How many teachers are making the transition from teacher to administrator this fall? I can remember when I first transitioned from MS Instructional Support Teacher to Middle School Assistant Principal. While it was difficult, I certainly learned a lot throughout the journey. Here are a few suggestions to consider as you make this transition. These ideas are also important in my current role.
1 – Communicate. Take the time to communicate. Think proactively about the information your stakeholders need. Choose your mode of communication carefully. Often an email is easier, but it may not be the best choice. Consider using social media (in accordance with your district’s policies) to share information with your stakeholders.
2 – Listen. In your role, you are going to have many difficult conversations. Teachers and administrators will come to see you. If you are lucky, they will share concerns, challenges, and successes. In the assistant principal role, I often had to share unpleasant information. During these face to face meetings and/or phone calls, it was important to seek to understand first. Celebrate this time together, even when you don’t have the time. Listening is critical when building relationships.
3 – Redefine your roles/relationships. This may be difficult at first, but it is really important. For me, I transitioned from a teacher in the building to an administrator in the building. All of a sudden, I was making decisions and solving problems which directly involved my colleagues. Teachers would ask me questions which I was no longer able to answer. I had to be honest about what I could and could not share. Most of the teachers and certainly my friends understood.
4 – Be visible. Get engaged. If you are in a building, get into all of your classrooms regularly. Greet students at the door, and meet teachers in the office in the morning. It makes a big difference when teachers see you first thing in the morning! Keep your door open, and be approachable. Walk students out at the end of the day so parents can see you.
If you are in central office, plan school visits regularly. In my small school district, we have only 4 schools. It is doable to visit every school every week. If, on a Friday, I have not been in a school, I will try to start my day there or stop by throughout the day. Everyone should be able to identify you if you are the leader, and everyone needs to know you are present.
5. Use your resources. Think creatively about your resources, both human and financial. Determine the best use of your space, the best use of your time, and the best use of your staff. Collect data and make choices which are in the best interest of your students.
6 – Model the way. You are the leader. Identify your expectations and model the way. If you want teachers to blog, start a blog. If you want teachers to talk with students in the halls, talk with students in the halls.
7 – Build your network. Engage with other leaders through local intermediate unit networking meetings. Attend classes and workshops for administrators. Join Twitter and find some relevant chats. Connect with other local administrators who work in a similar role. Find others who understand your challenges and celebrate your successes.
8 – Acknowledge your mistakes, and say I’m sorry! You are going to make mistakes. We all do. When it happens, have an honest face-to-face conversation. Acknowledge the mistake and how it affected others. (A great resource here is Difficult Conversations). Your colleagues and other stakeholders will respect you for owning the mistake.
9 – Contribute to multiple teams. As a leader, your role is multi-faceted. You have your faculty and sub-teams within that team. You may have a leadership team, grade level team, and/or technology team in your building. In addition to building teams, find a way to get involved with the district leadership team. Reach out to others to develop those relationships.
10 – Remember what it feels like to be a teacher. Often we forget what it means to be a teacher. We forget how it feels to have those 25-30 children in front of us on a daily basis. We need to remember how it feels to walk in the teachers’ shoes.
What other advice can you share for first year administrators?