29 Things I’ve Learned as an Administrator…So Far…

Happy Leap Day!

It’s February 29th.   Today reminds of 100s day, the day where teachers and students celebrate the 100th day of school with special activities and events centred around the number 100. So, taking some inspiration from that, I thought I would reflect upon 29 things I’ve learned since becoming an administrator, in no particular order.

1.  Everyone wants to do and be their best.

That goes for kids, teachers and parents.  If we don’t fundamentally believe that as educators, then we risk becoming hard and cynical, and then it’s best we get the hell out of the profession.

2.  Go slow.

My natural pace is fast and furious. Something new and innovative? Woohoo! Let’s go! But not everyone can function at that rate, especially if it means a change in teaching practices. I’ve since learned that you gain more traction towards a vision if you slow it down and allow others to travel with you, rather than racing to keep up, or sitting out completely.

3.  Tact.

It is the art of lighting a fire under someone without burning them.  But there is truth in the adage that you collect more flies with honey then with vinegar.  This is especially difficult, yet needed most when faced with challenging conversations with staff, students and parents.

4.  Students don’t perform/behave any better in the long run when given extrinsic rewards. 

Chris Wejr, Daniel Pink, Joe Bower and countless others have blogged about this topic and expressed the principles behind this much better than I ever would. Learning is too complex an activity to respond to the if-then construct and we risk muddying the message to kids if we start tying a physical value to their performance, rather than fostering the motivation to learn because learning in and of itself is the reward.

5.  You can have a life.

When I first thought about going into administration, I met with my family to discuss the decision.  I knew that it would require a large amount of my time and energy, and if they weren’t okay with that, then I wouldn’t do it. However, I’ve realized that a balance between work and home is what’s going to keep my fuel tank topped up, not working longer hours to get more stuff done.

6. You don’t have to  sacrifice time in a classroom to be an administrator.

I’ve often heard colleagues say that they couldn’t imagine being an administrator because they would miss the classroom too much.  A highly respected leader in our board responded, “If you’re an administrator, and you miss the classroom, then you’re not a very good administrator.” Strong words, but the spirit behind it holds a lot of truth.  Administrators are the lead learners and should be connected to the classrooms. That’s our core business – successful student learning.

7.  Be with kids.

Dwight Carter blogged last year and challenged us to have “No Office Days” – days where, aside from emergencies, he would be in the classrooms, on the yard, and just with kids all day. I’ve since held No Office Days as often as I can, where I purposefully plan to avoid my office where the ball and chain of paperwork awaits.  Most paper can wait. Kids shouldn’t have to.

8.  Have chocolate within easy reach.

I swear it’s been the best form of therapy for my staff.  It’s amazing how often teachers will race into my office to grab a mini-chocolate bar, and if I’m there, I grab the opportunity to check in with them.  This often leads to great chats about their teaching, what challenges they’re facing, or how things are going at home – asking how their kid’s tournament or recital went; whether their ageing parent is feeling better; or how their latest quilting project is going.

9.  Keep the door open.

Just what it sounds like. It gives the message that you are accessible and approachable. I don’t like walking down the hallway of a school where most of the doors are shut, so I can’t imagine it’s any better for staff who walk by my office to a regularly closed door.

10.  Get connected – online.

It was only one year ago where I fully realized the power of an online PLN. Since then I’ve become an avid blogger, connected with other teachers, parents and administrators across the world and expanded my thinking and learning in a way I never before imagined.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are my learning annexes.

11.  Get others connected – online.

Working with staff and parent council to show them the power of connectivity is now a priority for me as an administrator.  Having the discussions and inviting all the stakeholders in for the learning has been very powerful for them and for me.

12.  It’s about teamwork.

I’m not an island. I can’t do everything alone. At first I wanted to do everything on my own like a stubborn toddler as I was self-concious. I feared having others see me as the newbie and question my abilities to lead. But since then I’ve become comfortable in my VP skin and I regularly seek out others for guidance, support or feedback. I’ve completely flipped and now think that if I don’t solicit some input from others, then they’ll question my abilities as a leader.

13.  Thick skin.

I am not always going to be everybody’s favourite person. I can be seen as the messenger, the warden, the killjoy, etc. and I have been at the receiving end of every insult imaginable.  It’s unpleasant, but it passes. It’s what is behind the words that I want to focus on and where I want to invest my time and energy.

14.  Parents and kids have their own stories.

And some of these stories would break your heart.  I often deal with kids and parents at their worst, and it would be easy for that to skew my opinion of them.  Knowing these stories keeps me rooted and protects me from becoming jaded. But this is true on the positive side as well.  Families and students have an abundance of talents and experiences to share with us and I love allowing that to flourish in our building.

15.  You endorse what you don’t challenge.

One of my most powerful learning moments came during a private discussion with a teacher.  She had become frustrated with a student – his poor behaviour, his avoidance of work, etc.  She began showing me some of his writing and referred angrily to him as retarded. I was stunned – so stunned I didn’t say anything. As I reflected on that, I realized that by remaining quiet, I inadvertently gave the message that speaking about a child like this was okay. It’s something I’ll regret for a long time, but it won’t happen again in my presence.

16.  Everyone has leadership in them.

I can let go of the reins, step back and enjoy being amazed at what others can bring to the table.

17.  Let everyone have input.

If you want to leverage as much buy-in as you can, let people have a say.  Create solutions together.  Plan together.

