How to Become a School Administrator

It takes a person with extreme passion and dedication to their students’ success to be a teacher. It takes that same passion and dedication applied to the field of education, and the ability to help teachers experience that success, to be a school administrator.

When a school has good administration, it shows in all aspects - from the environment of the school itself to the satisfaction of students and staff. However, it takes a special person to follow this path, and if you are trying to decide if this is the next step you would like to take in your career, here is some helpful information to guide you in making an informed decision.

What does a school administrator actually do?

Because many of a school administrator’s jobs are behind the scenes, it is easy to imagine that this position is not too difficult. However, the role of a school administrator encompasses many aspects and can be very challenging, as well as rewarding.

The position of a school administrator can consist of many jobs. A person with this degree can become a principal or assistant principal for elementary, middle or high school.

She can also manage student affairs in a college or a university or even become a superintendent.

In general, a school administrator will work at a school of some type in a capacity other than that of a teacher. Often a school administrator will have prior teaching experience and extensive knowledge of school policies and procedures.

Throughout their career, a school administrator will likely serve in the position of support to faculty and staff. She also will be a parent liaison and a means of communication between a parent or student and a teacher. Another extremely important role of the school administrator is that of record keeper for academic and faculty records. She will also often aid students academically and behaviorally and be a role model and mentor.

In general, regardless of your actual position as an administrator or where you are working, you can expect to set and enforce budgets, evaluate teacher performances, and help to ensure the safety of your school. These administrative tasks are the behind the scenes jobs that go hand-in-hand with those you will perform on the visible forefront as discussed.

The daily requirements of a school administrator can be demanding, so it is important that those in this position have dedication, compassion and a well-rounded knowledge of everything falling under the umbrella of education.

What skills are needed to become a school administrator?

Although the day-to-day things that a school administrator actually does can seem overwhelming, to a person with the right skill set these challenges are rewarding and satisfying. The majority of administrators agree that having the following traits helps to make a person successful in learning how to become a school administrator:

The ability to build positive relationships

In a field where micromanaging is a definite and the stress level can be high for everyone, it is crucial that the person who holds it all together can build interpersonal relationships positively. This may mean having to set aside your personal problems or concerns for the good of the group, getting silly to defuse tense situations, or predicting and setting up events to make high-tension times, such as standardized state testing or a school-wide tragedy, less stressful.

Your school is going to turn to you for guidance on how to react when they are unsure of what to do, and by being a positive role model and encouraging positive relationships, you are taking the first, and main, step to everyone’s success.

Listen to hear, not to speak

Listening entails multiple aspects, including what is being said and what is not being said. Physical actions tell a lot, and learning verbal and non-verbal cues can mean the difference between stopping a problem before it is started and reacting to a problem.

A good listener can stop many problems before they become big issues. Good questioning skills come in handy, and most people can tell when they are being patronized with fake concern. For some people being a good listener is an innate talent, but for most of us it requires work, study and some guidance. There are many strategies available to becoming a good listener and learning questioning skills.

Know when to be in charge and when to ask for help

Having your own group of mentors to fall back on when you don’t know the answer to a question is important. Many good leaders fall apart because they lack the ability to ask for help, thinking it makes them look weak. In fact, this demonstrates to others around you that it is okay to not know the answer and ask for guidance.

Articles such as this one, “Sustaining the Pipeline of School Administrators” by Educational Leadership, discusses understanding the importance of guidance in the role of an administrator and to strive to give opportunities for support to those seeking assistance.

Have a solid understanding of why people act and think the way they do

This applies to children and adults alike. Children are not going to respond to every situation as you would assume they should because they do not have the background knowledge and experience that you do, but knowing the basics of how children develop and behave can help you understand why they are doing what they are doing. You will need to understand why the adults in their lives are behaving how they are, how it is affecting the children in the home, and how it is being brought into the school.

However, your faculty and staff will be bringing their own set of issues to work with them every day, and although in a perfect world home issues would stay at home and work issues at work, we all know that reality is not that way. Finding the line where your staff can feel comfortable talking to you about problems that are affecting their performance in their job is important.

You want to be able to be supportive and helpful without being taken advantage of, but you also do not want to be the administrator that everyone hides their problems from until they have blown up.

It is also important to know how to deal with parents of all kinds. You will be in charge of their most precious valuables, and things will not always go smoothly every day. You will have to be supportive of the parent’s situation while still being supportive of your teachers, regardless of the situation. Read more about how to keep this line drawn in our article “Don’t Be Afraid of the Principal” by Sarah Rivera.

Stay current with resources

Research and join groups of other administrators to stay current on the newest changes in the field of education. Technology has made it possible to be a part of a wide communication network, no matter what field you are in. This is extremely important in education, where becoming united and consistent across the nation is the ultimate goal. We know that there are new changes happening every day, and keeping a part of other groups can help you stay abreast of the big and little changes, tackling issues before they become problems. Groups can provide helpful resources, guidance through turmoil, advice, and information.

These skills are not the only things necessary for this career, but having them or being on the road to obtaining them will assuredly help you in learning how to be a school administrator.

What are the educational requirements to become a school administrator?

The basics are simple: You need a master’s degree in educational administration or educational leadership. In some cases, certain schools or positions will require you to have a doctoral degree in the field as well.

Here is a step-by-step roadmap to guide you on your way. This roadmap will help you with the general steps you will need to be a high school administrator or work in any regular school administrative position.

