Making the Leap from Classroom Teacher to Administrator

Andrew C. McMillan
Andrew C. McMillan
High School Principal; Ed.D. in Educational Administration
Female teacher thinking at her desk while working on paperwork.

Teaching as a profession is a calling. For some, remaining in the classroom until retirement is the end goal. For others, moving from the classroom to an administrative role is an option. Whether you have a personal goal to be an administrator or you have been identified as a teacher leader with a future in administration, making the leap from classroom teacher to administrator is no small feat. I was a classroom teacher for seven years and am now in my eighth year as an administrator. Here are my thoughts for those questioning a move from teaching to administration.

Remaining Relevant

I’ve often said I’d like to go back and apologize to the first groups of kids I taught as I began my teaching career. As an administrator, I have (thankfully) been exposed to various styles of great teaching and skilled teachers. As a potential administrator, never forget what it’s like being in the classroom. Mindfulness of the needs of your staff is important: plan effective and efficient meetings, culture and climate building activities, and show them you appreciate them, not just when a calendar says you should!

Becoming an administrator does not mean you stop learning; if anything, it opens up countless possibilities to become a life-long learner. Remain relevant by visiting teacher classrooms, offering timely and productive feedback, and never losing touch with your former classroom colleagues. Being given an administrative title should not be your one and only goal. Be great at the role you have been placed in and know that ultimately, effective administrators do whatever it takes to remove any and all barriers from teachers so they can expertly do what they love to do: TEACH!

Understand the Power of Your Words

Teachers know the power of their words in their classroom; as administrators, having an understanding of how important your words are is key. It took all of one conversation with a teacher as a first-year assistant principal to learn this lesson.

Teachers will come to you with problems, ideas, suggestions, and anything they feel you need to know. As an administrator, having a keen understanding of how to navigate these conversations is critical. Faculty and staff want to be heard, and if they come to you, it is for a reason. Don’t be dismissive of their problems because it doesn’t seem like an issue to you as an administrator.

I’ve learned to handle each situation uniquely by being the three Fs: firm, frank, and fair. Teachers appreciate genuine, transparent leadership, so don’t make promises you can’t keep. Do what you say you are going to do.

Impact and Influence on the Total School Program

As a school teacher and coach, I had an influence on a small scale. Throughout my teaching career, I influenced the 100+ students in my classes and students I coached and my colleagues within my department. My first year as an assistant principal, however, I was tasked with serving 850+ students in grades K-8 and a full-time staff of 75+. I was now responsible for the total school program, not just a small portion in my classroom.

As an administrator, you have to be all things to all people. When times get tough, understand and reflect on why you are where you are: remain relevant, understand your words and actions, and harness your influence on your school! Your role as an administrator will be fluid, and like snowflakes, there will not be one day exactly like the other. In my role as Assistant Principal and Principal, I have served as counselor, custodian, substitute, and proctor among a countless number of things you just “do!”

Becoming an Administrator

So are you ready to make the leap? How do you go about it? First, have an understanding of your own skills and talents and identify your areas of weakness regarding administration. Have a plan of what level of administration you see yourself effective in. School administration looks vastly different in the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Middle school presents a whole host of unique challenges which requires administrators to operate differently than their peers in other settings. Additionally, high school administration comes with a second-shift mentality — know that there will be sporting events, academic arts events, and a multitude of things after 3pm which require great time management and support from your family support system.

Next, talk with your current administrative staff about teacher leadership roles within your building. A great way to gain insight into potential leadership roles is to serve as department chair or participate in various school leadership councils, among others. Serving in these capacities will expose a side of school leadership not seen on a daily basis by classroom teachers. As Principal, I am always looking for the next group of teacher leaders. Ask your Principal about leadership opportunities and volunteer!

Moreover, understand this very important caveat regarding your future: your best resume is your current job. Your work in the classroom should be reflective of the type of administrator you can be. People are always watching!

Ultimately, there is no teacher education or administrative program which will fully prepare you for the work it takes to be a successful administrator. No amount of preparation, readings, or observations can prepare you for the fire of school administration. If you are ready to make the leap, do it! Good Luck!

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