The Successful Administrator

At a leadership conference recently, we were asked to list all of the bosses we'd had and to circle those we would work for again.  Most of us were willing to work for one-third or less of the bosses we'd had in the past.  That struck me.

We may not all look for the same thing in a supervisor.  Some want a mentor, others to just be left alone.  Some want a buddy, others a leader.  Some want a powerful vision, others see those visions as personal agendas.  Some want frequent interaction with their boss, others prefer to be able to ignore her.  Rarely does everyone support the same leader.  In school administration, what's important?

Here's my Big Eleven list of qualities in a successful -- even great -- principal or superintendent:

1.  Extensive teaching experience.  Administrators who taught only long enough to move into administration rarely have the insight or passion for education long-term teachers do.  

2.  Can place school or district above career.  Everyone probably thinks they do but we all know those whose actions are more career-driven than education-driven.

3.  Handles conflict well, directly, immediately and with skill that honors all sides.

4.  Does not show favoritism toward powerful parents, prize students or athletes or friends.  Makes it clear that decisions must be based on policy, not personality.  And is willing to stand up to the pressure that follows.

5.  Extremely hard working.  This means not only long hours but focus and production during those hours.  

6.  Has set specific goals for the year and devotes time to those goals.  Whereas teachers plan their lessons and control 80-90% of how their days unfold, administrators can plan all they want but the day controls them.  Without conscious intent to devote 20% of their time to their highest priorities, drift will be the order of the day.

7.  Makes a habit of visibility.  For principals, that means being out in common areas whenever students are -- before and after school, breaks, lunches, passing times.  For superintendents, that means spending a few hours every month in every school (depending on the number of schools), and not just in the principal's office.  Why?  Because we save ourselves many, many hours by being able to anticipate problems before they erupt.  Because everyone needs and wants access to us.  Because when a complaint comes or an issue surfaces, we need background information and personal experience to respond appropriately to it.

8.  Is an instructional leader.  Can TEACH teachers, parents and students and DOES.  Inservices are well-organized, including all the components we expect in a good lesson, including assessment and follow-up.

9.  Listens well.  To everyone.

10.  Makes sure everyone in the organization is responsible for giving feedback to her.  It is not your boss' evaluation that counts; it's the people who work with and for you -- secretaries, teachers, custodians, parents, students.  Makes sure to get feedback from all of them and to make it safe to give it.

11.  Sees herself as support staff to teachers.  Like classroom aides, cooks and others, our job is to support what happens in the classroom.  Realizes the most important work does not happen in the office or behind closed doors.

Not your usual Leadership Principles perhaps, but based on many years in schools, these are the things I found most important.