Uniting School Administrators to Create a Better World

Moving Too Fast on my Learning Curve – Important Skills Administrators Need to Have

When I jumped into school administration, I knew I would have to learn a lot real fast, but I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed lately.

There is just so much to learn in such a short period of time.

I just saw the movie Unstoppable, and I was feeling like Denzel Washington as he was barely hanging on as the train clung to the Stanton Curve.

I thought I’d make a list of the different skills that I’ve had to learn over these last two months. These are skills that I mastered as a teacher, but had to re-master as an administrator. I’m not there yet, but I’m learning fast – I have to learn real fast in order to do my job well.

It’s been a struggle sometimes, but I’ve always been a learner, so I appreciate having to “go back to school” in my new position.

Here’s my list of skills I’m learning to master (again):


As a teacher, I had to master this skill when it came to managing my class, my students, my lessons, but as an administrator, I’m having to manage different programs, my calendar, my to-do list. I’m also having to manage other people like secretaries and other assistants. It’s different – a lot different than managing students.


I’ve never had to debate too much as a teacher. Thirteen year olds may argue or complain, but it was never a debate. They did what I told them to do. As an administrator, however, you have to often debate with parents, teachers, other staff members. Debate is good. It’s not something that should be avoided. As long as I keep the debate from getting personal, much can be accomplished with debate.


As a teacher, there was a certain level of organization that was required. You had to organize your grades, paperwork, and lessons, but my teacher desk was often a mess. It didn’t matter too much that the top of my desk was always covered with papers – people rarely entered my classroom. As an administrator, however, I have to keep organized at a higher level, or tasks don’t get done. Also, if my desk is a mess, it sends a message to parents and other adults who come to see me. As a teacher, I often went the whole day without another adult coming in.


I’ve often had to talk to a student about events that are bringing stress to their lives as a teacher. As an administrator, I’m having counseling sessions with  teachers and parents. I often find myself unprepared for these, but I’m beginning to master a new skill:


I’m finding that parents and even teachers just want to vent. They need someone to listen to them. This is a struggle, because a lot of times I want to give my advice. I did this a lot as a teacher, but with adults, my advice may not be adequate for the situation. So, I listen. After listening, I’ve learned to summarize what I heard. Sometimes, they come up with ideas on their own. I assure them that I’m interested and that I will do my best to help remedy the situation. I never promise to solve the issue, but just listening and understanding can go a long way to make them feel better.


Communicating to 8th graders is so different from communicating with adults. You have to monitor what comes out of your mouth or what you send in an email a lot more as an administrator. I’ve found that lack of communication can lead to misunderstandings that can lead to hurt feelings that can lead to loss of respect, and so on. I’m learning that I need to make sure that people are kept in the loop with as much information as possible. I’m making a lot more phone calls to parents now that I’m an administrator. Communication is key!


I’ve had to think on my feet a lot more as an administrator. Sometimes I have to make a decision on the spot. I’m learning, however, to say, “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”

Computer Literacy

I’ve always been a tech-guy, but as an administrator, I’m having to learn a whole new computer system in order to view, manipulate, and produce different kinds of reports. I like these lessons, because it is something that comes naturally to me, but it’s still something that I’m being forced to learn quickly.


Having to present in front of a classroom of middle school kids is easy. Having a library-full of educators looking at you and waiting to see if you have anything interesting to say can be a little intimidating. I’m actually getting good at this. I’ve never been afraid of the microphone. Still, your engagement strategies have to be modified to keep the attention of adults. I used to write raps to keep my students listening. I don’t think I can do this as administrator. Can I?


As a teacher, the best part of my job was making students smile. As an administrator, I find myself doing the same thing for adults. All teachers need encouragement every now and then. They come to me to talk bad about a parent or a student who ruined their day. That’s when I put on my encourager hat, and find silver linings. I like doing this.

There you have it – skills I’m learning to master on my journey to School Administration Mastery.

I know there are many other skills that I’ll need as an administrator, but I don’t want to go too fast. I might fall off the learning curve.

What are other skills that you would recommend I start mastering?

Which of these skills should I concentrate on?

I would appreciate any help from any administrators out there.

Until next time,

Barely hanging on…



  1. September 24, 2011    

    Great list! I can recall one of my mentors say that there’s no way to be fully prepared for the admin role…it’s “baptism by fire!”. Out of your list I would have to say that organization and time management is key to being a successful leader. The amount of emails, hard mail, phone s, student issues, staff questions, meetings to prepare for, deadlines, etc is impossible to get ahead on. But you can learn to get organized and manage time so that you stay on top of what is important AND keep your desk clean! I’ve learned a lot from Justin baeder’s Eduleadership blog to keep up with everything.

    • Sam's Gravatar Sam
      September 24, 2011    

      Hi Jessica,
      Baptism by Fire is a perfect way to describe what’s happening this year. Thankfully, I’m doing OK, and I have great people around me. I’ll look into Justin’s blog. Thanks,

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Teach Happier - 21 stress-reducing, joy-inspiring, burnout-avoiding strategies to help teachers love their jobs and have more success in the classroom - Sam Rangel