Spend five minutes with NASSP President Kip Motta, and you’ll quickly understand how much he cares about kids. From the compelling way he speaks about the work of school leadership to the way he sees students for who they are and hope to become, it’s evident that his passion for education runs deep. Principal Leadership asked him about his career.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

My dad was an educator and a coach at every level—junior high, high school, college, the NBA. When I was in the sixth grade, all my buddies and I fell in love with our football coach, basketball coach, and PE teacher Joel Decker. He had so much fun at his job. I knew at that time it was exactly what I wanted to do.

I went to the University of Montana Western in Dillon, MT, on a basketball scholarship and earned a teaching degree with a PE/health major and a minor in industrial arts and mathematics. From there I went to the University of Cincinnati and earned my master’s in physiology of exercise. Then, I taught high school physical education and health and coached basketball for one year. Next, I continued chasing the coaching world and spent three years as assistant coach at Trinity Valley Junior College in Athens, TX, and three years as an assistant coach at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. From there, I did seven years on four teams as a scout and assistant coach in the NBA.

After the NBA, I got a job teaching math at Rich Middle School in Laketown, UT. I did that for three years, and they moved me to the principal position, and that was 23 years ago. I serve as principal of Rich Middle School and North Rich Elementary School.

What is your favorite thing about being a principal?

The kids. Every day. The energy, the interaction. Helping them navigate mistakes to learn and grow and develop. I don’t know if there is a more noble calling in the world.

How did you get involved in NASSP?

My very first day as a principal 23 years ago, I joined the Utah Association of Secondary School Principals (UASSP) and NASSP. Five or six years went by, and I wasn’t involved in the associations; I was just a member. I got a call from the Utah executive director, Carl Boyington, and he said, “Hey, you’ve been a member for five years, and we haven’t seen you at a conference. Why don’t you come to a summer conference?”

I was at a rural school, and I didn’t have any network. I was on the verge of wanting to quit because I wasn’t challenging myself. Our school was good, but we weren’t great. I didn’t understand that until I went to that conference and saw some things principals were doing and made a couple connections. I served as the small middle school rep for UASSP, and then became president. I found so much value in the connections, the networking, the support, and the professional development. I started going to national conferences, and the innovative things people were doing around the country just blew me away. I wanted to be a part of it, so I put my name in to be a board member of NASSP. That was six years ago.

What are some of your goals as NASSP president?

Number one, I want to elevate student voice as advocates for public education, both at the local and national levels. We need to hear what the students have to say, what their take on education is, and what we need to improve—not just in the classroom, but the social and mental health aspect. We need to raise student voice and get it in front of legislators and decision-makers.

Number two, I want to strengthen NASSP’s relationship with our state affiliates and with the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Can you imagine if instead of having two separate voices going to advocate, we take all the elementary, middle, and high school principals, and we stand up and advocate together? That’s a large, loud voice, all for the same thing.