Dear First Year School Administrator

You got this.

Dear First Year Administrator,

You are on the eve of your first year of helping lead a school. Whatever path you took to get here, it was likely long and full of twists and turns. You chose this path because you have a vision for how to create a thriving, loving, and inspiring community for teaching and learning. So when the going gets tough, here are some essential pieces of wisdom to remember as you embark on this new phase of your professional life as a new administrator.

There will be times when you feel like an impostor.

It’s natural to doubt your abilities. When taking on a new job, it’s easy to imagine yourself failing. And because your position is so visible, you might fear that you are being scrutinized by every person in your school community.

Well here’s a little reassurance: You won’t be. Of course some people are going to watch you carefully, but most will be rooting for you to succeed. You were brought in for this job because your community thinks you can help their school grow and become better. Let that fact help give you confidence.

Sometimes this confidence won’t feel authentic, and that is when it’s most important to take a deep breath and smile. The more you tell yourself that you can do this work, the easier it will be to approach each day with confidence.

You won’t always have the answers, and that’s okay.

I know what you’re thinking: Now that you have an official leadership position, you are expected to always act swiftly and decisively. You were hired to always make the right decisions. Magically, there’s supposed to be a place in your gut from which you perfectly respond to every situation.

It’s better for you to know now that this place does not exist.

Good leaders don’t always have the right answer, and they have to take their time to think about the best solution. Good leaders ask for counsel from their team. When necessary, they research. And when they have to make a decision, they make it knowing that it won’t always be perfect. So relieve yourself of the burden that you have to be flawless at your job.

Bring your whole self to work. 

“Bring your whole self to work. I don’t believe we have a professional self Monday through Friday and a real self the rest of the time. It is all professional and all personal.” This quote, from Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, has stuck with me throughout my time as a school leader.

For years, I stopped myself from pursuing leadership because I didn’t see myself as a leader. I thought, “I think too much with my heart. I’m an introvert, and I spend too much time in my head!” My friends and colleagues told me I was crazy and that I would be a great administrator, but I couldn’t see it.

Reading this quote from Sandberg helped me shift my perception on whom I could be in a job I loved. If I didn’t have to check my identity as a mom, a reader, a thinker, and an introvert at the door, I could see a path forward for myself. Instead of trying to hide my introversion, I introduced it to others so they might better understand my style.

I have a son in the first grade, and there are pictures of him all over my office. I don’t separate the fact that I am an administrator AND a mom. By making a point of being who I really am, I give others permission to do the same.

Relationships take time.

You probably have already imagined the kind of relationship that you want to have with faculty. You may imagine an open door where people feel safe to come in and talk to you. At the very least, you hope for friendly exchanges in the staff lounge. However, the reality is that you are new to your role, and if you are new, people don’t know you. At the beginning, it can feel very lonely. That is part of the process that you need to accept. 

Give it time and trust your ability to build relationships. Relationships are made one greeting, one faculty meeting, and one lunch period at a time. Take the time to learn about the people around you. Learn the names of their children, partners, and pets. Be grateful for this chance to get to know people. Most importantly, ask for help. Everyone in your school building has something important they can share with a new administrator.

The bravery and grit that got you here are your best assets. You’ve got this. You have all the tools to make this year, and your career, amazing.

Good luck,

A Fellow Administrator

Join the great conversations going on about school leadership in our Facebook groups at Principal Life and High School Principal Life.

Plus check out tips to grow your teachers’ confidence.

Posted by Anne Rubin

Anne Gomez Rubin has been a dean and teacher in Minneapolis, MN, since 2016. She tweets about education, intersectional feminism, and tacos on Twitter at @annegrubin .

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