What tips can I give an aspiring school administrator? This is my third year as a high school assistant principal. I taught for about twenty years before deciding to become a school administrator. This was not a decision I took lightly and understood that making this transition from a teacher/coach would be challenging but worthwhile. As a teacher, I was fortunate to work with many professional school leaders.There seemed to be a growing divide between many teachers and administrators. Was this because expectations and demands had changed? Was it because many new administrators didn’t have the teaching background that was once the norm, a series of state mandated rollouts that put more pressure on day-to-day teaching, or a break down in communication and collaboration which inevitably negatively impacts student success? My own personal opinion is it varies but most likely involves all of these components.
So why jump into the fire? Just for more pay, advancing up the ranks, professional posturing, or control? If your answer is yes to these questions, you may want to reconsider becoming an administrator. I see it as an opportunity to truly help teachers improve student learning and improve school culture. Both of these tasks can be herculean at times, because along with improvement comes that dreaded word “CHANGE.” When I was in my graduate program, I read an excellent book called Who Moved My Cheese. The shortest book I ever read and also one of the best. Truly made me rethink CHANGE. Several administrators believe one should assess the new school before making significant changes and I agree, to a point. In what business fields do CEO’s say we will make necessary changes several years down the line? They would lose money. I realize schools are guided by a vision and a school improvement plan, but please make immediate changes that directly impact student learning and or safety. Why wait until a 9th grader is a senior to make small but impactful changes just so you don’t ruffle a few feathers? At the end of the day, you have to make decisions that are ethical, impactful, fair, and are in the best interest of students. These decisions may be unfavorable to some students, parents, and staff, but you were not hired to be popular. A veteran administrator jokingly once told me that you know you made it as an Assistant principal by how many times your name ends up on the mens room walls. If that is the case, then I am a made man! Hear that Tony Soprano! Leaders must make tough decisions even if they are unfavorable.
Another important point is lead according to your own style not someone else’s. You can steal ideas and educational strategies from other administrators but use them according to your own personality. I would never want to hire myself, I would drive myself nuts! What good is having a bunch of yes people who don’t push back a little to make you a better leader? One other thing I think a new AP should know is never forget your teaching hat, and you are not as important as you may think. Everyone has a role to play, and you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen.
“Too many kings can ruin an army” ~Homer
Here is my top 10 list
- Be visible
- Be honest and fair
- Be consistent
- Be a good listener (still working at this myself)
- Delegate, delegate, delegate
- Stay current/relevant
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. I make mistakes every day and try to fix them. Just as it takes time to become a good teacher, it takes time to be an effective administrator. Need a good mentor!
- Look at and create data to help make some administrative decisions. Data shouldn’t drive all of them.
- Remember there are actual students on a data sheet, know the kids. Can’t just be numbers!
- Have fun working with your teachers and students. Why do it if it isn’t worthwhile?