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Smooth Sailing to School Leadership: Transitioning from Teacher to Administrator

Dawn Imada Chan

Congratulations! You survived the grueling application and interview process, signed your contract, and can’t wait to take on your first year as a school administrator. Here are some tips to make the transition a productive one and sure to set you off on the path to success.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

Your first priority as a transitioning administrator is to start to build the foundation for strong relationships. The following suggestions can help you connect and start building those relationships:

1. Obtain a school yearbook to learn the names and faces of faculty, staff, students, and other key community members. 

Everyone likes to be acknowledged by their name and this will give you plenty of practice.

2. Craft a letter to introduce yourself to all members of the community. 

This is a perfect opportunity to share who you are professionally and personally, your school leadership philosophy, as well as any other relevant information that is appropriate for your school. If possible, try to create several different versions of your letter tailored to the needs of the receiving audience. You might also consider incorporating a survey that will help you get to know the school community from their representative perspective. 

3. Set up time to meet with representatives from all parts of the school. 

Your intent in these meetings is to listen and learn. Be prepared with an open-ended question or two, otherwise, give space to these individuals to share, so you can learn about them and how they view their school. Listed below are the suggested individuals you should consider meeting with:

  • All teachers and support staff
  • Student council leadership team (or some student representative group)
  • Lead teachers/Department chairs
  • Building and facilities staff
  • Parent representatives, ideally PTA or school council chair(s)
  • Athletics and programs director(s)
  • Essential external community members (i.e. community partners/surrounding businesses)

Start to See and Plan for the Big Picture

As an administrator, your responsibility and influence will expand across the school and requires that you have the appropriate "big picture" and pulse of the school.

  • Meet with the current administrative team and review the School Improvement Plan. Meet with the School Improvement Team and ask for their views of what makes the school unique, areas to grow in, as well as any current issues.
  • Take the time to create an entry plan in consultation with your superior. The purpose of the entry plan is to lay out your priorities and must dos over the course of the year. It will help you to clarify your goals and vision for the year.
  • Be flexible. Despite the best laid plans, administration is anything but predictable. Be prepared to shift your entry plan to focus on meeting the needs of the students in front of you. 

Establish Your Support System

Administration is a challenging role. Make sure you have plenty of personal and professional support on your side.

  1. Talk with your family and friends, who are a part of this journey too, about what the changes might look like ahead, and share your excitement and concerns.
  2. Reach out to your mentor and ask if they can be part of your professional network of support as you make this transition. If you do not have a mentor, see what opportunities exist within your district or among your professional network.
  3. Find ways to connect with other vice-principals and principals who will understand the challenges and share in the successes that will come your way. If you are connected on social media like Twitter, your personal learning network can be invaluable during this exciting time.
  4. Purposely schedule and commit to devoting time in your week to your passion(s). One of the biggest challenges for new administrators is making the time for themselves. These moments away from your work will energize you and will allow you to be a better leader for others.

Lastly, there may be times in your journey where you have doubts about your ability to fulfill the role. Never forget that the elements that made you a fantastic classroom teacher will serve you well as an administrator. 

Good luck!

Dawn Imada ChanDawn Imada Chan is an education consultant and graduate student in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and a 2012 ASCD Emerging Leader.



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