What I Wish I'd Known As a New Administrator

Here's what you should know in your new role as an administrator
Contributed By

H. L.

Assistant Principal

What I Wish I'd Known As a New Administrator

Posted in Pro Tips | July 18, 2019

You did it! You made the leap to your first administrative position - likely as an assistant principal, but not necessarily. Regardless of your new role, I hope that you feel exhilaration and are celebrating this moment. First and foremost, it is the moment you became able to have a bigger impact on kids.

Remember this feeling. Tuck it away deep in the recesses of your heart. It will help form an emotional core upon which to draw as you engage in the frequently challenging, sometimes brutal, but hopefully always satisfying, work ahead.

Seek Out Experienced Voices

Interestingly, much of the advice that is usually reserved for new teachers also applies to new administrators. One such piece of advice is to seek wisdom from experienced colleagues. When asked what they would liked to have known in their first day on the job as principals, at least half the interviewees in a piece from EducationDive spoke of relationships, mentoring, and being pushed toward certain professional development opportunities sooner. Set a goal of seeking out experienced voices as soon as possible and benefiting from these valuable experiences.

Fellow administrators are supportive and have developed resources that they will be happy to share with you. I remember a couple of years ago I was trying to develop a behavior matrix to share with our PBIS committee. I had some grand vision of developing a list all on my own. Then I stepped back and remembered that I have amazing colleagues in other school districts. One e-mail later I had three responses with ideas and one with a detailed file attachment that gave us everything we needed to make a good start. You don't have to reinvent every wheel, especially in your first year.

The "Dark Side" Doesn't Have to be So Dark

It's one of the first things you will hear from teachers, especially if you are joining the administrative ranks in your home district: "So you're on the dark side now." Some are teasing (ha, ha), but some will truly see your decision as a betrayal of the profession. Steel yourself for it, and resolve to rise above it.

My favorite response - other than "I'm just in public education for the money" (an obviously tongue-in-cheek comment) - is that we are all on the same team, that I'm here to support teachers, and that it takes everyone working together to help kids. "I need your expertise" I say. Once people see that you aren't afraid to remain humble and human, you'll build strong relationships. You don't have to be overly personal to be personable, but you do have to show how much you care. Bring a little light to the dark side.

Set Aside Time for Instructional Leadership Every Day

Education World compiled a list of typical "principal tasks" for school leaders, many of which must be completed in the same day. As an entry-level administrator, I was completely unprepared for the sheer volume of behavior management tasks that bombarded me on the daily, and they all seemed so important, even though on closer examination they probably weren't.

Accordingly, you must carve out time for instructional leadership, even on days when you are simultaneously investigating bullying concerns or trying to keep your campus drug-free. Visit classrooms and follow up with a quick e-mail or visit during a planning period to talk about how you liked what you saw, and share a related resource or two. Take on a curriculum project. Help a teaching team analyze some common formative assessment data. Do anything you can to get out of the morass of discipline and into the business of teaching and learning.

Share, Share, Share - Especially EdTech

Successful principals become information hubs, always learning about and sharing information. This is increasingly critical as knowledge and structures continue to decentralize and a leader's success is measured not by how much they themselves know, but how they are able to distribute and make use of what is known.

Emerging EdTech tools are a prime example. No one person can possibly know how to use every app or tech tool on the market, but you can become familiar with concepts and explore them with members of your team. Set up a sharing space via your learning management system (LMS), be a hub for discussions about tools, best practices, and how to positively impact students, and you will be a go-to in your building for what really matters.

Don't Internalize

My first administrative role was as a middle school associate principal in the district where I had been teaching and coaching at the high school level. I was almost immediately overwhelmed by the needs that existed in our community that I had not experienced as a teacher and coach—at least, nowhere close to the same scale. My principal encouraged me to take a deep breath, remember that we are human, and to not internalize all the situations we want to immediately make better but can't. It's intensely personal, but it doesn't have to gnaw at you every night.

Above All, Serve Students First

No amount of advice as you take on your new role should supersede your most important charge—put students first. To be sure, relationships with adults are important, you'll keep current on your own professional development, and the paperwork will always be there to greet you tomorrow. Students, however, are in front of you now, and they need you. So no matter what, serve students first and you'll be a great new administrator. Good luck!

Do you have any tips for new administrators? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology

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