Obtain your bachelor’s degree

This can be in just about any field, but you’ll need certification in education to move forward to teach. The bachelor’s is a four-year program in which you must complete the teaching requirements that are necessary for licensure in the state you are working in.

The work you will be expected to complete throughout the course of your bachelor’s program will be determined by the grade and subject that you are planning to teach. For instance, if you are interested in becoming an elementary school teacher or administrator, your curriculum will be focused on what you will need to know to be able to teach at that level.

Should you decide you want to be a high school administrator, your focus in your bachelor’s program should be more relevant to that level of teaching. As mentioned earlier, it is considered an important skill of an administrator to have multiple years of experience teaching at the level they are going to be administrating in because of the ability to gain experience that will be useful and necessary for the role of school administrator.

Apply for and gain teaching licensure

Your bachelor’s degree does not grant you the immediate ability to work as a teacher. Instead, you must determine which state you are planning to teach in and find out what that state’s requirements are for teachers.
If your bachelor’s degree was in education in the field you are planning to teach in, you probably have already been guided into most of the right steps that you needed to get to this point. However, most states require you to successfully complete rigorous competency exams in your potential area of study.

Work in your field to gain experience

Depending on the state you are planning to work in, you may have a minimum number of years you are required to work as a teacher before you are considered to be a possible candidate for a school administrator.

During those years of teaching, you will likely be exposed to and understand more of what the duties of a school administrator entail. You will also see all of the underlying groups that you will be working with, including parent-teacher organizations, school boards, and grade levels. Understanding the dynamics of these groups will be important in your new role as an administrator.

Obtain a master’s degree

You can pursue your master’s in educational leadership online while you work, or go full time. There are many opportunities available now in these days of technological advancement. Master’s degrees generally take approximately two years to complete, but you will likely need your teaching license before you can enroll in most programs.

Apply for and gain an administrative license

Similarly to your teaching license, the requirements vary by state. Generally, you will be required to meet specific education requirements and successfully pass competency exams involving state laws, curriculum standards, and training and continuing education of teachers.

It is also likely that you will be expected to work with a mentor’s supervision for a period of time while you are gaining work experience as a school administrator.

Work in your new field to gain experience

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. No one is expected to be perfect, but the more experience you have, the better you will be able to handle your new duties as you learn how to become a school administrator.

Remember, if you are aspiring, for example, to be a high school administrator, the best thing you can do is spend time as a teacher learning the duties that will be expected of you as an administrator. Beginning with the end in mind will help you find the right pathway to walk to get to your ultimate goal.

What license is required to become a school administrator?

As we mentioned earlier, each state has its own requirements for licensing. However, your state should have a specific list of requirements that you can access. Here is an example of the Official Website of the Executive Office of Education for Massachusetts to give you an idea of what you are looking for.

The different types of licenses available are the temporary, provisional, initial and professional.

Temporary

This is for a teacher who has been employed as a teacher in another state and holds a bachelor’s degree, but has not passed the state test/ curriculum requirements needed for full licensing in that state. This is usually only valid for one year and can’t be extended. You can learn more about these requirements under a state’s reciprocity guidelines, such as the one found here for Florida.

Provisional

This is for a superintendent or an assistant superintendent who has met the necessary requirements to hold a teaching license but not completed all of the requirements for an initial license. It is valid for no more than five years.

Initial

For an administrator seeking licensing for the first time, this license is valid for those who have completed the necessary pathway of an apprenticeship or a state-approved school preparation program, as well as other necessary state requirements. This is also valid for no longer than five years.

Professional

The professional license is the final step to licensing to become a school administrator. It encompasses all of the requirements for the initial license, but it is valid for five years and then renewable after that provided the administrator has completed the current requirements for renewal according to the state and the field of licensing.

Where will you be able to work as a school administrator?

The need for public education is not going away, and with that need is the demand for good administration to guide schools. In fact, it is projected by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics that in the decade from 2016 to 2026 there will be an 8% growth for elementary, middle and high school administrators.

With a master’s degree in educational leadership, you will be able to obtain a position as principal or assistant principal in an elementary, middle or high school. You could also become a dean at a university or work in admissions at a college.

In fact, aside from ensuring that you meet the licensing requirements for individual states, your degree will open doors to you in any state in the country to work as an administrator in most any school.

How much does a school administrator make?

Most principals work year-round, as do superintendents and other personnel in the role of an administrator. As such, and with the concurrent higher demands and challenges you will face, you will make considerably more money in this role than that of a teacher.

As of 2016, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported the median salary of a school principal was $92.510 annually. There were 251,300 of these positions in effect during that time. This salary, as well as the number of positions in this particular field, are expected to grow over the next ten years.

Should you become a school administrator?

If you have the desire to lead a team to success and make a difference to many people every day, both young and old, and challenges don’t deter you, then you have the core skills to be a school administrator.

The rest will come with experience and guidance.

Resources: - http://www.mass.gov/edu/government/departments-and-boards/ese/programs/educator-effectiveness/licensure/academic-prek-12/administrator/administrator-license-types.html - https://bloomboard.com/microcredential/view/4854e9c1-99f8-46dd-b306-e9f2c633b45b - https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/elementary-middle-and-high-school-principals.htm - https://www.noodle.com/articles/dont-be-afraid-of-the-principal - http://www.fldoe.org/teaching/certification/pathways-routes/certified-teacher-or-administrator.stml - http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may05/vol62/num08/Sustaining-the-Pipeline-of-School-Administrators.aspx

Nedda
Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.