For Administrators

Walk a Mile in My Shoes: Seeing School Through an Administrator's Eyes

By Brian Gatens January 27, 2014

When I moved from being a classroom teacher to working in school administration, my colleagues at my former school convened a small going-away get-together in my honor. It was a delightful time with loads of laughs as we recounted our years together, but I vividly remember all the jokes about me joining “The Dark Side.” Now I’m as big a fan of Darth Vader as the next school superintendent, but I was bit troubled by the direct comparison.

School administration can be far more complex than outsiders imagine, Brian P. Gatens saysNow that I’ve been a school administrator for just about half of my career, I can certainly see and understand both sides of these positions and can share the following.

It’s all about perspective

As a classroom teacher I had somewhat simple (note, I didn’t write “easy”) responsibilities — taking a group of students through my subject matter over the course of a school year. Along the way I was to treat them well, help them grow academically and report on their progress from time to time.

Again, this was far from easy, but it was simple enough to capture its essence in a few sentences. As a school administrator, I became responsible for:

  • Supervising the behavior of 600 middle school students
  • Collaborating with all their parents
  • Managing and motivating 40 teachers
  • Keeping one superintendent happy

As a teacher, I had no idea how complex, pressure-driven and intense it was to be a school administrator. If I had seen it from that perspective earlier in my career, I would have cut my own administrators more slack.

There is always a deeper story

As a school administrator, I learned quickly there were few cut-and-dried ways to manage to the situations I faced every day. For example:

  • The disrespectful child who gave a teacher a lot of trouble more often than not came from a home that lacked structure and caring.
  • The student who arrived to school every day in a poor mood most likely wasn’t able to eat breakfast as there was no food in the house.

As a school administrator, you become knowledgeable about many confidential (and heart-wrenching) situations. You’d love to let the teachers know that these special cases require more compassion, but you simply cannot while protecting people’s privacy.

Obvious solutions are rarely successful solutions

I remember being the quintessential Monday morning quarterback in the faculty room. My colleagues and I would pick apart the decisions of our administrators, certain that our analysis and suggested solutions to complex situations were dead-on.

Moving to new position in the main office, I came to believe that we were pretty much wrong about our “solutions.” Instead, I learned that what appeared to be a simple problem to solve was filled with nuance and the need for a multi-dimensional response.

Three ways to look at education

From a mindset perspective, here are three ways to view the world of education:

  • Teachers: Think of the next day.
  • Principals: Think of the next month.
  • Superintendents: Think of the next year.

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