To Be or Not To Be...

Over the past few years I have been approached by various peers as well as administrators in my school district about pursuing my administrative degree and joining the administrative ranks. Naturally I find this flattering that anyone would think I would make a good administrator. However, my answer to those requests and comments has always been the same. No. I never say never, but at this point in my considerably short career I don’t see it happening. Recently, I have been trying to evaluate why my answer is always no and why teachers make the choice to become an administrator.

For some people there is a bump in pay which is a realistic and justifiable reason to make the move up the ladder. I don’t do the job for the money so this is not a motivator for me. Teachers that are motivated by money are not doing the job for the right reason and therefore would not make good administrators.

Another reason I see teachers move into administration is for the move up the ladder. In most corporate settings you start as low man on the totem pole and work your way to the corner office on the top. Some educators are not that different and see the move to administration as the move up the “corporate ladder”. I have no desire to move up a ladder and therefore this is not something that appeals to me. I would also argue that administrators that view this as their reason are probably not doing it for the right reason.

The third and final reason that I could think of for becoming an administrator is the increased influence and control that an administrator has in a school or district. Administrators can influence curriculum, school policy, staffing, scheduling, and nearly every aspect of a school. If we have good teachers in these positions we would assume that they could be good administrators. They use the increased influence to move a building or district in a forward motion to increase over all student learning. Through tapping into their experiences in the classrooms, they can look to make positive changes. However, we also know administrators that use their authority to push personal agendas or just keep the status quo.

I got into education because I like teaching. I enjoy working with students on a daily basis and sharing their learning and their lives with them. I enjoy the relationships I build with staff members and students alike. Administrators do have influence on building decisions, but I influence my students’ lives daily on a deeper level than I ever could in the front office.

So, if you are an administrator, I would love to hear why you made the decision to be one. If you are a teacher that does not want to become an administrator, I would like to hear why.


Dave Meister said...

Great question. My personal decision was a lot like yours. I loved to try new things in my classroom and be innovative with technology. Somewhere in my eighth year of teaching I started to think of how a school could be different more often than I thought about changing my classroom practice. Those thoughts caused me to re-evaluate my career goals. That was the tipping point for me.

Kristen Beck said...

When I started my career 20 years ago, I had a timeline that included becoming an administrator or coordinator by year 10. I am still in the classroom. I still have moments of consideration and the conversations with my administrators about making the leap. However, I know that my impact is with the kids, they are the reason I wake up every morning excited to go to school. I agree with your reasoning. Every time I get the itch to move up, I easily talk myself out of it by thinking of my students and what I can do on a daily basis to make learning meaningful for them. I could never have that impact from the front office.

Tom Schimmer said...

I agree with Dave. When I started thinking outside my classroom I knew it was time. My goal was influence. As an administrator I can influence an entire school, just not my classroom. Now as a district level administrator, I can influence an entire district.

It's not for everyone, though. What I mean is some people truly don't like the work. Along with influence comes disgruntled parents, student discipline, angry staff members, budget decisions, etc. Some people don't want to deal with that.

The opportunity to lead, to build a team, to encourage, to push, to support, to nurture, to mentor, to inspire, to struggle, to learn were the reasons I became an administrator. I hope I have done of that - others will judges - but that's why.

You'll know when you're ready - if you're ready - so until then, keep doing what you do best!

Good luck

Pam said...

I became an administrator initially to work in a professional facilitation role that touched a lot of teachers and learners across schools. Then, I moved into an assoc. principal role b/c the principal with whom I partnered supported what we call today a distributed leadership model-leaders with different roles in the school but all part of a team to advance the learning work of young people- my job was instructional support. After that I worked in a larger district where I focused as an admin with colleagues on developing prof. development opportunities that emerged from teacher-admin ID'd needs- grassroots development. Then I moved back into a building as an ele. principal to get closer to a group of teachers with a mission to build a professional community of practice. After 10 years, I moved back into central office b/c I felt I had learned a lot about what it takes to effect deep change in a community. Each of those roles feels as if I've been able to support educators who dream big dreams on behalf of the children they serve- so, to support, facilitate, assist, serve those who serve children- a 30+yr career as an admin- but always think of myself as a teacher.

Pete Rodrigues said...

I'm still in the classroom, but am thinking about administration. I fall in with Dave and Tom about the idea of moving beyond my classroom. I know I have work to do as a teacher, but what if we could take all the good things going on in our schools, replicate them, sustain them, then we would be that much better. That's what drives me to become an admin.

