I think back to the first few years of my fifteen year career, and I remember point blank stating, “There is no way I will ever become an administrator. I will be happy just being a teacher.” First of all, I learned early on that there is no such idea as “just a teacher”! We all know that the teacher is the number one determining factor in the success (or failure) of students. The classroom is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. It’s where the magic happens. As I stepped into the office five years ago to interview for an assistant principal position in my district, those words played over and over in my head. I thought to myself, “What am I doing? I am happy being a third grade teacher!”, but it was too late to walk out…I was there and had been led there. It was time for me to transition, even though my heart was still in the classroom. I felt the need to make change and wanted the position, but had a fear of losing my teacher heart. I have been an administrator for five years, and my heart has never left the classroom. I will do everything in my power to make sure it stays in the right place. I love my role as an assistant principal. Each day brings new learning and challenges, just as I experienced in the classroom.
Sometimes administration can be lonely. We do not have the luxury of spending the day with the same group of kids, and watching how much they grow each day. There were days when I first became an administrator that I missed having the close and personal connections with a classroom of kids and their families. I remember feeling very empty and incomplete because I wasn’t able to make the kind of difference that a teacher makes each and every day in a classroom. The first year is certainly the most challenging, and I know I had the deer-in-headlights-look on my face most of the time! I had to find my way; a balance of leadership where teaching and learning outweighs all of the other managerial responsibilities. This balance, my friends, is how you keep your heart in the right place–this is how you keep the heart of a teacher. I have learned a few things in my few years that I feel led to share with anyone facing a transition from teaching to administration. I have found them to be tried and true, and when I feel as if I am losing my balance, I go back these things. I like to refer to it as “Going Back to the Basics”, because they are all very simple things that make a huge difference.
1. Read to a class.
Reading aloud to kids, whether they are first graders or seniors, is extremely rewarding. It is personal, a way for you to connect with students. It makes you visible to students and teachers, and provides a way for you to share your teacher’s heart. Choose your favorite books or short stories to keep in your office. I have asked teachers in advance to write me in their lesson plans, or grabbed a book off of my shelf to cover a class when a substitute doesn’t show. Seize opportunities to make it happen.
2. Teach a Lesson.
As educators, we all have our favorite subject. Keep your excitement for content by teaching a lesson from time to time. I have found that in my short five years in administration, there have been many changes in our expectations and curriculum. Teaching a lesson in a classroom holds me accountable for knowing our district’s curriculum, and helps me better support teachers with professional development and resources. Ask a teacher if you can visit, then teach. The kids will love it, and so will you.
3. Make a Parent’s Day.
Every day kids do amazing things. As administrators we have the luxury of seeing the whole school at will. Kids are always improving, always growing, always blowing me away with the things they do. Why not share with parents? Make some positive phone calls each week to brag on a student, share a celebration, or welcome a new family. Make it a goal to do away with the negativity associated with getting a call from the principal. Establish a culture where visiting the principal’s office or getting “that phone call” can be for something good! Again…this helps you find balance in your position. You did this on a regular basis in the classroom, so why not continue as an administrator where it can be even more powerful?
4. Praise Teachers for What They Do.
Teachers work so hard. They do so much more than prepare lessons and deliver the required content. So much of what teachers teach will not ever appear on a standardized test. Teachers help prepare children for LIFE. Ultimately they have more impact on children than their peers or their families. They model perseverance, empathy, flexibility, problem solving, and so much more, all of which go beyond the classroom walls. Teachers need to be praised for going beyond the minimal requirements of grade level expectations. Math and literacy are not the most important things we teach kids. Recognize and validate what teachers do to make their position personal.
5. Go Find Kids!
When you feel lonely, burned out, bogged down by the managerial tasks, and as if you are not making a difference…go back to the basics. Go back to where your heart is. Go back to where the kids are. You never really leave, you just veer off track. When you feel that happening, drop everything and go find some kids. Talk to them. Let them ask you questions. Laugh with them. Listen to their stories. Look them in the eye. Give some hugs or fist pumps.
These tips are not rocket science. They are not even researched based. They are merely things I do in my role as an educator that keep me close to where my heart is. I am now and will forever be…a teacher. I have had the privilege of being an educator for fifteen years, and somehow my love and passion for the profession continue to grow. Each year seems to be more challenging than the previous, yet somehow that makes me more determined to make a difference. I can only hope and pray that I never lose that fire within.