

She was hired for the position the same year she earned her master’s in P-12 educational administration from Illinois State’s Department of Educational Administration and Foundations.

On the two year anniversary of walking across the commencement stage, we caught up with her to reflect on why she chose Illinois State’s principal preparation program and how the decision has served her in her professional career.

What were some of the qualities of EAF’s faculty that stood out to you?
Many of the ISU professors I worked with in the program had been building principals and superintendents themselves in Central Illinois and had first-hand experiences with state and regional issues impacting education. They challenged my colleagues and me to problem solve with consideration to past and current issues affecting education. They provided guidance, shared their personal successes and failures, and viewed each student as individuals—taking a personal interest in each of us. Hearing their stories, completing assignments and tasks relevant to the role of school leader, and receiving professional feedback have contributed toward my development of a leader as I progress toward a more transformational leader.

How do you believe the program balanced challenging students while also maintaining realistic expectations?
Taking two classes each semester was very difficult while also teaching full-time, but the course work was appropriately challenging. We were provided plenty of time to plan and complete assignments. Often times, we had the opportunity to work in class—especially on group projects—and receive feedback from the instructors prior to a project being completed. All of the projects and assignments were relevant; we did not do tasks for the sake of doing tasks. I felt there was a degree of flexibility and understanding provided by the instructors for my personal and professional life. I was treated professionally when I had to arrive late, leave early, or miss a class entirely.

A tip from Lambert and her principal prep cohort: “To help balance course work, family life, and work obligations, I scheduled my time carefully and stuck to it! After the very first class session, the cohort colleagues decided we would meet up on Sundays to review material and share information from our law class. We would also use that time to meet with group members if we had upcoming projects. I personally spent more time at work to complete teaching tasks I might have normally taken home with me.”

Once you’d decided to pursue principal preparation, what stood out about EAF’s program?
The accessibility and affordability of the program. There is a relationship between ISU and District 87 so I was able to take advantage of tuition waivers for most of the semesters, greatly reducing my costs.

What was one of the most valuable parts of your education?
I really appreciated the internship. Having the opportunity to “put it all together in real-life” was excellent! I was able to take part in a full-time internship which gave me many opportunities to work with teachers and administrators in buildings and levels other than my own. Having the time to work with teachers and complete internship tasks during the workday was great. This was honestly a huge selling point of the program for me.

What would you say to an educator weighing the available principal preparation options out there?
I would recommend EAF’s principal prep program to aspiring administrators because of the cohort design, the quality instructors, and the high level of support provided throughout the coursework, the internship, and in their alums’ professional careers post-graduation.