Dos and Don’ts for First-Time Administrators

July 26, 2023

Julie Luby

Ed.D. in Leadership

Image of a school administrator

New administrators are not immune to first-day-of-school jitters. Getting your first role as an educational leader is exciting, and reaching this level of your career comes with new responsibilities. You are now in charge of and accountable for leading adults who will look to you for direction. From one administrator to another, I’ve got three helpful and simple tips on how to succeed in your new role.

DO develop relationships.

You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and you probably have lots of ideas about what you want to do first when you begin. Or, maybe you’re a bit overwhelmed at the idea of being in charge and have no idea where to start. Either way, your first focus should be on listening, learning and developing relationships. Everything else can wait. Use a recursive listening strategy: Ask questions, listen closely to what people are saying and nonverbally showing, and share back what you think you’ve heard to be sure you’ve got it right. Get to know your faculty and staff as professionals and as humans by making genuine relationships your primary objective.

DO keep students at the center of every decision.

Administrators must make a lot of decisions, and some can be urgent where quick thinking is required. Those can be tricky. So, whenever possible, engage a thought partner to make the decision collaboratively in a measured manner. Take the time you need to understand a situation from many perspectives, and always ask yourself, “What is in the best interest of our students?” Ensuring students’ safety, both physical and emotional, and learning should be at the top of your priorities. Even when others don’t like your decisions, they will respect your dedication to students.

DON’T let anyone else define your role.

If you polled 10 people and asked them what a principal does, you’d likely get 10 different answers. They’re probably all a little bit right and a little bit wrong. Everyone will have an opinion about what you’re supposed to do. The opinions of others may offer valuable insight to student and employee needs, but you should define your role based on research, the expectations of your supervisor and the situational needs of your environment. Research has shown that principals who prioritize student learning and are actively engaged with teachers lead schools where students learn more and perform better.

Being a school administrator can be exciting, scary, exhausting and rewarding, all at once. But if you maintain a clear focus on high-quality instruction and relationship-building, you can’t go wrong. Congratulations, and good luck!

American College of Education offers an expansive lineup of education programs to prepare you for education administration. Learn more here.

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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