Habits of an Effective School Administrator

Jim Kallieris
Jim Kallieris
Coordinator of Language Acquisition; M.S. in Education
Older school administrator listening while sitting across from two teachers.

In revealing the habits of an effective school administrator, one must first understand the meaning of the word “habit”. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “habit” as an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly, or completely, involuntary. In other words, habits are actions that repeat so many times that the human brain barely even needs to think about doing them. These habits become involuntary, as if on autopilot.

An example of this would be driving to work and not being able to remember anything about the drive. Scary, but this happens because we are so used to driving the same trip, that we do not even have to think about when to turn, or how to get to our destination. The following habits, in no particular order, should become involuntary in order to be an effective school administrator.

Mission, Vision, and Values

An effective school administrator lives the school’s shared mission, vision, and values. Whether we inherit the school’s mission, vision, and values or we participate in creating them, an effective administrator must not only be able to recite them, but must consider them when making any decisions that impact student learning.

Staff members can see right through the facade of a leader who does not “walk the walk”. Living the school’s mission, vision and values means cross-referencing them with every aspect of the school community. It means questioning staff members when it appears that a specific policy or procedure does not fit the school’s mission, vision or values. Effective school administrators also commend staff members when they are living the school’s mission, vision and values.

Listening and Communication

An effective school administrator listens and communicates well. One of John Hattie’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is habit five: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”. This habit is probably the most important habit an effective school administrator must possess. School administrators wear several different hats throughout the course of the day. School social worker/counselor is one of the hats that builds rapport and trust with students, staff, and families.

Teaching and parenting is stressful, as is learning for that matter. For this reason, it is important for the effective school leader to listen to the teacher, parent, or student rather than just speaking to them. Actively listening to a staff member, student, or parent when s/he comes with a question, problem, or concern is of utmost importance. Active listening means seeking to understand before being understood.

Multitasking should never take place when listening to a staff member, student, or parent’s concerns. An effective school leader must give the person his/her full attention, ask clarifying questions, and summarize the person’s thoughts at crucial moments in the conversation.

Then, and only then, can the school leader focus on seeking solutions with the person. Telling a parent, student, or staff member that we do not have the answer and need some time to think or research is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. Teachers, students, and parents will gain trust when they know that their school leaders care about them enough to listen, even if they do not have all of the answers.

Empathy

An effective school administrator empathizes. This habit goes hand in hand with listening. Especially in today’s society, people are dealing with a great deal of stress in their home lives. The pandemic has only exasperated the typical family issues that take place in our students’ homes. Teachers sometimes hear about homelessness, poverty, or abuse, but need to compartmentalize this knowledge to be the most effective teachers they can be.

The trauma that teachers see within the students in their classrooms affects them greatly on a daily basis. For this reason, the effective school administrator must put him/herself into the shoes of those s/he is supporting. There is always a reason why a student, staff member, or parent is struggling. Effective leaders do not see things in black or white, but instead thrive in the existence of the grey in between. Zero-tolerance policies are not effective in today’s schools. Instead, empathizing and seeking common ground builds a school culture and climate of support.

Encourages and Empowers

An effective school administrator encourages and empowers his/her staff. Teachers will only feel comfortable trying new strategies within the classroom when they do not fear reprimand from the school administrator. Effective school leaders encourage and empower staff to try new methods of instruction and take on leadership roles, thus creating a school culture and climate that nurtures positive change and growth. After all, academic achievement and growth does not come from the building administrator, it comes from the teachers and staff who work with the students every day.

Advocate

An effective school administrator advocates for all students. This habit goes back to the first one mentioned regarding living the mission, vision, and values. An effective school leader must believe that all students can and will learn at the highest of levels. Unfortunately, many school leaders are complicit with the false idea that certain subgroups will not be as successful as other groups. An effective school administrator must be anti-racist. S/he must advocate for all students, especially those who have been underserved throughout the history of American education.

When an effective leader learns about a policy or procedure that negatively impacts specific groups of students, it is his/her duty to stand up and speak on behalf of those negatively impacted. In order to lead others to advocate for all students, the effective school administrator must live all of the habits mentioned with all of his/her heart and soul. If or when we achieve these habits to the extent that they become automatic, the effective school administrator is ready to change the educational world!

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