18. People will listen to you, whether you want them to or not.

I remember the very first email I sent to the staff close the beginning of the school year.  I had found some planning templates online and wanted to share this resource with others, something I had always done as a teacher.  Little did I know that I had unintentionally created chaos among the staff as they thought my message meant –> use these templates.  I had some panicky emails asking if it was okay to use other templates as they had put in many hours of planning and didn’t use the ones I had posted.  My principal had a good laugh at my expense at that one. 🙂

19.  Sometimes you have to do things you don’t like.

I hate telling parents things they don’t want to hear. I don’t look forward to conversations with staff that I feel are going to be contentious. But, I keep telling myself that there is a greater good embedded in the muck of difficult conversations if you approach it as such – not so much as solving a problem, but as learning together, or supporting a child in crisis.

20.  Look on the positive side.

I’ve learned a lot about appreciative inquiry – about change that is rooted in building on strengths rather than on fixing deficits.  People are happy to continue doing what they’re doing if it’s good stuff, but they balk if the focus is on highlighting flaws and placing blame.  For change to happen in an organization, the motivation and buy-in will come if we shift our thinking to continuing the momentum in areas that are working.

21. Stop watering the rocks.

Every school has them – the teacher or teachers that are resistant, ineffective and negative.  I’ve learned that focusing most of my efforts to develop them is a waste of my time  and a huge drain on my energy. As Todd Whitaker advises, start with your superstars.  I know who my eager teacher-learners are, and I know that they have huge leverage when it comes to influencing other staff members. I also know that I have parent-learners who are just as eager, and can be just as influential on teachers.  Sometimes we can get blood from a stone if it’s not just the administrator doing the squeezing.

22.  Be the last one standing.

I am an advocate – for my students, my teachers and my parents.  I am their advocate in the face of other students, teachers and parents.  I take it very seriously, and it is always my bottom line – is it in the best interests of my students? Period.

23.  Walk the talk.

I am a teaching VP, which means I spend half my day as a classroom teacher.  While this may seem daunting and it certainly presents its challenges, I’ve learned to see it as the “doing” part of my “talking”.  Yes teachers, you and I are literally all in this together.

24.  Be transparent.

What I do is no big secret.  I went into the role thinking that I was the gatekeeper for all things top-secret, and in some cases I am, but I have learned to be as transparent as possible in my decision-making, from everything from what guest teachers are called, to who is hired in the building, to how I intervene with student behaviour.  This allows my actions to speak on behalf of my beliefs as an educator, and my door is always open to questions and concerns.  We may not agree, but I hope that teachers know that I am always willing to talk about it.

25.  Everything is great.

I have a smile on my face 99% of the time at work.  My car could have broken down, I may have had an argument with my kids in the morning and I may not have yet had my morning coffee. A parent or student could be driving me nuts but when asked, I am always doing great.

26.  We are partners with our parents.

I can’t put my finger on why, but at first working with parents made me very nervous.  I think it’s because I have a deep appreciation for the responsibility we have when it comes to educating kids, and parents will let us know if they think we’re not living up to our end of the bargain.  But I truly enjoy working with parents and I value how I can work with a team to ensure the success of our kids.

27.  Don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes.

Failure means you’re about to learn something.  As a former perfectionist it has taken me a while to not simply accept this, but to embrace it. The process is where I learn the most about myself as a learner, a leader and a person.

28.  If you’re wrong and you apologize sincerely it means a lot to others, especially kids.

I can remember apologizing to a student because I didn’t believe him about a situation where there was a fight.  So I apologized.  He mumbled something and left my office.  When I got a call from his father later that day I thought, “Oh boy, now I’m going to get it.” But I got a thank you. His son came home and spoke about the impact my apology had on him.   When I thought my misplaced accusation had ruined our relationship, my apology had in fact strengthened it.

29.  I don’t know everything.

Knowing I have more to learn is wisdom.  Thinking that I know it all is arrogance.

I know that everyone’s learning is different and I would love to hear the powerful learning moments you’ve experienced.

Happy  February 29!

22 thoughts on “29 Things I’ve Learned as an Administrator…So Far…

  1. I would add don’t micromanage. FIrst off, you can’t do it because you have too much to do and too many people to supervise. Second, if you try to do it people will hate you. You will upset them and their performance with students is likely to be negatively impacted. I would also add be willing to do the dirty work but don’t get stuck doing any of it routinely. You always have to be careful about adding tasks to your list when you should delegate. There are times, however, where stepping in and doing some dirty work like picking up some trash in front of the school can send a good message. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Doug, especially for the micromanaging comment. It’s something I had to resist at first, but once I became comfortable in my role and got to know the strengths of my staff, it was much easier for me to back away and let things happen in a way that was more authentic for the staff. I have definitely learned flexibility and patience!

  2. Great Blog……instead of you endorse what you do not challenge,I like to say “What you permit you promote”

    Thanks for sharing

    Jerry from Winchester, Virginia

  3. Thanks for this! I am embarking on an administrator’s certification and it nice to hear these things!

  4. Erin,

    I am so glad to see you blogging again. I’ve missed reading your blogs.

    This blog post is great. We all have moments we are not proud of, but, you are right, those are the moments we learn the most from. Those are the moments that make us even better administrators. If someone says they never make mistakes, then they are doing something wrong.

    I think you’ve just prompted a new blog post from me….

    Great learning, Erin!

    PS. I am proud to be a part of your PLN!

    • Hey Tia. It’s been a while I know! Needed to regroup I think after a rough start to the school year. But things are settling down and I’m re-energized and refocused.
      Can’t wait to read your new post!
      And I’m equally as proud to be part of your PLN 🙂 Take care!

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  8. Thanks for sharing, through reading “Lessons on Leadership” a few of my practices as a principal have been affirmed and I’ve picked up some great ideas.

  9. A great read…agree with first comment. You endorse what you dont challenge. One of my goals is to be more COURAGEOUS and that point helps.

    • Thanks Carol. I appreciate the comment. #15 was the hardest for me to admit publicly but at the same time has had the most lasting impression.
      Take care,

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