It's important for school administrators to stay focused on the big picture
For Administrators

Administrators: Stay Positive and Growth-Oriented

By Brian Gatens December 2, 2013

To be an effective school administrator, you have to effectively apportion your time to meet your school’s day-to-day needs while you look down the road at opportunities for growth.

Don’t get bogged down

It’s easy to spend an entire day answering emails, completing reports and moving papers around on your desk. Yes, those tasks have to be done, but you should definitely take time to step back and look at the big picture.

Some key questions to ask:

  • Am I spending enough time on the direction of the school?
  • When was the last time I thought about next month or next year?
  • Have I worked with the staff to articulate our goals?

Take the long view

A friend of mine who is the CEO of a major mental health agency likes to say “my chief operating officer wakes up at night wondering what will happen the next day, but I wake up at night wondering what will happen over the next five years.”

Do not plan the future direction of your school independently. Your approach should be two-pronged. First, work with a school-based committee, as they know the school best. Second, work with a group from the outside who can offer you a clinical, neutral assessment of the school environment. Analysis devoid of emotion is a powerful teacher. Your fellow administrators outside your district are a great resource for that.

Invest in people

Schools don’t run on machines, they run on people. It is essential that you pay attention to your staff as they work alongside you. This is more than just putting doughnuts in the faculty room once a month. You need to pay attention to the tone, tenor and morale of the building.

One mistake I made early in my career was to misjudge the effects of a contentious negotiation atmosphere on the overall staff. It is also worth your while to look at the work of Daniel Pink and his guidance that offers people autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose. Salary, benefits, and working conditions all matter, of course, but Pink suggests they are not what motivate people to excel at their work.

Don’t overburden

One way to reverse any progress you’re making is to load too much onto your high-performing staff members. Excellent teachers are very often hungry teachers and always want to do more for the school. It’s important that you don’t allow them to burn out by tackling too much too soon. A nice way to channel their enthusiasm is to help them set realistic goals.

They’re also excellent people to involve in the longer-range planning mentioned above. It’s not as time-intensive, and it enables them to expend their energy in a positive way.

Have accurate time frames

Bringing about permanent and positive change is not easy. A key mistake many school administrators make is to allow their enthusiasm for change to create artificial and unrealistic time frames.

My suggestion is to add one-half of the time onto your time goals. For example, an initiative that you hope to institute in six months will most likely take nine months to do effectively. You will squander goodwill by adding anxiety to your staff with compressed timeframes.

An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, New Jersey. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.

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