Connecting With Your Students as an Administrator

January 04, 2024

Julie Luby

Ed.D. in Leadership

Image of administrator interacting with students

While moving from the role of teacher to administrator is a common and logical career move, the roles are very different. One of the biggest contrasts is that administrators do not spend their days working with students. For some, this is a disappointing change. New administrators often report feeling disconnected and unhappy with this shift, which may reflect a lack of clarity about their role.

It’s important for administrators, and especially for those considering becoming administrators, to understand that the role is different. Teachers impact students directly, every day. Administrators impact students indirectly. This doesn’t mean that administrators don’t interact with their students, because they do, but much of the value of their role comes through their leadership.

Excellent administrators know that their greatest impact comes from their focus on creating a professional, student-focused learning environment. Research has established that effective school leaders engage in instructionally focused interactions with teachers first and foremost, within a mission driven, collaborative culture. (To review some current research about this, consider reading this research report from the Wallace Foundation.) But that doesn’t mean that excellent administrators don’t get to interact with students, because they definitely do!

Administrators can guide student character development through discipline.

Depending on an administrator’s role, discipline may be a big part of the job. The best administrators are the ones who understand the enormous privilege and responsibility they have in working with students during these critical moments. When a child has made a mistake or done something unfortunate, a skilled administrator will help a student understand the impact of his or her actions, figure out how to repair or restore the damage they’ve done, and how to move forward with their dignity and sense of self intact. These are “big ticket” moments in students’ lives and administrators have the opportunity to play a large role in them.

Administrators can be a voice for student needs.

Another powerful way to interact with students is to develop an advisory group that meets on a recurring basis and has a set agenda. Invite students to keep you aware of what’s on their mind and what they need from their school. Consider allowing student committees to take the lead on planning a school event, with you as their advisor.

Administrators can be visible.

One way that administrators can interact with students is by being visible and accessible throughout the school. Proceed with caution, though, as this can be a slippery slope. Often, principals and assistant principals think they’re not as effective unless they are always on bus duty, lunch duty and hallway duty. The best administrators are known by and accessible to their students. Standing in the halls and watching kids get on buses can help with that, but planned, purposeful interactions will always be more productive.

Consider visiting each lunch wave once a week. Consider joining in during a music, art or physical education class at each grade level. Stop by at a practice or competition for each team or performing group. In other words, make the rounds, but always remember that “making the rounds” alone, while valuable, does not make you a highly effective leader – instructional leadership is your primary objective.

As educators, we all have a common purpose – the success of our students – and we have important work to do towards that end. Always remember the joy that comes from reading with a student or watching a student solve a tricky problem. Find ways to build a bit of this joy into your daily routine while keeping focused on your role as an instructional leader.

You can become the administrator you aspire to be with the education programs at American College of Education.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Julie Luby
Julie Luby, Ed.D. in Leadership

Julie is an assistant superintendent of schools in a public preK-12 school district in Connecticut. She has been an educator for more than 30 years, having taught a wide range of subjects across almost all of the grades and been a building principal at the elementary, intermediate and high school levels. She recently earned her Ed.D. in Leadership from ACE. Julie's research and experience have cultivated her passionate belief in district coherence around a shared vision that is celebrated and enacted through skilled instructional leadership. She provides coaching to principals and district leaders, and leads coherence work for districts seeking to enhance performance. Julie lives in Newtown, Connecticut with her three children and two dogs.

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