Advice to a New Administrator – revisited


This is a cross post from my personal blog. 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.



  1. Laura said:

    I am currently sitting in my last class of grad school where I will graduate with not just a masters of education degree but also my principal certification. I have been teaching in an inner city elementary school for the past eleven years as a learning support teacher, in grades anywhere from kindergarten to the sixth grade. This road towards becoming a principal wasn’t one I was eager to jump onto, and even now the idea of being a principal seems overwhelming to me. There are so many jobs, so many responsibilities, so many staff and students to be responsible for. Throughout my internship I needed to gain 280 hours of experience. You know the saying you learn by doing? I have learned A LOT. I think you have some very key pieces of advice, and I thank you for posting them. Each one caused me to think back over the experiences I’ve had over the last year and a half. People do matter and building relationships with staff, students, and parents is key. Throughout my internship I have found some things out the hard way, but we’ll call them learning experiences. It’s easy to get caught up in the tasks of the job, and forget to take a moment to breathe, try and solve others problems, or the feeling of being pulled in a million different directions. It’s also been difficult for me at times asking other to do things, various tasks, because I felt I needed to do them myself. This is something I’m learning as the time goes on. I’ve gotten better with being aware of these things, and hey it helps with the breathing part too. I will say this journey has been outside of my comfort zone and it’s been reassuring to hear from colleagues, and even some of my kids, that I can do this. I am learning to not only trust those I work with, but also myself. Trusting that I jumped on this journey for a reason, to make a difference, and keep my sights set on something great in my near future. Best of luck to you as you embark on a new adventure in the K-9 building.

    June 24, 2014
  2. Derek Hatch said:

    Hello Laura,
    Thanks for the kind words and the well wishes. Congrats to you for finishing your M.Ed. and your principal certification. You are right, trust is a key component of being a successful school leader. You have to trust your staff and, in turn, your staff will trust you. Like teaching, school admin is definitely a vocation…you get into it because it feels right and you believe that you can make a difference. All the best in your leadership journey!

    June 25, 2014
  3. Audra said:

    I loved reading your blog. This year was my first as an Assistant Principal and I learned a lot! A teacher for nine years in elementary I never was quite sure if administration was right for me. Many of my friends and colleagues would gasp at the idea and ask, “Are you sure you want to go to the dark side?” “Aren’t you going to miss being in the classroom?” “Are you crazy?” Even while I attended classes for my admin license I would ask myself if this was something I truly wanted to pursue. I think its hard to know until you are actually doing your hours and see what its like firsthand. You can read a million articles, case studies, scenarios in books, etc. But until you are living it, breathing it in, working in that role day in and day out I feel that is when you know its for you. I love my job. I love that its different every day. I love that it challenges me both physically (I need roller skates most days!) and mentally each day. I love that instead of a classroom of 23 I have a school of over 500. I think a huge piece is being visible. I want parents, students, and teachers to see me. I want them to know that I am always around, approachable, and eager to listen. As I walk into work each day I remember what one of my best administrators said to me when I started going for my admin license. She said, “The best administrators are the ones that never forget what its like to be a teacher.” I truly enjoyed reading your blog and want to thank you for the advice.

    June 26, 2014
    • Derek Hatch said:

      Hey Audra,
      Thanks for the kind words about the post. I am glad that it resonated with you. You are right, it is important for school leaders to be visible and willing to help, support, and listen when needed. I like the piece of advice that you shared about how admin should not forget what it is like to be teachers. I would like to add to that…I think a school administrator should never forget what it is like to be a teacher and never forget what it is like to be a student.
      Thanks for your comment – all the best on your leadership journey!

      June 26, 2014
      • Irene Hannigan said:

        Your words resonated with me, too! I too believe that an administrator should never forget what it’s like to be a teacher and in fact have just written a book on this topic which will be published in Sept. 2014. It’s called A Principal’s Journey: The School as My Classroom. It is a series of candid and thoughtful essays, sprinkled with humor and dialogue, about what can happen when a principal brings to her job the heart and mindset of an effective teacher.

        June 26, 2014
  4. Asia said:

    Thank you for writing this! I am transitioning from Assistant Principal to Principal and I am scared out of my mind. I know that I am capable and competent, but my desire to do a great job is getting the best of me. Your words helped me to calm down a little bit. Thanks again!

    June 28, 2014
  5. Jody said:

    Thank you for all of your sound advice! I could not agree more with the importance of creating positive, trusting relationships with students, parents, teachers and other school community members. In the era of accountability, many administrators have placed deadlines before relationships and this has hurt the culture and climate of the schools they lead. I also agree that we have to place a strong emphasis on the emotional well being of students and teachers. Without emotional health, we can not improve academic achievement. By being visible and connecting with the school community, administrators can better assess the social and emotional well being of the students and teachers.

    June 30, 2014

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