I recently attended a graduation party for an administrator friend of mine who had just received her doctorate, and learned one of the greatest school administration lessons of my life. I thought I’d share it here.
Sitting at a table out on the patio with my wife and family, sipping on a lemonade, I noticed a principal of a middle school walk out into the patio and head my way.
I was a little taken aback, because this just happened to be the principal of the school for which I had just submitted an application to be its next assistant principal.
Although we had worked together years ago when we were both teachers, we were only acquaintances.
She came and sat next to me, and we struck up a conversation.
At the time, I didn’t know if she was aware that I was interested in the open assistant principal position at her school. As I learned later, she did know, which makes what happened next so important.
When my wife left to get some more lemonade, I found myself alone with my hope-to-be future boss.
She asked the question, “So Sam, how do you like being a school administrator?”
Looking back now, I realize that I was sitting in the best kind of job interview possible – informal, without time restriction, no scripted questions, sitting in the backyard patio, sipping on lemonades.
And how did I answer?
I tried to impress the principal with my vast knowledge of school administration, and I went on and on.
I remember driving home that night, and thinking about all that I could have said, but didn’t. I had a great opportunity to demonstrate my abilities, and I blew it.
About a week later, I sat in the official interview with the principal and a panel of other administrators, and I was wishing I had a lemonade.
Well, I didn’t get the job, but I did learn a great lesson – Always Be Ready For The Interview.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get such a great opportunity again, but if I do, I know I will be better prepared.
As a school administrator, I know I might find myself in a grocery store line with district officials or at a school event with a school board member or at a barbershop with the district superintendent. It’s important that I am prepared to show competence in my position as a school administrator, which means that I need to be prepared to answer some basic questions about what I do.
Rambling does not demonstrate competence.
I tried to think of some of the basic questions that I need to be able to answer competently when asked by a parent, a district official, another school administrator, etc.
My goal is to take some time and have a prepared, concise answer to each of these questions. I don’t want it to come off as a scripted response, but I do want to demonstrate confidence in my knowledge of the topic, and most of all, I don’t want to ramble.
Tom Henschel from Essential Communications calls these “Elevator Speeches.” These are prepared and practiced mini speeches that take no longer than an elevator ride.
10 Questions Every School Administrator Should Be Able to Answer
1. How would you describe your school?
This seems like a pretty easy question, but being able to answer it in a concise manner, without rambling, may be a bit more difficult. I would first focus on maybe three words or phrases that describe my school, and then elaborate each word/phrase. For example: “I would describe my school in three ways: dedicated to excellence, student-centered, and technologically advanced.” I would then go into a brief description of how we meet these three identifiers. The important point to make is to keep it brief. A school administrator could probably go on forever describing his/her school, but that would be – you guessed it – rambling.
2. What is your school’s API?
Most schools are ranked based on their Academic Performance Index. I get lots of parents who are looking to move into the area, and they want to know what our API is. Since it’s so important to so many people, this number is one that every administrator should know. It’s also good to be able to answer the questions: What do you credit the score to? What are you plans to maintain or improve this score?
3. What is the population distribution of your school?
This distribution could be divided based on ethnicity, special education, languages, socioeconomic status, etc. Having a rough idea of the total number of students you have at your school is also important.
4. What intervention programs are in place to ensure the success of all students?
There should be some specialized programs dedicated to meet the needs of those students who are struggling. As a school administrator, I need to know what these programs are.
5. What are your plans for the coming year?
This answer has to be based around the idea of improving student learning. There should always be some plan for improvement in the works – new programs, better access to technology, greater concentration of efforts toward special needs students, etc.
6. What are the challenges you face at your school?
Here’s where I need to be a little careful. I don’t want have an answer that reflects negatively on my school. I can’t use this answer to place blame for our struggles. I need to phrase my answer that it comes out in a positive light. For example: “With the State cutting our budget every year, we are having to rely on more creative ways to find funds for program to help our students learn.”
7. How do you see your role as school administrator at your school?
This is similar to the question that I was asked at the party in the story mentioned above. It’s important that I’m able to articulate exactly what I do in my position, and more importantly, how what I do is improving the learning environment of the students in my school? If I say, “I handle the master schedule and a little discipline,” I’m answering the question, but I’m not making an impact. I need to be able to connect my duties with student learning. I need to express that I’m not just filling a position, but making a valuable contribution to learning environment of my school.
8. What are some Enrichment programs available at your school?
What programs do you have for those students who don’t need intervention? These are what we call Enrichment classes. They are also called Elective classes. Art? Cooking? Music? Web Design? It’s a good idea to know what other non-intervention classes that you offer.
9. How do you ensure a high level of excellence at your school?
I can see this question coming from a school board member or a district official or even a parent of a prospective student. It’s a pretty tough question, but every principal I know has different programs in place to keep their staff and students working at a high level of excellence. It can be scheduled staff development, time dedicated for teacher collaboration, a no-tolerance-for-missed-homework policy, additional time given to students needing extra help, an emphasis on parent communication and involvement, etc. Most, if not all, school administrators want to be able to say that their teachers and students work at a high level of excellence. The key is being able to articulate what actions are being taken to ensure this.
10. What steps are you taking to involve parents and the community in student learning?
After sitting in the school administrator’s chair for a year, I am beginning to understand how important it is to get parents involved in their child’s education. I’ve seen a great gap in this area. With the advent of the Internet, however, there are so many ways that schools can communicate with parents. Parents no longer have to be left in the dark when it comes to their child’s grades, attendance, missing assignments, etc. It’s equally important for the school administrator to have connections with community leaders and local businesses. With the cut in funding, being able to find business partners can be impressive. Again, the key is to be able to answer this question concisely and competently. This takes preparation and practice.
There you have it:
10 Questions Every School Administrator Should Be Able to Answer
I’m going to be spending the next few evenings going over my responses, and hopefully, should I find myself having to represent myself as a school administrator, I’ll be able to answer in a way that better demonstrates my competency and experience.
If I don’t ramble, I’ll be happy.
I know there are probably other questions that can fit on this list. Please feel free to add them by commenting below.
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Until next time,