And I think administrators need to acknowledge the teacher leaders that are in their buildings, that will never be administrators, and work with them. Avoid the "us v them" mentality. Somehow it seems very easy for some administrators to forget that they were once teachers (or we hope they were)

Greg Lumb @ lumbino said...

I enjoyed your post as it allowed me to think back on what motivated me to move into administration. I taught for five years and I absolutely loved teaching. But I also liked the meetings and the discussions that led to school change. I wanted to be on every committee and be a part of every conversation about vision and doing what was best for kids. That pushed me toward administration. I have now been a principal for fifteen years. I like doing my job for these same reasons.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Thanks for those that have commented thus far. When you have a new administrator going in is there a fear that they will lose touch with the classroom? The longer they are out and the further away from the classroom they are, do their decisions become more out of touch? I understand the various management duties that keep administrators out of classrooms which is another negative characteristic for me. As an administrator I would want to sit in classrooms every single day and talk with students and staff and truly know what is working and not working. This is not a reality in most schools and therefore I fear I might lose touch with why I am in the “business” for which is working with kids.

Cale Birk said...

Hey Josh! I have to tell you, I got into administration too early. At 39 years old, I am in my 10th year (7th as a Principal), third school and second district in administration. It was one of those situations where I thought I might enjoy it, I was told that I likely could be good at it, and I was willing to move to get a job as an Assistant Principal.

The reason why I say it was too early was that I really enjoyed teaching. I was a Senior Biology and PE teacher. I was a coach and an Athletic Director. Life was just great. But sometimes circumstances fall into place and you go for it.

I have no regrets now. The move I made allowed me to meet my wife, to experience a new city, and to get a completely different perspective on education. I have now moved to an unbelievable school with an outstanding student body and staff, live in a beautiful city, and have the greatest job on earth. And I am not the type to wax poetic on something that I don't enjoy--quite the contrary.

Being a Principal is the best job that I have ever had. I am at a relatively large school, and have the opportunity each day to try things with our school around curriculum, instruction, assessment, interventions, and technology, and actually implement things and see how they work at the school level. Working through the issues and seeing things actually come to fruition in classes with kids and teachers is something that even being at the district level is very difficult to do.

I would say this, if anyone (and certainly not you) is getting into administration for the 3 "P"s--pay, prestige, or power--I would say don't do it. Administration can be extremely challenging, especially if you are trying to make large, systemic changes. Being there for students and staff to make a difference and to have people work with you rather than for you--that's the good stuff.

You will know when you are ready, and should anyone tell you that "opportunities are passing you by", don't buy it. There always will be opportunities if you keep your options open by working hard and being the great teacher that you are.

Cameron Paterson said...

I only ever wanted to be a teacher. Four years ago my principal pleaded with me to become a Director of Learning & Teaching. Like my principal though, I still teach. I'm from Australia and we do not have the bizarre word 'administrator' in our lexicon. Many educational leaders remain in the classroom and it is impossible to become a leader in education without having taught. Our peak educational organisation is the 'Australian Council for Educational Leaders' (not administrators). I could not do my job without teaching as well. Classroom teachers would not take me seriously. Now this leads me to question the US use of words like 'building' instead of school,and 'instruction' instead of teaching and learning. The vocabulary implies alot and administrators tend to focus on accountability. McNamara did the same in the Vietnam War with the focus on bodycounts. I can't help but think of the quote, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." Was that terribly wrong of me to say?

Michael Smith said...

Classroom - influence 25 - 150 students and families.

Administration - influence hundreds, maybe thousands of students and families.

Good luck.

Sally Boone said...

30 years ago I decided to become an administrator. Over many years, I have done it all from Supt to county office administrator, to principal, to assistant principal...and I followed no order to that. I never wanted to climb any ladder, I only wanted to work to make a difference.

Unfortunately times changed and the paperwork, the discipline problems and the never ending quest for meeting AYP impacted what I felt I could do as an educational leader. I moved back to the classroom 10 years ago and I seldom look back. I am thrilled to see my students each day and I go home with happy stories to share about student learning!

I have noticed that being a good teacher does not necessarily mean the person will be a good administrator. The tasks are different and require a bit of a different mindset.

The important thing to remember is that if you don't like being a principal, you can always return the classroom!

Jill Geiser said...

I agree with Sally in that good teaching skills do not necessarily translate into good administrative skills because the tasks differ. But I would say that to move a school forward instructionally, the leader(s) need to have a good understanding of teaching and learning. Experience in the classroom helps to develop this understanding.

Reading this post, I am thinking about when I first started my graduate program for public school leadership. I spoke with one of the professors at the college who asked me why I wanted to pursue this path. I still remember my response - that I wanted to play a stronger role in the decisions made about how schools serve their students, particularly those students that are more at risk of failure. At the time, I qualified my response as maybe sounding a tad lofty and the professor smiled and summed it up by saying "you want to make a difference."

