5 Strategic Tips for First-Year Administrators

Strategic Tips

Once a fourth-grade teacher, I recently began my work as an elementary assistant principal in another district. Based on my research and what I have experienced so far, I’d like to offer five ways for a rookie administrator to successfully navigate his or her new position. Here are 5 strategic tips for first-year administrators:

1. Establishing Relationships

Relationships come before everything. Like anyone else, teachers do not want to listen to someone who doesn’t genuinely care about them. Get to know everyone on a personal level. Ask them how their day is going, pry into their personal lives a bit, and make sure to attend staff outings. As the students enter school in the morning, do your best to pop your head into every classroom just to be present and touch base with your teachers and students. As you leave school for the day, stop by a few classrooms and make small talk. When communicating with teachers, it’s important that your conversation doesn’t just focus on the job itself. If you truly want what is best for your co-workers and students, none of these interactions will actually feel like work. However, investing in these relationships will play huge dividends when you’re ready to promote change.

2. Getting Into Classrooms

Just as teachers should never forget what it’s like to be a student, administrators should never forget what it’s like to be a teacher. Spend a great deal of time in classrooms, being as non-evaluative as you can. Teachers can easily feel threatened when an administrator sits behind a computer (supposedly taking notes that pick apart each and every aspect of a lesson), so travel around with as little equipment as possible. Personally, I like to record the date whenever I spend more than ten minutes in a classroom, which helps in ensuring that my time is distributed evenly among all the teachers. Also, if a teacher asks what you are doing, be transparent. For instance:

  • I’m looking for examples of exemplary instruction so that we can take advantage of our expertise during teacher-led professional development.
  • How can I help in moving us forward if I don’t see first-hand what our strengths and needs are?

3. Understanding Others

Do less talking and more listening, but don’t stop there. When conversing with others, make a conscious effort to avoid waiting to talk and trying to prove yourself. I believe that most teachers are more concerned with the new administrator validating their work, as opposed to wanting to be awed by that administrator’s expertise. So take the time to sincerely understand where teachers are coming from. For example, if the majority of teachers possess a negative attitude toward something, don’t ignore it. Perception is reality, and if most teachers feel a certain way, act (or react) appropriately, instead of telling them “Too bad” or convincing yourself that “they deserve what’s happening to them.” Also, when appropriate, do what you can to make teachers’ ideas a reality. These actions can be empowering as they send the message that thoughts and opinions can make a difference.

4. Flattening the Hierarchy

Approach your job with the notion that everyone has something to contribute, because a valuable idea can come from absolutely anyone. Don’t take it personally if anyone challenges you on some level. In other words, make sure to separate ideas and opinions from the individuals who are delivering them. Leverage your new title to empower others to speak up and have a voice. One person’s idea is no better than another’s simply because he or she has a “higher-up” job title, and certain responsibilities should not belong entirely to specific workers just because they happen to be in a department that has traditionally taken care of such tasks. Ultimately, what matters is working collaboratively to do what’s best for the children, not trying to market yourself as the owner of all things great in your school or district. As a fourth-grade teacher, I once had the pleasure of working with a phenomenal assistant superintendent. Whenever we met, a stranger could walk into the room and, based on our interaction, wouldn’t know who was the teacher and who was the administrator. That is special!

5. Social Media

In today’s connected world, all educators should be actively looking for ideas and resources from outside their district. These findings can then be brought in-house to enhance what is already taking place. Furthermore, this research helps educators become critical consumers and not just passive receivers of what others tell us to do. As a new administrator, make a point of connecting with your teachers on Facebook, as this is most likely where they already are. Then, post to your wall articles and resources that could be of benefit. This approach can be a non-intrusive way to professionally develop your teachers without constantly flooding their inboxes with “must read” editorials (although the occasional article sent via email isn’t such a bad thing). To streamline the Facebook process, consider starting a Facebook group that includes members of your staff. If you’d like to share your own thoughts, start a blog and disseminate your posts through Facebook or possibly via email. Other teachers might become inspired and start blogs of their own, or have their students start blogging. Yes, there is always the idea of getting your teachers up and running with Twitter (and Google+, LinkedIn, RSS feeds, digital newspapers, etc.), but that’s another post all on its own.

Reviewing the five points that I’ve listed, these actions could easily apply to all administrators and not just those who are new to the position. As the years go by and we become more and more comfortable in what we do, it’s important to not lose sight of what got us there in the first place.

What tips do you have for first-year administrators?


