A former teacher-now principal on school campus
Leadership Skills and Implementation

What It’s Like to Transition From Teacher to Administrator

By Kara Wyman, MEd

School administrators often wear multiple hats just like teachers do, but what is it really like to go from being a classroom teacher to an administrator? Meet Sharon Langley and Whitney Meyer, two administrators who know exactly what this journey entails. They graciously agreed to share their thoughts, experiences, and advice with us.

Whitney Meyer

Whitney Meyer taught for eleven years before becoming an administrator. She’s been an administrator for the past four years, two of which she worked as a director of curriculum, and now she’s the principal and curriculum director of an elementary school in Salinas, California.

Sharon Langley

Sharon Langley was a classroom teacher for nine years, and a literacy/instructional coach for five years. For the past six years, she’s worked as an assistant principal for an elementary school in California’s Los Angeles area.

Expectations vs. reality: There’s more than meets the eye

Before becoming an administrator, Whitney thought she’d be confined to an office, but that hasn’t been the case at all. “Doing paperwork, dealing with discipline and angry parents is part of what I do,” Whitney explained. “But there is so much more to it that I never expected.” She has acted as a custodian, a counselor, a co-teacher, and a substitute.

Sharon has had similar experiences, noting that administrators are responsible for many aspects of their school’s programs.“Your primary responsibilities include supervision of instruction and school safety, but there are other expectations which include supporting, developing and evaluating teachers, involving parents and members of the community in the school, and meeting district expected outcomes for student achievement.”

Biggest challenge: Time management

Many administrators struggle with managing their time when there’s always so much to get done. “The work feels like it can be never-ending at times, so I’m learning how to find a balance between what I need to do and what can wait until another time,” Whitney said. Sharon agrees and said, “There are many things that must be done each day: effective time management is a vital skill.”

The need for face-to-face contact

Both Whitney and Sharon derive a great deal of satisfaction from the connections they make on a daily basis. “I have so much fun when I’m with the teachers and the students,” said Whitney. “I make it a point to spend as much time with them as possible so that when I do have to do paperwork, I can keep them in the forefront of my mind and remember why I’m doing what I’m doing.” Sharon loves hearing about the progress students are making. “I love seeing students grow; they will often stop me to tell me about what they are doing or how they are improving.”

Becoming an effective guide

When issues arise, administrators have to know how to steer conversations in the right direction to work toward solutions. “We have to find a way to come to a common understanding, even if we have to compromise and not everyone gets what they want,” Whitney explained.

Sharon guides her students and staff by learning as much as she can. “Each day, each year I learn. I learn more about students and meeting their needs. I learn more about teaching and teachers; how to help them individually and how to help them improve their synergy and teamwork. I learn more about guiding groups (teachers, staff members, families and others) toward shared objectives. Identifying the needs of the school community, soliciting their input, and developing a shared plan of action takes time. But when it comes together, all of the stakeholders can celebrate and share in its success.”

Standing firm

Being an administrator isn’t for everyone. Tough decisions must be made each day and administrators must develop a thick skin. Providing opportunities for meaningful dialogue and listening to different perspectives are also crucial components of success. “After a decision is made, you have to find a way to bring people together to rally around that decision,” said Whitney.

Staying relevant

While it’s important to stand firm and guide your staff forward, it’s also important that administrators continue to move forward in their practice. “I think an effective administrator must continue as a lifelong learner,” Sharon said. “Education is a field that continues to evolve: effective administrators must continue to develop as they work with learners, their families, and their communities.”

Whitney’s advice: always value the teacher perspective

Teachers are constantly in contact with their students and offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise. Administrators need to utilize their staff’s expertise and various skillsets while also being able to look at the bigger picture. “It’s important to never lose sight of what it was like to be a teacher,” Whitney said. “Keep that perspective alive to understand where your teachers are coming from.”

Sharon’s advice: experience different positions before becoming an administrator

“My first principal stressed the importance of experiencing a variety of assignments before becoming an administrator: this was valuable advice,” Sharon said. “When you hold more than one or two positions, preferably at more than one school site or location, you will learn that people approach their work and perform their jobs in very different ways. You will develop relationships that you can call on for needed feedback, and add their best practices to your repertoire to improve your effectiveness.”

Kara Wyman has a BA in literature and a MEd from the University of California-Santa Barbara. She spent a decade working with adolescents as an English teacher, the founder, and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a teen-centered nonprofit organization.

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