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“We only have 180 days a year to make a difference”: Q&A with John Paul Sanchez, EdD ’17

By Kara Wyman, MEd April 9, 2018

There’s more to motivating and driving change than meets the eye. As a school principal comparing his experience at Title 1 schools to more affluent ones, John Paul Sanchez recognized the need to push change in the right direction with a greater sense of urgency. Read how earning his EdD in Educational Administration has given him the tools to help others see further, towards greater student success.

What inspired you to work in education?

I migrated here when I was 11 years old from San Jose, Costa Rica. I had to rely heavily on several teachers along the way to ensure I learned the language so I could succeed in the public education system.

Once I finished 12th grade, I knew I wanted to go on to college, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. My mother received a follow-up phone call from my high school, told them I was going to junior college, and they offered me a job tutoring kids at one of the high schools.

They needed a bilingual person at Riverside Poly High School. So I started there and met a gentleman by the name of Samuel Buenrostro—the soccer coach and a Spanish teacher. And even though I had just started translating and working in the office, he said, “Hey, you’re a soccer guy. Help me coach.”

I started coaching. Then I realized that Samuel had the best job in America. He taught classes he had a passion for, and he was getting paid to play and coach soccer. He had a fantastic career. He got joy from teaching every day. He inspired me to go back and continue my education to enter into the field of education.

What degree did you earn from Concordia and why did you choose that program?

When I started the program, I was in my sixth year as a school principal. I already had my master’s degree and licensures for teaching and administration, but I needed more to be a good leader. I was completely motivated to go back to school, and I chose the doctoral degree in educational leadership and administration here at Concordia University.

Do you have a favorite course or experience from the program?

By the time I was working toward my doctorate, I was already into my third principalship. I had worked at a Title I school, then at a very affluent school, and afterward at another Title I school. So at the third school, I knew what I needed to do. But the toughest thing to do is to get people to move with a sense of urgency—in the right direction. We only have 180 days a year per kid to make a difference in their lives.

In the second year of the program, right when I was getting into the core of my specific leadership courses, I had a course taught by a professor who was also the superintendent out in San Diego County, California. He had us read, Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People by Edward M. Hallowell. We worked very intensely with the book. I was able to completely relate the education to my practice, and use it to lead my administrative and leadership teams.

There’s a science to the recognition of your teaching staff. The professor was very direct with me. He helped me understand that recognition for hard work cannot be only recognized by the principal. It must be part of a culture of recognition by all in the building. That was a pivotal point for me. I could literally see how fast the culture can change just by providing and nurturing a culture that creates change.

The professor made the whole study of leadership for practitioners click into place for me. That time with experts in the field that can actually break it down showed me how to be an effective leader.

What was the hardest part about earning your doctorate and did anyone help you through?

The toughest part of my doctorate was the completion of my dissertation. Managing all of the components–building the conceptual framework, turning them into chapters, weaving in science, putting it all together–was difficult. Dr. Weschke was both the taskmaster and a kind advisor. Her patience, love, care, and attention to detail is what got me through it. We had a fantastic connection.

What was it like earning your doctorate degree from Concordia, online?

The rigor of the online program is the greatest underestimation. It was absolutely the most rigorous program that I’ve ever been part of. It’s a doctoral-level program, and it felt like one.

It was also important to me that while I was studying I remained an involved dad, had a great relationship with my fiancée and continued to be a leader in a very demanding job. It was hard to manage all of that without dropping the ball. I sacrificed time at the gym—I used to spend hours, several nights each week, in the gym. But the online environment gave me the ability to find a balance in my life between family, spirituality and my professional life.

Do you think your educational advancement has benefited your work?

Well, the doctoral program does a lot of things for you personally. I think it’s made me a better dad—better in all of my relationships. Certainly, it made me a better servant of what I do professionally. It has given me the lens to look at organizations…look at those folks that do the work and get them in the right spots for the benefit of the community. It’s given me the tools to make a policy and guide others who execute policy so that they can see beyond themselves to the greater good and do what’s best for students.

Before I had my doctorate, I had intuition. Now I can tell you that I’m doing it because I understand, and can share the reasons why things need to be done.

What keeps you motivated?

I was at a high school yesterday. There were probably a couple hundred former students there and just walking from one end of a classroom to the other, I got to greet some of them. Of course, I didn’t recognize half of ’em anymore. They’ve grown beards and mustaches and that kind of stuff. But they’re coming over and they’re towering over me and trying to give me a hug. Every day is about the differences that we make in students’ lives.

Kara Wyman has a BA in literature and a MEd from the University of California-Santa Barbara. She spent a decade working with adolescents as an English teacher, the founder and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a teen-centered nonprofit organization. She is now the Alumni and Community Manager for Concordia University-Portland.

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