Principal Key

How do you Learn to be a School Administrator?

Jaime Festa-Daigle Education, Education Policy, Mentoring, Teacher Leadership

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“The talent squared workplace is possible because gifted bosses and great employees want the same things from a workplace: Freedom from management, mediocrity, and morons; a change; a chance.” – Dale Dauten, Gifted Boss

“Connect your brain to your mouth and good things will begin to happen.” – Granville Toogood, The Inspired Executive

There have been a number of Stories from AZ School Blogs this year about the importance of school leaders.  The research points to the importance of school leaders understanding how to be instructional leaders in order to support student learning.  However, for many of us, our coursework for administrative certification was built on a business model for leadership. I read the books above as part of my principal training, and I currently hear aspiring administrators often talk about books by Simon Sinek or John Maxwell.  While developing leadership is key, instructional leadership that supports improved student outcomes looks very different than leading in a business model. Let’s face it: those leadership books did not prepare me to do my first search for drugs, or meet to talk about why a teacher’s instruction wasn’t effective, or be a part of a particularly difficult IEP meeting, all while ensuring our school culture was healthy and the community was being served.

The way we support teachers has changed 100% for the better since I began in education.  We know that mentorship and induction programs are key. Novice teachers are paired with mentors for one or more years and have a web of support as they cultivate their skills.  However, in many school districts, the way we support administrators has not had that same upward change. Somehow, we expect those moving into administration to possess sometimes what seem to be superhuman skills to make sure the toilets are fixed and to increase test scores all in the same afternoon.

As the teacher shortage hit, many communities saw an administrator shortage hit as well.  As salaries were frozen and school tuition increased, the number of teachers returning to school for an administrator certificate plummeted.  The National Association of Secondary School Principals states that 50% of principals will leave their school within three years.  NASSP sites that lack of funding geared to principal leadership development and mentoring as part of this trend.  

Schools must begin developing pipelines that offer leadership opportunities and training that is tailored to instructional leadership and local needs.  Cultivating leadership and orienting aspiring administrators to what principaling really looks like is imperative before they start the job.

Support for school leaders must continue through mentoring and training.  AZ ASCD is introducing a Principals’ Academy for Arizona leaders.  This Academy will span from September to February of next school year and will offer up to 100 Arizona school leaders the opportunity to strengthen their capacity and develop a network of leaders from around the state who can begin to work with one another to solve problems and seek advice. Principaling can be a lonely gig, but it doesn’t have to be.

The Principal Academy will focus on the difference between well-intentioned leader and instructional leadership, providing effective feedback, leading for effective school climate, and developing reflective practices about leadership.  These were unfortunately not things I had really thought about prior to what was a wonderful, but overwhelming transition from classroom teacher to school leader. This will be an excellent opportunity for schools around the state to invest in leaders.  I strongly encourage anyone who is starting a leadership pathway to attend this transformational training!

Professional development for leadership should not stop there.  Mentorship is important for school leaders and leaders ought to begin developing personal learning networks via social media.  The same collaborative teams that have begun take hold in our schools and redefine our profession for the better must be developed among school and district leaders.

School leadership is a complicated, wonderful, rewarding position that can have the power to make schools magical places.  As educators, we should all be advocating for an investment in leadership development for our administrators. School leadership matters, and we know it.

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Jaime Festa-Daigle

Phoenix, Arizona

My name is Jaime Festa-Daigle and I was born here in Arizona. I work as an assistant principal at Lake Havasu High School. I’ve worked in Lake Havasu teaching everything from 8th grade English to student council to college level government and economics. I was recognized as the American Civic Educator of the Year in 2012. I am fully focused on ensuring rural students have equal access to educational opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts.
I am an NBCT, Arizona Master Teacher, and an Arizona Rural Schools Association board member. During the small moments where I am not focused on how to make Lake Havasu High School the best school in Arizona, I am usually nerding out on politics, fretting about my teenaged children, or working up a sweat at Cross Fit.

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  • Tim Ihms

    Hi. Scary stats on administrator shortage. Thank you for sharing.

  • Austine Etcheverry

    Interesting ideas around Leadership mentoring. I was just talking to my Superintendent about this very subject. I am a principal of a school for students with Emotional Disabilities. This week I made instructional decisions, I discussed how to best fix a gate that wasn’t closing, turned around and had to support a parent on a new journey with their child as he transitions to our school only to be faced with a teacher problem and at the same time have an individual on campus attempting to talk to me about turf that is being put in. All the while working to ensure that students were safe and a part of a positive learning culture. No book prepared me for that.

  • Susan Collins

    Thank you for this glimpse into becoiming an administrator. I think that as classroom teachers we often don’t think about the need for our administrators to have support and mentoring.

  • Mike Vargas

    I just happened to read this today and wanted you to know, I think I would really like working at your school. We need more leaders with vision like yours and your community is lucky to have you..