Advice to a New Administrator – 3 years later


I was just re-reading a post that I wrote three years ago entitled, Advice to a New Administrator. This is the bit on which I have received the most hits since I began blogging. After I wrote that piece, I moved to a different high school within the same school district. Now…as I begin to bid farewell to this school <big sigh>, I have some thoughts running through my head and I feel that I need to add to my original post. I could go and edit the original post but I believe that a blog should serve as a journal. It is interesting to see how I have grown as an administrator with a different experience. I look forward to my change for next year as I will be working at a K-9 school. This is a little bit out of my comfort zone having worked in high schools for the past 19 years.

Anyway, here are my additions to my advice…

Relationships are definitely the most crucial thing for any administrator. Positive relationships built on trust…not only with students and staff but with everyone with whom you work…bus drivers, custodians, maintenance workers, contractors, the list goes on. No…I didn’t forget about PARENTS. Your relationships with parents are paramount! These people are trusting you with their children. I know, as a dad, that this is not an easy thing to do. If you build positive relationships with parents, those hard-to-make phone calls are not as difficult. I had a parent say to me the other day, “I don’t necessarily agree with you, but I trust that you are doing what is right for all involved.” Powerful!

Show people that they matter -just as Bill Ferriter talks about in this post, take the time to look into the eyes of the people that you are dealing with…they matter. As I mentioned in my original post, administrators get interrupted many times throughout the day. If someone comes into your office…even if you are working on something that has a deadline…stop what you are doing, look them in the eyes, and LISTEN to what they are telling you. You can tell so much from looking someone in the eyes…anxiety, fear, anger, peace, etc. Learn the names of the kids in your school and find out what kinds of things they like. Get to know your staff…find out the names of their children, where they grew up, etc. I guess another way to give this advice is to simply say, “be there…and care”

Try not to solve people’s problems for them – Help and support students and teachers that come to you with problems. If you solve problems for people – which is very easy to do – they can blame you if the advice you give them blows up in their face. Also, having people solve their own problems works to build leadership capacity and confidence.

Enjoy time spent with kids – they grow up so fast! I can’t believe that the kids that I met as grade 10 students when I first came to this school are graduating already…where has the time gone? We all entered the field of education because we enjoy working with and inspiring young people…never lose focus of that! Some of my students refer to me as their “school dad” and I think that is an honour. I guess in many ways, I am like a dad here at school. Wow…I have a lot of kids!

Communication – let people know what is going on. More importantly, tell people the reasons why decisions are made. People like to be informed…especially parents.

Take time to breathe – sometimes you have to take time to yourself…whether you go for a run, a workout, or into a student/staff common area to hang out and to laugh. Reflection is the key to learning and growing. Spend time in quiet reflection – blogging and journaling are great ways to record your thoughts and the things your have learned. Don’t feel bad for spending quiet time alone – you deserve it.

There are very few emergencies in education – I can only think of a few things in my entire career that needed to be dealt with immediately…and those situations involved student safety or medical emergencies. Most things that we deal with as administrators can definitely wait. Take time to make the right decision…the decision that is best for all involved.

Health trumps education – in terms of priorities, health (mental and physical) is far more important than education. We have had many situations in which students have had to take some time away from school to get their health in check. In these situations, try not to talk about school – instead talk about getting the student some help. If a student is not well – school will be a struggle.

Share – share your experiences with others…as I am doing through this post. Find a great article…tweet it! Have some teachers who are doing amazing things in their classrooms?  Get them to share it at a staff meeting. Work with other teachers…share ideas…do some team teaching. We will all get better if we collaborate and share.

Never stop learning – you work in an environment where you are one of the lead learners. It is important for educational leaders to model lifelong learning. We live in a world where there is so much to know and so much to learn. It is absolutely impossible to know everything but you should have a pretty good idea of where to access the information that you need. Find out who your experts are in your building and use them as a resource. For example, I have learned so much about autism from some of my colleagues over the past three years.

Step outside of your comfort zone – if you do what is comfortable, you will never grow and learn…and your job will get old. Try something that is new and different – you will be amazed at how refreshing it is. Yeah, your brain will hurt at first but you will be better for it.

And last but certainly not least…in fact, VERY IMPORTANT…

Trust teachers – teachers care about their kids and they will always do what is best for them. Many tasks are labelled as “admin tasks” and I don’t understand why. Teachers are extremely capable of doing many of these tasks. In fact, they are honoured when you ask them to do something…they feel empowered. Wouldn’t you have been flattered when you were teaching if an admin asked you to do something that you thought was an “admin duty”? Need some insight into a situation? Ask the teachers involved. Teachers know their stuff and can give you tons of insight. We had a situation here recently which was solved by going to the teachers involved and asking, “What do you see as the solution”. Empower the teachers in your building to be leaders! Don’t be afraid to give up the power.

Well, that’s all I have for today. I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to leave a comment.



About Derek Hatch
Principal in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

8 Responses to Advice to a New Administrator – 3 years later

  1. Jacki Prati says:

    What a great post! So true. It’s so easy to get caught up in solving problems and getting things done that we can forget about relationships. And, I love the part about the emergencies and taking the time to make the right decision. Thanks!

  2. This was a great post! As I enter into my 8th year as a Principal I realize there will be some changes that will help to make our district better. I often run around on rollerskates and as a Pricipal I need to slow down deal with the most important issues . Building relationships is the key and setting boundaries wheile building those relationships. YOu can not be a leader and a friend to your teachers. You also have to trust your decision because you know your school and do not let anyone try to sabbotage your agenda. Have more conversations with students, parents and teachers. When people see you are trying and care they tend to want to work with you more.

  3. Pingback: Advice to a New Administrator – revisited | Connected Principals

  4. Derek, what you say in your “advice piece” builds the foundation for a successful school. We are in a people business and so it’s people first and then programs and data. Thank you for sharing.
    BTW, Corwin has published my first book, “I’m in the Principal’s Seat, Now What? The Story of a Turnaround Principal”. I think our philosophies are very similar.

  5. Tammy A. says:

    What an excellent post for newly appointed administrators (like myself) to learn from! I particularly appreciated your section on Trusting Teachers. I think this is so important – to empower those around you by offering shared leadership opportunities. I am currently enrolled in a masters’ course on Dynamic Teacher Leadership. We have explored the many ways that teachers can demonstrate leadership within their schools: lead by following, join the team, lead alone, and lead by example (Roland Barth). However, shared leadership requires administrators who are willing to support such a leadership model in their schools. Barth stated that, “The teacher who is always leading will be the teacher who is always learning. And the teacher who is always learning will generate students who are capable of both leading and learning. When many lead, the school wins.”

    Thanks for all the advice, Derek. I will definitely keep all this in mind as I move into my new position this fall.

    • Hi Tammy,
      Thanks for the kind words and for sharing that powerful quote.
      It is difficult, as an admin, to “give up the power” and to trust the other adults in your building. I equate it to a teacher giving up control to the students. You are right…this is the best way for everyone to learn.
      I wish you all the best in your course and on the rest of your leadership journey. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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