ORIGINAL SOURCE: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/5-tips-first-year-administrators-ross-cooper

Principals Identify Top Ten Leadership Traits

Education World surveyed 43 principals to learn what they consider essential traits of successful school leaders. Vision, trustworthiness and credibility, daily visibility, and a sense of humor were among the ten traits that topped the list! Included:

Principals comment on the most important characteristics of strong leadership!


  • “If you don’t know where you are going, it makes no difference what path you take,” said Helene Dykes, principal at Marian Bergeson Elementary School, in Laguna Niguel, California. “Without a clear vision, you have no way to prioritize what is most essential. A clear vision allows you to focus energy on the most important things to do.”
  • “If credibility and trust are not established, nothing the principal sets out to do can be achieved,” added principal Betty Luckett, of Oakes Elementary School, in Okemah, Oklahoma. “As a principal, trust and credibility are the foundation for my goals and objectives. It is also the fuel for my vision.”
  • “An effective administrator must be visible,” said John Grady, principal at Fairgrounds Junior High School, in Nashua, New Hampshire. “Students, staff, and parents need to see the administrator in the classrooms, in the corridors, at lunches, at bus duty, and at extracurricular activities. If this is accomplished, the administrator will know his or her constituents, be aware of what is taking place in the building, and send the message to all that he or she is concerned.”

Vision. Credibility. Visibility. Those are three of the most important leadership traits, according to the Education World Principal Files (P-Files) principals. Forty-three Principal Filesprincipals identified and sequenced in order of importance the ten qualities they felt were the most essential in strong school leaders.

See the sidebar for survey results. Click here for more details about how the survey was conducted and for detailed survey results.


Having a stated vision for the school — and a plan to achieve that vision — was the most important quality in school leaders, according to the Education World P-Files principals.

“The principal needs to be the person steering the ship,” Jed Landsman-Yakin told Education World. Landsman-Yakin, principal at Belfry (Montana) High School, added, “The ship, of course, is the educational system, and the direction is as important as the ship.”

Landsman-Yakin went on to say that during his years in education, he has seen many bad captains and floundering ships. “We must do better! That is why I think having a vision is the most important quality of a strong school leader,” he added.

“If you don’t know where you are headed, how can you get there in the most efficient, successful manner?” wondered Bonita Henderson, assistant principal at Roselawn Condon School, in Cincinnati. “Every trip needs to have a plan, or you can get lost and have an unproductive trip. Well-made plans ensure the best trips and provide time for handling unforeseen obstacles.”


Being visible — getting out of the office and being seen all over the school — was the most frequently identified quality of a strong school leader. All but two of the 43 principals surveyed included this quality on their top ten lists.

“Getting out of the office and seeing what’s going on in the school is very important to the welfare of everybody — the students, the parents, and the staff,” said Dee Anna Manitzas, principal at the Accelerated Learning Middle School, in San Antonio. “By getting out of the office, a principal is able to take the ‘pulse’ of what is actually happening inside and outside the classroom. By being visible to all, everybody feels a part of the quest for education.

“Communication is a two-way street,” added Manitzas. “On so many occasions, I have been able to provide answers to teachers’ and students’ questions by popping in on classes and [by being a presence] around the school.”

Visibility is an extremely important characteristic of a strong school leader and one of the most difficult to accomplish, according to principal Steven Podd.

“Interruptions, crises, phone calls, paperwork …. They are all excuses to stay behind the desk,” said Podd, of Smithtown Middle School, in St. James, New York. “But I solve more problems and head off many others by being in the cafeteria, hallways, and classrooms. I always make sure I get out of the office as frequently as possible, and then I visit my assistant principals and drag them around with me too!”

“It’s also good exercise if you have a large school like mine!” added Podd.

“The students seem to be able to ‘sniff’ when the principal is out of the building,” observed principal Marie Kostick, of Goodwyn Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama. “By being visible, the principal communicates a message that students and teachers are expected to maintain high standards, not only with academics but with behavior.”

“High visibility is also a natural expression of interest and concern,” added Kostick.


The second most-frequently listed trait, and fourth in overall average, was that school leaders need to be trustworthy and straight with students and staff.

“A leader earns credibility and trust by being honest, by knowing how to do his or her job, and by telling the truth and being up-front with teachers, parents, and students,” said Jim Jordan, principal at Buford (South Carolina) High School. Trust earns a high spot on Jordan’s list because it “is earned by doing all of those other things — establishing a vision, involving others, taking risks, learning from mistakes, refusing to lose, inspiring rather than coercing, compromising, and much more.” “A relationship not based on integrity and trust is not worth anything,” added Julie Askew, acting principal at Eltham Primary School in Melbourne, Australia. “A principal needs to be utterly reliable. You may be the only constant factor in a student’s life.”

