Advice to a New Administrator

This post is in response to Justin Tarte’s piece entitled, “The journey continues…”  First of all, congratulations on your appointment as an Assistant Principal.  It is an honour and a privilege and I know you will do a great job.  After working as an Assistant Principal for the last five years, I would like to briefly share a few things with you, and with any newly appointed administrators.

Most importantly – Be True to Yourself! – you were hired because of who you are.  You are a great teacher and leader because of who you are, and what you have learned.  I made the mistake in my first year as an AP to try to be someone that I was not…didn’t work.  If something is funny, don’t be afraid to laugh.  If you think something is ridiculous, speak up.

Treat your school as if it were your home – I started my day this morning by going for a great run (from school).  When I returned, I pulled quack grass out of the front flower bed of the school and then picked up several pieces of garbage.  If things get broken in the school, have them fixed immediately.  If you have grafitti painted on school property, have it dealt with right away.  This general rule also applies to student behviour.  I often ask kids, “Would you do that in your own house?”

Servant leadership – lead by example and lead by serving others.  The job of the AP is to serve teachers and students, while making the Principal (and the school) look as good as possible.  As an AP, sometimes we have to roll up our sleeves and help out however we can.  It could mean stacking chairs after an assembly or helping to decorate.  Later this morning, I am going over to the parish with our custodian to pick up some heavy items which were left there after this past weekend’s grad activities.

Relationships – so important!  The relationships that you have with staff, students, parents, and the community at large are key to your success as an administrator.

Listen – you will get interrupted a hundred times a day by staff and students who want to talk to you.  Even if you have 53 000 things that you need to get done, make time to listen.  Many times, people don’t want you to solve their problem, they just want someone to listen.

Us and Them – now you are one of “them”.  You can’t change it, you just have to accept it.  When you walk up to a group of teachers, they will stop talking…just the way it is.  I always thought that it would never happen to me…but it did.  Also, in this category is the fact that staff will often tell you what they want you to hear, rather than the truth.  Here’s a secret though…there are a few people on staff who will be your allies and will tell you exactly how it is…use these people as your critical friends.

Deligate and empower the people around you –  there is no better way to get things running smoothly.  I have found that if staff and students have ownership of a certain initiative, it will flourish and will continue to exist long after you have left that building.

Spend time in the classrooms – this is where it all happens!  There is no better way to get a sense of what is going on in your school.  Give teachers feedback on some of the cool things that are happening in their rooms.

Collaboration – you already know how to do that!  There is no possible way that you can know everything yourself.  Develop a network of people who can help you out.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions…

I hope this helps.  If there are other administrators out there who want to add something, please leave a comment.


Author: Derek Hatch

Principal in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

11 thoughts on “Advice to a New Administrator”

  1. Also, for a principal new to a building, this is important too: change nothing right away, and change nothing quickly… at first. Don’t jump in an rearrange the whole thing from the ground up to show everyone how much of an awesome leader you are -remember, it’s not about you. Resist this urge. It’s a rookie mistake. Make decisions and take action, but watch the school critically the first year. Make changes slowly at first and make sure the staff knows why you’re doing what you’re doing. A principal who rules from positional authority will get as little as possible from his staff. A leader who leads with the trust of his school will get the very best from his teachers. -Shu

    1. Thanks Shu, for your comment and for stopping by. The advice that you share is excellent. You are right, it is important to make sure the staff knows why you are doing what you are doing. Trust and credibility are so important for leaders.

  2. Love the list and advice! I have been sending this out to all of my principal colleagues. Great job and thank you for the mention! I look forward to learning more from you 🙂

    Are you using Twitter…if so what is your Twitter handle?

    1. Hi Justin,
      Thanks for the comment and again, congrats on the appointment. I am honoured that you have been sharing my words with others. I tried to share some things that I have learned over the last few years as an administrator. Yes, I do use Twitter…my handle is @hatcherelli I’m looking forward to connecting with you on Twitter.

  3. Thank you both, Justin & Derek for your thoughts on this. I am beginning my journey two years after this post, and I find it one of the most helpful as I begin my journey into administration. I am the first full-time principal for a small, constructivist, parent participation school. I firmly believe in collaborative leadership, but I know I’m going to have to establish for myself and my colleagues what I stand and strive for. I think that making a list of goals for the first year is just the ticket to keeping me centered as the work begins. I especially like the idea of servant leadership mentioned above.

    1. Thank you, Genvieve, for the kind words and for leaving your comment. I am so glad that the posts resonated with you. Congratulations on your new position. Collaboration and sharing of ideas is the key to success. Have a great summer!

  4. Derek,

    Thanks for the great advice and information. I recently completed my administration program at indiana wesleyan and am presently looking for my first administration position. The information you provided will be very useful!

    I am on twitter @echs86.


    Paul Walker
    Bourbon, IN

    1. Hey Paul,
      Congrats on finishing your admin program. Isn’t that the university that Marshall and Ted went to on “How I Met Your Mother”?
      Thanks for the kind words about my post. I hope it comes in handy for your first admin position. Best of luck. I will look for you on Twitter.

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