Thinking back on that now, my motivation for school leadership has not changed. In fact, it has only gotten stronger.

Your question about whether an administrator may be pulled away from the classroom too much is a good one. For me, there is this tug-of-war between management (general operations of the school) and leadership (building capacity) tasks. I have to be conscious of how I spend my time during the day to focus on those activities that are about increasing learning. One of my favorite parts of this work is when I sit with students in or out of class to talk about what and how they are learning. Leading a school means you stay connected to the classroom. It's part of the role.

George Couros said...

Josh...I would have to agree with what Michael said. You have the opportunity to influence so many people and as a principal, you can make yourself available to all the students. Not all administrators do but I really believe it is something that I need to do to be successful.

There are some days where you want to pull your hair out (if you have some left) but it is definitely a rewarding job.

On the other hand, with all that I have learned in the last year and a half, sometimes I really crave to be back in the classroom to do the things that I never knew.

Just so you know, a leader does not mean administrator. By doing great things in your classroom, being innovative, and sharing that, you will have a huge influence with other educators in your building. It is all about the way that you share this.

One thing that has really stuck out to me was when someone said to me about administration: "You may be ready to lead, but is anyone ready to follow?"

Just my two cents. Good luck in whatever you decide.

Payton Hobbs said...

Two different times in the past six years, I have left the classroom to take on an administrative role- first as a Director of Curriculum and Instruction and then as an Assistant Head of Lower School....soon to be Interim Head of Lower School....yikes!)

When I first thought about your question, my response was, "I didn't choose to become an administrator, the job chose me because that's what my organization needed/wanted at the time- I wasn't looking."

However, upon further reflection, I realized nobody made me take those jobs, so I had to think harder about what made me accept the positions and essentially choose to be an administrator. Here is what I came up with:

1) I was not satisfied that the curriculum, instruction, and policies were based on current best practices, and I wanted to be a change agent that could make a difference for the entire school community.

2) I love reading, researching, and sharing what I learn with others, and this was/is a major component of my position.

3) I really thrive on serving others, and I feel an administrator is a servant leader who main responsibility is to meet the needs of the entire school community.

4) I like variety and I juggle many different responsibilities.

Thanks for asking the question and making me take time to reflect.

lukerushly said...

I feel that I can have the same, if not a greater impact in the classroom. I became a teacher because I was passionate about my subject area and about cultivating relationships with students. I would lose both of these if I moved into administration. There are changes to education that I am also passionate about, but I can tackle these in my classroom and as an on-campus leader, as well as through involvement in professional teacher organizations. For me, trading instruction and positive student interaction for paperwork, politics, and discipline problems is just not appealing.

Eric Juli said...

My first school was created by a group of teachers. We had a principal, but everyone taught, including him, and everyone also had an administrative role, even me the first year teacher. So right from the start, the roles were blurred for me. Early on, all I wanted was to make my classroom the best place possible for the students I taught. But as time went on, I wondered what was happening in the classrooms around me. Since there weren't clearly defined roles that separated what administrators did versus what teachers did, I began to consider how I could have the greatest impact on a school and saw for my circumstance that it was outside the classroom.

Ultimately, I wanted to make the greatest impact, and for me, administration seemed like the best way to do it. I agree though with the other responses, you'll know it when you're ready.

Lyn Hilt said...

Great post, Josh. Thanks for asking us to reflect on our decision-making process.... tough to kind of pinpoint the moment when I knew I wanted to be a principal. I know that I had no desire to be in that role in my early years of teaching. I started my master's work in that area because I wanted another certification/option if I decided to leave the classroom at some point in my career. Then... about my 4/5 year of teaching, I got a new principal. And I could see in him all of the qualities I thought a great principal should be. He was 100% student centered. He was the most amazing mentor ever, and he was so humble about his work. He empowered me to assume many leadership responsibilities in my school. Seeing him in action made me want to take the plunge. So I did, and I'm glad I did.
I do miss the classroom, and I'm not a principal who has classes assigned to me each week, so instead I decided to start a student council two years ago so I'd have the chance to closely interact with a group of students on a regular basis. I also ask teachers to include me in activities and if they need someone to run a reading group or model/demonstrate a technique or tech tool, I'm there too.
I also consider that I may return to the classroom at some point. I would never swear off that idea! I think I would be such a better teacher now knowing and experiencing what I have as an admin.
Short answer, I just "knew" when it was time to make the move. You will be too. :)