“If people — staff members, students, parents, community members, central office employees, school board members — don’t believe you to be a person of integrity, it won’t matter how well you communicate a vision, how visible you become, how hard you work to develop strong leaders and teachers,” said Cyndi Patterson, principal at Alvin (Texas) Elementary School.

“My model of behavior starts with how I am with others,” commented Sue Maguire, principal at Lake Louise Elementary School, in Lakewood, Washington. “Being trustworthy sets the standard for others to follow. Right relationships follow from the appropriate right start.”


It is clear from the survey results that a strong school leader must actively work to develop leadership skills in other people on the school staff.

“All too often, we complain about the isolation we feel,” principal Laura Crochet told Education World. “And sometimes we are isolated, but at times it is of our own making.

“Either through insecurity or fear, we think we must be the Big Principal. We forget that the operation of the school relies heavily on even the water boy carrying our vision throughout the entire system,” added Crochet, of Genesis Alternative High School, in Houma, Louisiana. “If we rely on others to carry the message, then they must be part of the decision-making process. Once they own part of the decision-making process, then they shoulder some of the responsibility.”

“There is a lot of pretense about shared leadership, the ‘flat’ organization, shared decision making, consultation, and collaboration,” according to Graeme Askew, principal at Streeton Primary School, in Melbourne, Australia. “Many school leaders talk the talk yet still cling to the stick of autocracy and control.

“Some of us are too scared to take the risk,” said Askew. “But when we do, we notice that the people around us leap into action, initiating exciting programs and doing much more than you would have expected.

“It’s the old empowerment factor,” concluded Askew. “Ownership is the stimulus. Yet so many of us still cling to hierarchy and power.”

Judy Burt, principal of Walton Ferry Elementary School, in Hendersonville, Tennessee, summed up the importance of including others. “Building leadership in others is very important,” she said. “It is a reflection of trust in others, empowers others, and provides for a future for ‘the vision.’ It ensures that the vision will go on whether I am here to see it happen or not.”


A school principal definitely needs a sense of humor to be successful, according to Jon Romeo, former principal at Mitchell Elementary School in Woodbury, Connecticut. “Principals need to laugh at themselves, laugh with their teachers, and laugh at the wonderful things the students do each day.

“The principal’s personality more often than not is reflected in the school building,” said Romeo. “I can’t think of a more important trait for a school — especially an elementary school — than humor!”

So many traits are important leadership traits, but Marguerite McNeely, principal at Oak Hill High School, in Hineston, Louisiana, said a good sense of humor “is the one I feel helps keep good leadership from tiring.

“If a principal always takes things too seriously, he or she becomes quite dull and ineffective,” added McNeely. “Laughter is a universal language and an excellent form of communication for both desired and unacceptable behaviors. A smile [accompanied by] a strong, stern look lets a person know something is unacceptable, and a grin and twinkle in the eyes helps those around us relax and perform to best of their abilities.”


Being a role model landed in the ninth spot on the top ten list. Although it might not have been numero uno, being a role model is the one quality Gail Graham feels most strongly about.

“It is by no means the most important quality in the total school context, but it has significant implications,” said Graham, principal at Whitney Institute Middle School, in Bermuda. “I try very hard to lead by example, and being a good role model is a major part of that.

“When all is said and done, one has to face oneself in the mirror every day,” Graham added, “and I couldn’t do that if I didn’t always strive to exemplify the qualities of punctuality, good manners, fairness, consideration, good grooming, and those other qualities that I regularly expect from students and staff.

“Respect is an important part of what we try to instill in our students,” Graham concluded. “Respect must be earned, and I firmly believe that one cannot earn respect without being the best role model that one can possibly be.”


For principal Graeme Lane of Balwyn North Primary School, in Melbourne, Australia, the key to successful school leadership is all about learning and teaching. “Our core business is learning and teaching,” he told Education World. “You may have all the vision and drive in the world. You can set high standards; you can even laugh about the mistakes and get on with the job. However, if you really want things to be cooking, you must invest in your people and develop strong teachers who have a sense of purpose and a commitment to learning.”


ORIGINAL SOURCE: http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin190.shtml


It’s summertime, and that brings the promise of relaxation, recuperation, and time spent away from the classroom. It’s time to think about your emotional health.

