Educational Administration vs. Educational Leadership: What’s the Difference?

Dr. Lamont Moore
Dr. Lamont Moore
Director of Testing, Accountability, Gifted Education, and Title III; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Gardner-Webb University, NC
Man standing in front of a blackboard talking to colleagues seated at a table.

At some point in their careers, many educators desire to pursue roles that take them out of the classroom and into the supervision of a school. As with anything, this requires additional education, certification, and even licensing beyond that of a classroom teacher or counselor. Interestingly enough, some colleges and universities offer this additional training under the label of educational administration while others under the label of educational leadership. It is common to hear these terms used interchangeably but there are some key similarities and differences between them that you should be mindful of prior to pursuing them in study.

What Do You Learn in an Educational Administration Program?

Educational administration programs prepare you for a shift in perspective from the classroom-level or teacher perspective to one that is building-level and school-wide. In most of these programs you will find a focus on the management of schools. You will learn about how schools are organized and how to manage protocols and procedures that keep schools organized.

You will also learn about managing people in terms of hiring, evaluating, and monitoring performance. There is normally an emphasis on the basics of school finance, effective communication with multiple stakeholders, understanding assessments and data, and, in some programs, the improvement of instruction. All of the nuts and bolts that make a school run are unpacked and expounded upon in an educational administration program, and educators are prepared to become effective school managers.

What Do You Learn in an Educational Leadership Program?

Educational leadership programs prepare you for a shift in perspective from the school-wide or building-level focus to one that is more global. These programs will emphasize the knowledge and skills that are needed to lead schools to success. You will learn effective practices that are progressive in schools and how to determine if schools are not successful. There is normally an emphasis on developing a vision/mission, cultivating a positive school climate/culture, strategic planning, data analysis, educational policy and laws, and, in some programs, transformational leadership. Educators who enroll in this type of program will be prepared to understand what it takes to increase the capacity and improve the performance of schools.

Career Paths

What roles does each program prepare you for?

Educators who complete educational administration programs are generally prepared to serve in any leadership role within the P-12 school setting. The skills and knowledge obtained in this program lends itself more closely to prepare educators to serve as assistant principals, principals, and some district-level leadership positions that involve managing principals or assistant principals.

Educators who complete educational leadership programs are prepared to serve in any leadership role within the P-12 school setting and generally for higher educational settings as well. These programs prepare educators to serve as assistant principals, principals, assistant superintendents, superintendents, and other district-level leadership positions that involve evaluating and managing principals, assistant principals, or other district administrators.

How are these programs similar/different?

School administrators must be skilled at management as well as leadership. As a result, much of the course work for both of these programs is very similar and, in many cases, identical. Courses such as school law, school finance, data analysis, family and community engagement, and instructional supervision are usually found in both programs.

Courses such as organizational culture, professional learning, instructional coaching and teacher mentoring, leadership styles, and other special topics usually are only found in educational leadership programs.

Both programs offer internships, capstone projects, thesis research, or practicums. However, those offered in educational leadership programs are often specific to the principalship, district-level program leadership, or the superintendent role. It is not uncommon for educational leadership programs to also offer a dissertation component as well to educators.

How do you decide which program is for you?

The best way to decide whether you would like to start study in an educational administration or educational leadership program is to first decide what roles you would like to serve within education. In most cases, the educational administration program is geared more for those who want to excel at the management of schools and serve as an entry-level school leader or in a supportive capacity alongside executive school leaders. The educational leadership program will best suit those who would like to serve as executive leaders, managers of district-wide programs, or evaluators of school leaders.

It will also be important to examine the course catalogues, as well as the course listings and descriptions prior to making your decision. These items will reveal the amount of courses that you will have to take as well as the amount of internships or practicums that are required. Because these programs involve a considerable time commitment, you will need to find one that aligns with your lifestyle and amount of available time for study.

These items also provide the focus of the program. Because educational administration and educational leadership are still sometimes used interchangeably, you want to look deeper into the specific courses and work requirements to see which best compliments your career goals.

Ready to get started on your next journey? Explore our educational administration and educational leadership programs to get started today!

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