Advice from a Superintendent on How to Become an Administrator

Invited recently to address budding superintendents about my journey to superintendency, I often field queries about the route to administration. Thus, I aim to impart advice that could benefit anyone embarking on the path to superintendency or educational leadership.

Outlined below are my key suggestions on how to achieve leadership aspirations and flourish once you attain your desired position.

Understand and Embrace Your Identity

Leaders are frequently urged to be true to themselves, a task that demands courage and self-reflection. Effective leaders possess self-awareness concerning their strengths, values, triggers, and objectives.

Formulating a compelling organizational vision necessitates a profound understanding of oneself and how personal identity shapes leadership style. Engaging in self-inquiry is crucial. Begin by pondering these questions:

  • What drives your desire to lead?
  • What principles do you hold regarding the efficient operation of schools?
  • How has your upbringing influenced your views on education, individuals, and leadership?
  • Who are your mentors, and what prompted your selection?
  • What sacrifices are you ready (or unwilling) to make for your desired role?
  • How do you define success, and what does success mean to you in this capacity?
  • How do you handle conflict and elevated stress levels?
  • What circumstances would prompt you to leave a position?

District leadership can push you beyond your perceived limits. Therefore, possessing a firm sense of self and the confidence to weather challenges becomes paramount.

Maintain Connections with Mentors and Coaches

Friends serve a different purpose than mentors and coaches. While friends can offer valuable insights, they do not substitute for professional coaching.

To ascend to higher echelons of leadership, you will require mentors, coaches, and accountability partners. Identify individuals who provide candid feedback, even when it may be uncomfortable. As you climb the leadership ladder, finding individuals who offer constructive criticism becomes increasingly essential.

Mentors aid in reflecting on your journey and decision-making processes, while coaches assist in determining your next steps and refining your vision. Instead of dispensing advice, they should focus on attentive listening, probing questions, and ensuring that your actions align with your objectives.

If you lack a leadership coach, seek recommendations from colleagues. Numerous superintendent-preparation programs offer coaching services. For instance, the Institute for Education Innovation runs a program for aspiring superintendents. The School Superintendents Association offers several programs, including the Urban Superintendents Academy, the Aspiring Superintendents Academy for Latino and Latina Leaders, and the Women of Color Education Collaborative, all offering complimentary support.

Confront Your Fears Head-On

Upon transitioning from the New York City Department of Education to a new role, I realized certain areas pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Budget management posed a significant challenge, especially since budgeting in a large city district involves cooperation with a central office rather than decentralized district leaders negotiating with a board of education for budget ratification.

Mastering the process took time, and budgeting initially stood as a formidable obstacle. While interviewing for superintendent roles, I excelled until finance-related queries surfaced. Overcoming my apprehensions and immersing myself in the intricacies of budgeting yielded favorable outcomes.

Avoiding deficiencies is impossible, and there will always be areas requiring improvement. Demonstrate unwavering determination to enhance your skills in these domains. Attend district budget meetings, watch budget presentations from other districts on YouTube, shadow your assistant superintendent in financial matters, opt for professional development sessions in unfamiliar fields like law and policy conferences to stay abreast of legal and contractual updates in education. Recognize your limitations, set objectives to surpass them, and there’s no limit to what you can achieve.

Seek Assistance When Needed

Failures are inevitable, so prepare for them. When setbacks occur, refrain from self-criticism that hinders seeking help. Remember, it’s not the mistake that defines you but your subsequent actions.

Turn to your trusted advisers for support and guidance during trying times. Belonging to national superintendent circles has proven invaluable, offering solace in knowing there are peers willing to lend a helping hand. Stay connected; you don’t have to face challenges alone.

Nurture Fresh Professional Connections

While some advocate against forging new professional relationships, I celebrate the opposite viewpoint. Embracing novel professional networks has enriched me personally and benefited my district. Vital lessons often stem not from experts but from peers with shared learning experiences.

Don’t neglect your continuous growth as a leader. Despite overwhelming responsibilities, resist the urge to skip conferences or professional gatherings. There’s always more to do, but as Stephen Covey advises, lead from a vantage point and gain a broader outlook. Surround yourself with individuals who challenge and motivate you. Choose your professional development endeavors wisely without depriving yourself of learning opportunities.

Prioritize Self-Care

Though the term self-care is frequently trivialized to denote superficial activities like shopping and massages, I advocate for a more holistic concept encompassing spiritual nourishment, nurturing relationships, and pursuing passions. Balancing work commitments with family and social spheres demands equal attention.

Remember, you are entitled to a well-rounded existence. As you embark on your leadership journey, carve out time for joy and ensure a plan for personal fulfillment.

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