New Administrator? Sage Advice From the Pros

Written by Natalie Gilbert

As teachers, we spend a lot of time preparing our students for transitions. When they are nearing the end of elementary school, we ready them to advance to middle school. The same process repeats from middle to high school, and then again at the end of high school as we prepare students to enter college or the workforce. These transitions are well-planned and gradual, with plenty of time to answer questions, ease any nerves, and celebrate each new stage in our students’ lives.

But in our own careers, teachers also face a lot of transition. Their grade or subject assignments might change from one year to the next, or they might be transferred from one school to another. Other teachers might move into new roles entirely, from department heads to administrator roles. Unlike the carefully orchestrated student transitions, the changes in teachers’ careers can happen quickly, without leaving much time to prepare or adjust to the new position before hitting the ground running. When that’s the case, it’s important to speak to other educators in your professional learning network (PLN) for tips and advice on how to survive – and thrive – in your new role.

We reached out to the huge community of educators on Twitter and asked seasoned administrators to share what advice they would give to someone who is new to the job. We received responses from across North America, from 10 states and two provinces, which proves that online PLNs are powerful resources.

We hope you enjoy these crowdsourced tips, and benefit from the advice provided by our network of experienced administrators. We thank everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to participate.

Derek McCoy
Principal of West Rowan Middle School in Salisbury, North Carolina
“Nothing in the school happens until trust and relationships are built! Always prioritize kids!”

Neil Gupta
Director of Secondary Education at Worthington City Schools in Columbus, Ohio
“Find your professional learning network quick! Network with other leaders through your state or national organizations or through social media. Don’t try to work in isolation – you’ll get burnt out.”

Kathy Thomas
Principal at Morningside Elementary in New Braunfels, Texas
“Be present in the classroom – make it a priority. Build a network w/ other leaders. Love the kids. Let your teachers know you appreciate them in various ways. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.”

Brian McCann
Principal at Joseph Case HS, Swansea, Massachusetts
“Listen, be present, advocate for those who cannot.”

Heidi Veal
Assistant Principal at McKinney ISD in McKinney, Texas
“Get connected to a PLN and Find. Your. Tribe. New administrators must have a support group with whom they can learn with and from, share challenges, and be mentored by. I found my tribe via the @LeadUpNow PLN and it has made all the difference.”

Casey Wright
HS Principal at Nordonia in Northfield, Ohio
“If you are wrong, admit it, apologize, and ensure that it does not happen again. If you are right, it is your professional responsibility to explain why in language that everyone can understand.”

Bob Silveira
Principal at Joseph Case Jr High School in Swansea, Massachusetts
“Build positive relationships from day 1 with all stakeholders, students, families, faculty, and staff, and community.”

Nicole L’Etoile
Assistant Principal at West Warwick High School in West Warwick, Rhode Island
“Focus on one new initiative for the first 6 months of the job. Do this one thing well and build trust with the faculty by following through.”

Ringnolda Jofee‘ Tremain
Elementary Principal at OA Peterson Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas
“Keep a daily journal to help house your ideas, conversations and situations to follow up on. In addition, use it to house celebrations. Code your journal to locate information when needed for future reference. Another idea is to create a small card for your lanyard with the campus master schedule on one side and your teacher roster on the other side. This allows you to go into the classroom hands-free.”

Karla Evers
Assistant Principal at Grafton Public Schools in Grafton, Massachusetts
“Listen. Ask. Learn. Seek support. Try new things. Be patient with yourself. Stay true to you.”

Tom D’Amico
Associate Director of Education of Ottawa Catholic (OCSB) in Ottawa, Canada
“Three tips for new administrators: (1) Always focus first on Relationships – everything else comes afterwards (2) Always try to find ways to give your students hope and ways to say yes to innovative practices by your teachers (3) use social media to share your school’s good news and to expand your own personal learning network – remember not to take yourself too seriously and make time for fun!”

Craig Vroom
Middle School Principal at Hilliard City Schools in Columbus, Ohio
“Even though I could write a novel, I will simply leave it at this: 1. Start with relationships. Get to know your staff, your students and your community. Invest in them, 110%. As you get to know them, know what matters most. Many times it is not just the academics but it is also the experience. Make the time to listen as much as you speak. Support as much as you encourage and ask the tough questions. After relationships, build skill, build leaders and reflect.”

Louise Outland
French Teacher at Lester B. Pearson School Board in Montreal, Canada
“Be genuine, be a visionary, be an innovator, build capacity by distributing your leadership, empower your staff, and be a great communicator.”

Amber Teamann
Elementary Principal in Wylie, Texas
“Slow down. Be okay with being wrong.”

Jay Posick
Principal in Merton, Wisconsin
“Develop a PLN (professional learning network) of educators who share willingly and frequently.”

Dr. M. Jeremy Tucker
Superintendent of Schools at Liberty Public Schools in Liberty, Missouri
“Focus on strengthening relationships and define your role as an academic or operations administrator and how you can support the development of a truly learner-centered organization.”

Craig Broeren
Superintendent at Barron Area School District in Barron, Wisconsin
“Focus on what is best for kids. Cultivate and grow multiple leaders in your building or organization. Remember what it is like to be a student and a teacher. Do NOT settle for mediocre teaching or learning. Innovate. Do something to change things that are outdated, not student focused, or just plain wrong. Make time to take care of yourself. Lastly, always remember WE are here for our kids.”

Lisa Dabbs
Adjunct Professor at University of La Verne and former principal of 14 years
“Take the time to listen. As administrators too many times we find ourselves speaking too often without taking the time to truly listen. Be sure to take notes as you listen. Let people know that what they are sharing is important and you don’t want to forget. Then take time to process before jumping in to respond. It will make a difference in your work.”

John Skretta
Superintendent at Norris School District in California
“Do what you love, love what you do! Never forget we are privileged to have the awesome responsibility of having parents entrust their children with us. It is a great responsibility and an amazing opportunity daily to empower young people to realize their hopes and dreams. Be visible, be vocal, and connect with students and their families. From hallway high-fives to lingering in the lunchroom, there are myriad opportunities to build connections with students in positive ways.”

R. Scott Jeffery
Superintendent in Lakeland, Pennsylvania
“Build relationships early. Listen more than you speak. Keep decisions based on the needs of your students, not your adults. Build PLN through Twitter. Ask questions that cause staff to think critically and self-reflect.”

Ned Kirsch
Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union in Fairfax, Vermont
“Don’t spend your entire first year just “listening.” Always try to improve your school or your system, don’t wait until next year.”

What was the best piece of advice that you received when you started out as an administrator? Send us your tips to and we will update this post.

About the author

Natalie Gilbert

Natalie has spent the last five years working in both traditional and experiential education settings in Haiti, India, and South Korea. Her background is in journalism and education, and she is currently pursuing her M.A. in Educational Technology. She enjoys running, exploring new neighborhoods, and cooking.

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