This blog post was originally published on March 14, 2017 on TX Fellow Loryn Windwehen's personal blog.
A Difficult Transition: 7 Challenges and Solutions for a New Administrator
People that know me know that teaching wasn’t just a job for me; it was my vocation. It was my mission and the reason I woke up every day. I often described it to people as my oxygen. It gave me life. When I made the decision to leave the classroom, I was confident that my pathway was clear. I had just finished my leadership degree, a job opened up at my school, and anyone that’s applied for one know that those jobs don’t just become available every day. I knew I needed to go for it.
After I got the job, however, I doubted. But, the doubt wasn’t what was the most difficult. My identity was that of being a teacher. No longer having that title and living the lifestyle not only made me question my decision, but also my entire existence. I had a passion that was on fire for students, education, and my career. That passion and its level of intensity were traded abruptly with grief in every stage.
So, why is it that I am sharing all of this with you? Well, I have a feeling that there’s someone out there that loves teaching just as much or more than me that wants more, wants to do more, wants to impact more, and just can’t seem to be able to do that within the confines of their classroom. So, they decide to become an administrator. They’ve done it all, and all of the “teacher leadership” roles are great, but it’s still not getting things done. To that person that’s reading this; I’d tell you to still go for it, but know it might come with some challenges. Being that I fell on my face with confusion and thinking it was surely only just me that felt this way, I’d like to offer you some solutions to combat these predicted challenges.
1. The “what have I done?” feeling might plague you.
I remember reading a student statement regarding horseplay between them and another sixth grade boy, and I thought “my colleagues are teaching the periodic table, and this is what I am doing? Resolving conflict that is already probably over? How in the world is this making an impact? What was I thinking leaving the classroom?” All I can say is that this is normal. And, as for the impact you’re making, well, the management and resolution you’re providing to the small percentage of the school is what makes the larger percentage function. It depends on you. Deal with the small stuff so that it doesn’t turn into big stuff.
2. The grief of not having the same relationships with students is a huge adjustment.
The relationship a teacher has with their students is unique. It cannot be matched. That’s why you need to do this work. School leaders must empower the teachers and students in your building to have those healthy relationships, and this is done through coaching, effective discipline strategies, and by modeling that behavior in every situation. Sure, there are still moments that I get a little envious of the fact that the opportunity for teachers to impact kids’ lives is so strong, but that doesn’t change the fact that I know I have a responsibility to my school to maintain a culture that fosters those healthy relationships. You have the ability to impact more – not just students – but their parents, the teachers, and all stakeholders of the school, so do it. Never do what is easy. Do what’s right.
3. Your social circle will – and has to – change drastically and suddenly.
Dinners and outings after school came to a screeching halt for me, and if they involve teachers at your school, they should for you too. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making an appearance at an organized school party or event, in fact you should. On the contrary, attending social events with certain groups is problematic, in my opinion. It might be hard to find friends that are also leaders like you, but it’s harder to repair damaged relationships on your campus because you’re showing favoritism to certain people in your building or sharing information with them that is for administrator ears only. Get a support group soon that doesn’t involve those you lead.
4. Professional Development is harder to obtain.
If you’re anything like me, you’re a lover of learning. Not only did my master’s program stop, but all of the content-related professional learning offered by my district, that I sought out on the state or national level, or general teaching conferences stopped too. As an administrator, your job is to pour into others, and fewer will pour into you in this realm. If you find good professional development, make it a priority. Join your state administrator associations and do what you can to get there.
5. You thought it was hard to take a day off as a teacher? Triple that feeling as an administrator.
When you’re a teacher, the workload is more when you’re out. It’s easier to go to work sick than it is to take a day off. However, a sub can come in and teach your students. It’s not nearly as productive as when the classroom teacher is there, but the day goes on. And, you don’t even need approval from your principal. Some learning or maybe a lot of learning still takes place.
When the administrator is out, systems might stop; problems compound into bigger ones. Angry parents don’t care that you were out ill, in fact, not hearing from you just makes them madder. The teacher with a student in their class that is stopping instruction? They stopped instruction because you weren’t there to resolve the situation. The teacher that couldn’t find coverage for duty? That’s your fault, and you weren’t even there. It’s hard, and as far as a solution for this – plan ahead as much as possible. On the days you can’t plan, be prepared to clean it up when you get back. The more you delegate, the more you communicate with your staff, like, “hey, I am going to be out,” and the more systems you have in place for when you’re out, the smoother things will run. That takes time and deliberate planning.
6. Autonomy – what’s that?
Many people think that leaving the classroom will enable them to have more autonomy. They think they’ll be able to provide input on more decisions. In some cases, there is a little truth to this, but for the most part, the classroom is the teacher’s domain. There is no greater autonomy that a person can feel in this profession aside from being a teacher. The farther you work up the ladder in the educational leadership, the higher the pressure is of the boss that oversees your duties, the less guidance you receive, and the higher the pressure of the public eye to judge those decisions. This makes sense in that the greater your leadership role, the greater your impact. The impact of your decisions is parallel to the responsibility of your role. For example, a teacher’s decision affects 150 students; a school administrator’s affects 1500 students and 100 teachers; a district administrator’s affects 15,000 students, 1500 teachers, and 100 administrators. There’s less freedom in that than you might think.
Furthermore, regarding school leadership, unless you’re the campus principal, you have to remember that you answer to the principal; it’s their campus, their decisions to make, and it will take time for you to be trusted to provide input on those decisions. Stay the course. The longer you are in your role and maintain integrity, the more you’ll be trusted, and autonomy will follow that.
7. Dealing with the constant negativity can suck the life out of you – if you let it – so don’t let it.
A dear friend of mine gave me a book earlier this year, and it nearly saved my life. Managing Difficult, Frustrating, and Hostile Conversations: Strategies for Savvy Administrators, specifically the chapter entitled “Diffusing the Angry Screamer” provided specific strategies for me. Mostly though, it showed me that this is just part of the job. I think that when our perspective shifts from us thinking we are alone in the struggle to realizing that there are books written about our struggles; then we are able to be more positive.
Additionally, you have to find a mentor. You have to find at least one person who’s been there, who knows what it feels like to be yelled at over and over by parents, and to tell you that “it gets better.”
It will get better. Thankfully, I have people in my life that remind me that our job is to bring truth and light to the injustices in education; to be the first person that a parent has positively encountered in a school; the champion for a teacher that wants to teach,; and the advocate for a child who’s never been understood. We get to do all of those things every single day.
What we need in education is not to think that becoming an administrator is joining “them” or “the dark side,” rather that we need passionate teachers to become administrators to bridge the gap between teachers and administrators. We have to be the leaders of this profession so we can support the people that love it, love the kids that need it, and show the world what education can do for others.
- Loryn Windwehen
With nine years of experience, Windwehen was named the 2012 Overall Teacher of the Year for NEISD, 2012 Region 20 Secondary Teacher of the Year in Texas, received the 2012 Kens5 ExCel Award for Excellence in Education, known as the Golden Apple Award for teachers, and was a 2012 state finalist in the HEB Excellence in Education Awards under the Rising Star category. In addition, she has been selected for numerous National fellowships including one in partnership with the National Institute for Standards in Technology in Washington, D.C.; America's Teachers at the ITSEC Conference in Orlando, as well as a competitive fellowship sponsored by the National Science Teachers Association. She was one of 38 educators in the nation selected to travel to Brazil as the representative for the state of Texas as a part of the NEA-Pearson Global Fellowship Program. She is known for co-founding the Harris Middle School Community Garden and the famous Green Team which became a nationally recognized community garden program.