Our current Assistant Principal is retiring as is our Superintendent of schools. Selection Committees, Blue Ribbon Panels, all are busy vetting candidates to find the best possible match for our school(s). So even though my own career days are numbered (and no one listens to the “old guy” anyway), I have a few thoughts.
One. A school leader, no matter the level, needs to have a strong background in teaching. More than 5 years, although I know of several outstanding administrators with less teaching experience. Those people are exceptions and exceptional – grab them. But for most administrators, a wide-ranging experience as a teacher is needed. Think of it as a reality head slap.
Two. Don’t be afraid to hire someone who seems “smarter” than you. As a 30-year-old, I learned to play tennis recreationally. Want to know how I got better at it? I played with people who could whiz a serve right past me. It was terrifically humbling and made me want to do better. Never play your game down, play it up.
Three. Be a listener. If you don’t understand what someone may be telling you, ask them to re-explain it. As many times as it takes. Then make your decision. Early in my career, I disagreed voraciously with my then-administrator. We eventually agreed to disagree – after all SHE was the one responsible for the decision’s impact. But I felt listened to. I felt I had a voice even if the ultimate decision was not what I would have wanted.
Four. Get in there and get dirty. One of my favorite administrators did that my first year in a new school. She led by example and modeled exactly what she expected of each of us. Taking the time to work with even an experienced teacher was one of my all-time career favorite moments. I learned and continued to apply those techniques even after she retired.
Five. Research on practice is great, but be sure it has been judiciously applied. Not all research will be valuable to all students. Try. Reflect. Adjust. Be strong enough to tell the emperor he has no clothes on (that’s a tough one on an “at will” contract).
Six. Read your staff CVs. Who is it that is working in your building? What about that person’s strengths and background can be used to greatest value? You may come away surprised.
It is most difficult to be a school administrator. It’s difficult to be any level of educator. You end up holding the responsibility for lots of things and sometimes leading a staff is like herding cats.
But your students, parents, and teachers are all relying on your leadership to move us to reach higher than we thought possible.