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Teacher to Administrator: 6 Changes I Have Experienced (so far…)

Teacher to Administrator: 6 Changes I Have Experienced (so far…)

By Justine Wilson, Pan American School of Bahia, Salvador, Brazil

Being an elementary teacher who has moved to administration, the one question I am asked the most is, “Don’t you miss the kids?” The short answer is yes. The long answer is more complicated. What it seems that I have given up has actually amplified. Instead of having 18 students, I now share 331. Instead of working with a team of 7 other adults, I work directly with 52 adults and even more adults school-wide. I used to get many hugs a day from children, now I get hugs from adults that are much less frequent but equally full of emotion. 

I was also asked recently what I have learned as a new administrator. Combining the two questions: Do I miss the kids and what I have learned; I came up with a list of 6 changes I have experienced. These changes have provided great fodder for lessons as a new administrator.

1. Community Building– Every classroom teacher is concerned with their learning community being healthy. I was! Every year I put a lot of energy into building and sustaining a fabulous community of learners. As an administrator, now I put a lot of energy into building a community of educators. If the teachers are happy and supported, student learning will be happy and supported. My daily goal is to make a teacher smile – whether it is bringing her copies from the copy room, writing a note or modeling lessons in a class. Keeping a healthy community of teachers is vital to the fulfillment of the school’s mission.

2. Parent Perspective– In the classroom, a teacher’s main concern is student learning and well-being. As a teacher, I worked to make strong connections with families because they provide insight into the child and support for the child’s learning. Parents gave me information, compliments, notes, suggestions and complaints. As an administrator, the latter is the most common to hear. Complaints. Thus there is a need for listening I never had before. Listen for what the real message is and address that. Parents want what’s best for their child and we, as a school, want what’s best for all the children. I definitely have been gaining a new broader perspective.

3. Schedule: Full of variety and unpredictability– As a classroom teacher the day was always busy and full of laughter, learning and sometimes tears. The events of the day were unpredictable but maintained a predictable routine. As an administrator, about all I can predict is that I will be going to school. The variety of my day is great….from working with children to adults, from problems to solutions, from old ideas to new ones, from maintenance issues to supervision, from children learning to teachers learning. Then the superintendent walks in my office and says he wants me to fly to São Paulo for the day to attend a meeting. The variety of my day to day is enough to keep my brain active, jumping around and awake well past my bedtime.

4. Judgement– As a classroom teacher I always wanted what was best for my students and that meant for advocating for them. I now realize, at times, I was wearing blinders and only seeing what was in front of me. As an administrator, I want what’s best for the school and that means everyone. For example, the guards were being too loud on the microphone during elementary dismissal and disturbing secondary classes that were still in session, I needed to figure out a solution and make it better quickly. I now have a clearer view of all the moving parts at work to provide what is best for students. Solutions are not as clear and easy as they seemed when I was a classroom teacher.

5. Risk-taking and Mistake-making– Just as we want our students to take risks and make mistakes, as a teacher I would take risks and make mistakes too. They always provided for great conversations in the classroom. Within my four walls, I could trip up, say I was sorry, fix it and move on. As an administrator, mistakes or misjudgements have a large ripple effect. The idea of apologizing, fixing it and moving on takes more courage due to being in the spotlight on a grander scale. Realizing when mistakes or wrong decisions are made, it is not about ego or who is right and who is wrong, it is about the education of our students. The bottom line is student learning. Saying sorry to a group of parents or a teacher is humbling, but it is all part of the job.

6. Keeping to Myself: information and thoughts– As a classroom teacher, it was very important to share, collaboration and talk about teaching and learning. The topics that I use to talk about were pretty much for anyone’s ears, but now I find as an administrator that I have to think before speaking. While I still speak about teaching and learning, I also have information and thoughts that now need to be kept to myself or timed very well. Not be coy, but rather to keep confidential information as it is meant to be kept. “Timing is everything” as the saying goes, administrators have many different aspects of the school to keep in mind, many pieces to the puzzle.

​While I loved being a teacher with my 18 students, I am loving being a part of the bigger picture too. I enjoy the new challenges I am being faced with. As my administrative career progresses, I am sure some changes I am experiencing now will be “old hat” and new ones will soon arise. I have been building school-wide relationships based on trust and collaboration. I really enjoy working with all the people that make our school function so that children have positive experiences and learn at school. I really loved my old work and I love my new work too!

Do any of these experiences resonate with you? If so, leave a comment below.

Readings that influenced this post:

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Hacking Leadership: 10 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Learning that Teachers, Students and Parents Love by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis

Reframing the Path to School Leadership by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal


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