[This was originally posted in March 2011, but has been updated for the reality of 2012, and with additional insight from Adam Truitt.]
As spring officially begins within a few weeks, so begins the hiring season for many schools. Budgets are being put in place, and staffing plans for 2012-13 are being organized. For many teachers, this is also the time when they consider making the move from the classroom to a position in school administration. Rarely does an educator go straight to an administrative position without spending time working directly with students as a teacher.
Perspectives on Changing Career Paths
Teaching is a challenging and rewarding profession, and it’s not usually an easy decision to step away from the classroom to take an administrative position. For some people, it is part of a career plan to move into administration as soon as possible. For others, like Jay Posick, an intermediate school principal in Merton, WI, becoming an admin was a gradual move.
I wanted to be a teacher first and foremost. I had aspirations of being an athletic director and went into a Masters program for an administrative degree. While taking admin classes I was asked to fill in for the building administrators if they were out of the building. I got to know students and staff in different ways because of these opportunities. I saw an opportunity to reach more than just those students in my classes, as well as an opportunity to work with staff to improve instruction and classroom management.
While becoming a school administrator was part of Jay’s eventual plan, Jessica Johnson, elementary principal in Juneau, WI, didn’t initially plan on being a principal.
I actually had no intentions of moving into administration. I wanted to get my masters and joined some colleagues that were going into admin. During this time my principal convinced me to become an instructional coach. I enjoyed my role as an instructional coach, because I was able to impact learning for more than just the 30 students in my class.
Adam Truitt is a first year associate principal at an elementary school in Colorado. Preparing for and taking an administrative position has been a logical step in his career.
For me, it was the “Force” that truly drew me to the “Darkside” of education. Wearing the black cape and mask, while sounding incredibly powerful via a deep breathy voice towards those that were under my instruction – SOLD! It’s funny when I hear that metaphor of the “Darkside” and school administration. I’ve been in the position for only a few months, but I have yet to see anything dark about it. In fact, it’s always sunny and exciting in my school. Since my teen years my career path has always been centered on education. From afterschool programs and summer camps to residential treatment (Wilderness) and the elementary classroom – education has given me the drive that no other flight, I think, could have produced. Honestly, I had no desire to go onto grad school unless I truly knew the direction I wanted to go. AND through much discussion with family, friends and mentors, I anted up and pursued program in Educational Leadership and Administration. Although I compare this part of the journey as walking down a cracked sidewalk – tripping and jumping along the way – I couldn’t be happier with the choice and new direction.
Finding the Right Job
No matter your reason for wanting to move on from full-time teaching duties, landing that first admin job is not necessarily an easy task. There are many administrative jobs posted each year, and potential candidates should look for the right fit between their own skills and interests and the needs of the school. Find out whether your disposition, experience, passion, and goals line up with what the school needs. They will certainly interview you, but be sure to interview them at the same time. Posick and Johnson began their administrative careers as associate principals. They were good situations in which to get started, but both have since moved on to positions that better match their professional skills, family life, and current philosophies.
Differences Between Admin Life and Teaching
Once you move full-time into the world of administration, there are experiences from the classroom that you might miss. It is not as easy to see that daily progress that students make and you aren’t a part of that close-knit atmosphere that develops among students and their teacher. Curt Rees, a Wisconsin elementary school principal, describes it this way:
Having my own classroom was like a family and you all really get to know one another quite well. There is good and bad to it, but that intimacy is more positive than negative. You see a lot in the course of a day. A kid might be driving you nuts at 9 a.m., but by 2:30, they’ve done so many other great things that you hardly remember what irked you earlier. As a teacher you really notice the relationships that develop among the students. As an admin, you certainly notice (or are informed of) the negative relationships, but don’t often have the opportunity to see those healthy interactions among kids.
But as an admin, it’s crucial to stay connected to the learning of students. Johnson still works with a 3rd grade math intervention group, and Posick makes time to be a tutor, yearbook advisor, and dissection assistant among other things for his students.
On the plus side of the responsibilities of being an administrator, the schedule can be more flexible to allow you to go into several classrooms each day to see the great work of teachers and students. You can talk about learning with the kids during their classes and then have even better discussions with teachers after watching them interact with their students. These conversations with teachers serve as reflection and positive analysis for both the administrator and teacher. Spending time in classrooms with master teachers will enlighten you more about quality instruction than you could imagine. While you might miss out on the daily successes of kids in the classroom, you have the opportunity to develop relationships that span the several years a student and their family are in your school. It is enjoyable to see all the positive changes that happen in those years and you develop a great sense of trust and understanding with the family, especially if they have multiple children in the school.
Truitt has greatly enjoyed his first year as a school administrator.
I’m now entering the spring of my first year as an Assistant Principal of a K-5 public Elementary School. This has been one of the most challenging and yet rewarding experiences of my career. This is the first position that I can say gives me an opportunity to reflect daily. I reflect upon my interaction with staff, students and members of the community. I reflect upon instructional practices that change students’ educational experiences. I reflect upon what is best for kids and try to figure out if data or politics are truly driving our decisions. I work at an incredible place, with driven and committed teachers and students that are ready to learn. I work in a school that promotes a culture of achieving, belonging, and caring. I love what I’m doing, and with the benefit of my in-house colleagues and those that are part of my PLN (Professional Learning Network), I can’t wait for what’s in-store around the corner.
Future Challenges and Opportunities
Just like for teachers and other school staff members, the near future for school administration looks to be a time of uncertainty. The US education system is under a lot of scrutiny right now. Accountability through high-stakes testing and educator evaluation systems are constant news items. Funding for schools across the country is being cut (drastically in many states), but expectations for student success never get any lower. Administrators need to be creative to be able to do more with less, just like their staff members. There is no opportunity to coast in the principal’s office. Positive leadership and creativity will be key in order to meet the needs of students in these frequently turbulent and unpredictable times. All of that being said, it’s an exciting time to be a school administrator. Public schooling will have to change to meet all of these realities, and administrators will be (and should be!) right in the middle of all it.
A question that curious candidates frequently ask is, “When is the time right to make the move from my classroom?” If you are already taking on leadership roles in your school (committees, mentoring, leading staff development, etc.) and you enjoy seeing the positive impact it has on the staff and students, you might be ready. Take advantage of opportunities your school/district might have for you in an admin internship program or as a substitute for admins away from the building. Take advantage of any “aspiring administrator” programs your state administrators association may offer. Don’t try to make the decision on your own and be sure to discuss your thoughts, questions, and concerns with your friends, colleagues, and mentors. Also be sure to think about how the new job, complete with additional time and stressors, might impact your spouse and children.
Great school administrators are retiring every year and they need to be replaced by equally skilled leaders. Will you be one of them?
Jessica Johnson is an elementary school principal in Juneau, WI. This is her 4th year as a principal. She began her teaching career in Minnesota, but then moved to Arizona where she continued to teach in the classroom, moved into the instructional coach role and then as a middle school Assistant Principal for one year.
Jay Posick is an intermediate principal in Merton, WI. This is his 10th year as an administrator. He began his teaching career in Waukesha, WI before becoming an assistant principal in the Elmbrook School District for five years. He is completing his 4th year as principal in Merton.
Adam Truitt is an elementary associate principal in Colorado. This is his 1st year as an administrator, but he has been teaching for nearly 15 years.
Curt Rees is an elementary school principal in Onalaska, WI. This is his 11th year as an administrator after being an elementary classroom teacher in New Mexico and Illinois.
This article is also cross posted at TeacherCast.net.