Ms. Sharp and Ms. Parker talking in their office
Image Credit: Ava Szekely, 42Fifty

Women empowerment and advocacy are very prevalent issues in the world, but having influential female figures to guide you in your journey can make a world of difference. Ms. Tania Sharp and Ms. Andrea Parker both hold leadership positions of the assistant principal of curriculum and instruction and the assistant principal of student services, respectively; they exemplified how despite disadvantageous circumstances, women and young girls everywhere can prevail and succeed.

Ms. Sharp and Ms. Parker have both achieved great successes in various fields. Sharp earned her associates from Joliet Junior College and a transfer to Illinois State, while working multiple full-time jobs, then going on to receive her master’s in educational administration; she explained that it wasn’t until this milestone that she finally felt a sense of confidence in her skills. Sharp was actually the first person on her mother’s side to earn a college degree. 

“I didn’t necessarily have to go to college, so being able to achieve that was really…important and meaningful,” Sharp says.

Parker, too, defied the odds, especially in her college years. She reflected on her experiences of childhood trauma—she revealed she isn’t ashamed of this, as it is all part of her journey; she credits her strong independence to her maternal grandmother and her step-mother.

“Coming from a past of trauma, you have to be very resilient, and it’s not always easy to identify what that looks like in practice,” Parker says. “I knew I had to be independent, but I didn’t always know how to navigate.”

“Going to college was a way out—a way to not recreate some traumas from my childhood in my future,” Parker says.

Both Ms. Sharp and Ms. Parker have established goals for themselves, and they’ve continued to strive for achievement, because with leadership, comes influence. 

Ms. Sharp, after being an English teacher and holding several department chair positions, realized her true passion is improving the education system as a whole and paying more attention to the opportunities offered—and those that are not, but should be. She aspires to increase access to beneficial resources for OHS students, and greatly enjoys that her role as an assistant principal involves taking into consideration students’ histories and backgrounds, academic readiness, and our school’s diversity. Sharp also appreciates the possibilities her leadership role gives both her and students, exposing her to connections with new learning styles, organizations, and more. 

Ms. Parker has similar goals of seeing overall enhancement of education. Parker worked previously at Plainfield Academy, as a paraprofessional, with students who had not had classes well-suited for them or had not been provided for sufficiently by conventional instruction. It was at this time that she also discovered her love for working with kids.

Parker was employed full-time while studying, as well, and ended up getting her bachelor’s in speech pathology and a master’s degree in special education. After holding several jobs such as a special education teacher, department chair, and an assistant principal of Bloomingdale High School, she realized that her purpose was encouraging change and growth in specific aspects of the education system. Ms. Parker has focused on refining how she serves her community and making sure she serves most effectively throughout her career. 

“The more experience I got, I could see how isolated things were part of a bigger system…When systems were working effectively, it was great for most students, and if it wasn’t great, how come, and what can we do to fix that?” Parker says.

Influential women were a key component in instilling resilience, grit, and stamina in both Ms. Sharp and Ms. Parker. Sharp was unsure which route she wanted to take in her career; she had a huge admiration for a previous English teacher and their teaching style, so she thought she might enjoy going into that field, too.

“Embarrassingly enough, I did not do well in my first English class at Joliet Junior College, and I thought, ‘Well, how am I going to be an English teacher if I can’t even do well in English 101?’” Sharp says.

Her doubt affected her so much to the point where she considered other majors, but she quickly found that no other options felt right for her. 

“None of that was that drive that I had—that motivation to help others in ways that I wish I was helped,” Sharp says. 

After Sharp’s struggle with the material of English 102, taught by the same professor as English 101: Tamara Brattoli, she decided that the confusion had affected her too much and to reach out to the professor to voice her concerns. 

“I would go to her for help a lot, and then one day, I finally just told her, ‘I’m really worried. I want to be an English teacher, but I just don’t know if I can do it.’ And she just says, ‘Well, you’re doing the right thing—you’re coming in for help—and you can do it,’” Sharp says. 

Sharp attributes her success to this professor, saying that Brattoli is the reason she is where she is today. 

“In the time that she spent with me—like it all started to click,” Sharp says.

She described Brattoli as tough but kind, and noted her thoughts of admiration.

”I really saw her as a leader in her role and in her position as a professor…I was like, ‘Wow, look at her, but also doing that, she was still warm and kind and reaching out to help me,’” Sharp says.

Another assistant principal and vice principal at Bloomington High School were also core influential women for Parker. Being brand new to the role of assistant principal, she viewed these women as educational leadership mentors. Parker recognized the fact that these female leaders were very strong, but they also gave back through coaching and other assistance. 

“Similar to Ms. Sharp’s experience, I didn’t want to be a principal—I didn’t always want to be a leader—but I couldn’t ignore that that’s what I felt was the pathway to continue to grow, and develop, and serve the way I wanted to. And some of that stuff doesn’t come natural to me, but they just poured into me…I saw them as confident and capable, in that they articulated in a way that no one could diminish what they brought to the table,” Parker says.

Ms. Sharp recognized that both her and Ms. Parker could’ve very easily given into the odds stacked against them, but vulnerability got them to where they are today. 

“You have to be vulnerable to receive assistance…if you’re not vulnerable, people don’t know that you might need help—if you don’t ask for it, if you don’t seek it out,” Sharp says. 

She pointed out the fact that people are not mind-readers, and they won’t know your feelings unless you open yourself up to help. While at a convention for women in leadership, Sharp discovered a quote that really resonated with her; she firmly believes that you must be willing to learn, especially to be a strong leader. 

“It’s pretty simple, I think, but…I think it means a lot…’Women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do, and I’ll learn by doing it,”” Sharp says.

Parker referenced a quote very valuable to her, as well, when touching on the significance of relationships and who you surround yourself with.  

“One quote that I’ve kind of latched onto, especially in more recent years, is ‘It’s that circle of influence.’ There’s a quote that says ‘You should never be the smartest person in your circle,’ but then you look further into it, and you should surround yourself with people who help you to develop…Relationships are so vital, and they can drain you or they can fill you…it’s a give and take,” Parker says. 

Having learned from experience, Ms. Sharp and Ms. Parker have some words of wisdom for future generations. Sharp focuses on the importance of women having each other’s encouragement, because that’s usually not the case. She brought up the issue of social media and how it sometimes encourages the opposite—although she does acknowledge, too, the benefit of the platform social media has provided for women empowerment. Sharp also mentioned the possibility of establishing a common ground between women everywhere. 

“It is so important that women support each other and build each other up because that’s not always the case…too often, especially on social media…But there’s also the opposite: women supporting women, women building each other up…and that is where I would love our young generation and the adult generation to both get to a place…to support one another and congratulate one another,” Sharp says.

The majority, if not all, of Sharp’s and Parker’s knowledge of relationships and their vitality to life came from their support systems—composed, for the most part, of strong women.

“We all influence, male or female…but there’s that sisterhood, because it is a sisterhood, and it’s great to see,” Parker says.

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