Of course, the reality for most of us is quite different. Yes, summer means that we aren’t driving to school every day, but what typically happens is a great deal of professional development and growth. Courses, additional qualifications, conferences, workshops, you name it. Educators in 2016 are packing their summers full of learning.

A close friend of mine, here in Ontario, just finished getting his qualifications to be an administrator. He and I were discussing the pros and cons of filling our summers with courses, and he said something that stuck with me.

On the second last day of his course, three new administrators were brought in for a Q and A panel, and apparently all three of them said that if they could do their first year of administration over, they’d take better care of their emotional health.

My friend said, “I’m constantly amazed that professional educators, adults who, for a living, take care of the emotional health of children, neglect their own [emotional health].”

He’s right, too. 100%. I have worked at almost ten schools in my career, and gotten to know dozens of colleagues well, and very few of us — myself included — escape stress, burnout, and depression. We do not have the luxury of a 9-5 job with the ability to leave work at work until we arrive the next day, and that can do a number on our mental health.

Don’t get me wrong, I willingly signed up for this profession and I love it immensely despite all of this. But I have learned some tricks over the years that have allowed me to ensure that I am my best self, physically and emotionally, every time I set foot in my classroom, and I want to share those with you.

3 Ways to Ramp Up Your Emotional Health

1 – The Power of 3

This one is a big one for me, and likely for many. I have found that there are three things in my life that I cannot do without. Every time I compromise one of these three things, my life is more stressful, work is less fun, and I find myself counting down the days until summer. That’s not fair to my students!

For me, the three things are: swimming regularly (I am a former competitive swimmer and swimming has become a tonic), doing some coaching with the swim club (my most successful teaching years were years when I was coaching part-time), and playing/composing music (I was once in a band and the creative fulfilment it provided me with was amazing). Stupidly, last year I didn’t do any of the three and had one of my most challenging years of my career. I won’t be making that mistake again. What are three things you can’t do without?

2 – Taking a course? Know your Purpose

Why are you taking courses this summer, or during the school year? There are many reasons that make the extra time spent completely worthwhile, such as being paid more, getting prerequisites for a particular position you want, or because you love learning! Often times, though, we can feel pressured to take courses or attend conferences because we’re trying to “get ahead,” or impress someone, like an administrator. I have done this a few times, and I did not enjoy the experiences.

Had I gone into the courses with a better mindset, I would have gotten far more from them. Instead, I look back and wish I’d spent more time with family and friends those summers. If you are taking a course because you feel you “should,” think twice. Make sure you truly want to.

3 – Let someone else pay!

Money can be a huge source of stress for people, and the pressure to take courses can put financial strain on us. There are options, though, that many do not know exist. I teach in Ontario, and the Ministry of Education is currently offering reimbursement to teachers who take qualifications courses in math or in technology. My board is offering reimbursement for math courses. My Federation offers a sum of money every year on a first come first serve basis for non-qualifications courses or workshops.

There are tons of free and inexpensive webinars that we can take without leaving our homes. Our money, and our time, are extremely valuable. Let someone else pay for your learning if you can!

None of the above things are earth-shattering pieces of advice, they are simply things I’ve learned the hard way. Emotional health is one of the most challenging things to maintain in the teaching profession. We spend a great deal of time bettering ourselves professionally, but too few of us spend an equal amount of time bettering ourselves emotionally.

ORIGINAL SOURCE: http://www.brilliant-insane.com/2016/07/3-ways-to-ramp-up-your-emotional-health-this-summer.html

What Makes an Effective School Leader?

What makes an effective school leader? The definition of a leader is one who leads or commands a group or organization. It is vital in a school system to have strong and effective leaders. So who are theses leaders in the school system? A synonym for leader is actually principal. Principals are key in the smooth success of schools. So what qualities define a leader? What makes someone an effective one?

Here are a few characteristics of an effective school leader:

1) They are very ambitious and have high expectations for the success of their pupils.

2) They consistently show that anything can be achieved despite being disadvantaged.

3) They are always working on their personal development and how they can improve their teaching and learning skills.

4) They are skilled at assessing and tracking the progress of pupils and provide the appropriate support based on detailed knowledge of each individual.

5) They care about the progress and personal development of every pupil and keep all of them included.

6) They have a clear vision for what is best for students — for their academic, social, and emotional learning.

7) They know that high-functioning teams are essential; they know that a healthy community (for children and staff) will contribute to stability, retention, and investment.

8) They are emotionally intelligent. They are typically calm, grounded, empathetic, and are able to deal with conflict between people.