Now that you are interested in becoming a school administrator, you may be wondering how to achieve that vision. You probably have many questions, ranging from “What does a school administrator do?” to “What kind of degree do I need to get a school admin job?” This guide will answer those questions and more to help you ease into the process of finding a rewarding new career in school leadership.
What Does a School Administrator Do?
School administrators lead teachers and staff in an educational setting. They may work as principals, vice or assistant principals, admissions counselors, student affairs leaders, chancellors, provosts or even chief academic officers. Though all these roles have elements in common, the job description for each one is unique.
If you are currently a teacher or faculty member, you already work with school administrators. These are the people who help make academic, financial and administrative decisions. A direct boss who is a principal or dean is likely a school administrator. School administrators are often final decision-makers at educational institutions. They work to ensure that the best interests of students, teachers, faculty and staff are factored into institutional decisions.
School administrators can be academic leaders on campus. They are also in charge of school budgets, academic records and compliance at the local, state and federal levels.
Managing others is a major component of the school admin job. A school administrator must be able to manage teachers and staff in a variety of positions, from deans to maintenance workers to teaching assistants. At the elementary, middle and high school levels, a school administrator may evaluate teacher performance. A vice-principal at these levels may handle certain aspects of school leadership, like overseeing curriculum development or supporting teachers with student discipline.
School administrators can also work at the district level. The most senior school administrator jobs could be assistant/associate superintendent or superintendent. A school administrator in this role acts as a leader for all the schools in a district. Depending on their area of expertise, they may oversee other school administrators whose job is to support the district’s schools in specialized ways, for example, technology curriculum or special education.
Deans, vice presidents and provosts at the college and university level also manage budgets and hire faculty and support staff. They serve as policy leaders who ensure excellence in the students’ higher education experience. While deans and provosts tend to oversee academic programming on campus, vice presidents are school administrators who lead departments such as admissions, enrollment, student life and technology. Their staff usually interact directly with students to help them make important decisions related to their college experience.
Skills and Experience to Bring to a School Admin Job
If you have worked in education before becoming a school administrator, you likely already have many of the key skills for the job. Think about the qualities you admire in the principals, deans or provosts you have worked for, and ask yourself how you can develop your own skills with the benefit of their examples or mentorship.
Some of the qualities and experiences you may want to grow include:
1. Working in an Educational Setting
Knowing how to work with and lead teachers, faculty, staff and students is the primary attribute you will need as a school administrator. Experience in an educational setting will make you an informed leader.
2. Communicating With All Stakeholders
School admin jobs require you to work with many stakeholders. You will lead faculty and staff, and you may work directly with students. At the elementary, middle and high school levels, you will also need to communicate with parents. You will need to work with other principals, deans and provosts. You may have a board of directors or a school board overseeing your work. The communication required of you is not always easy because administrators must make many difficult and sometimes controversial decisions. You must be able to communicate your needs clearly and negotiate for the best outcomes.
3. Staying Current on Educational Research and Policy
It’s your job as a school administrator to help decide what direction to go with academics, budget choices and campus practices. You must stay informed about changes in educational law, policy, requirements and trends.
4. Focusing on Student Success
Your role as a leader is to ensure student success. You will be making decisions with direct impacts on students’ futures.
5. Building Leadership Skills
School admin jobs place you in a leadership role. You must be organized, confident and capable of building relationships and problem-solving. You will be a role model for the teachers, faculty and staff you serve.
6. Thinking Strategically
School administrators make data-informed decisions. They must look at the facts, including student and teacher performance and budget, and determine the best next steps for the school community.
7. Focusing on Growth
Teaching is a profession. That means the people you lead in a school admin job need access to quality professional development opportunities. As a school leader, you can choose to bring training to your teachers, or you can approve their going to conferences and other learning events to continue honing their skills.
8. Encouraging Community Involvement
Successful school administrators often have strong ties to the community. They work with parents, business leaders, government officials and others to ensure that the school’s reputation aligns with community values.
9. Promoting School Spirit
Respect for the school community starts at the top. School administrators must model the behavior they want students, teachers and staff to demonstrate. As a school leader, you should speak positively about the school and be proud of the work you accomplish together. You are the school’s number one fan.
10. Leading Diversity Initiatives
Students should feel welcome and valued at school. This means that the school culture should uplift all students’ experiences as important, rather than downplay what some bring from their home lives. School materials should be diverse and accessible. Representation matters for students and their families. Your job as a school administrator is to build an environment where all students feel safe and supported so that they can have the best learning experience possible.
How to Become a School Administrator?
Many primary and secondary school administrators work first as teachers. Public school administrators usually need to earn a license or certificate that qualifies them for school admin jobs. Their prior experience earning a teaching license or certificate may make this process more familiar.
Future school administrators may also choose to enter an advanced degree program to build their knowledge of skills and practices in educational leadership. Many school administrator roles require at least a master’s degree, though earning a doctorate in education is also necessary for some roles. In fact, about 50% of all superintendents in the United States have earned a doctoral degree, with about 44% of those degrees being doctorates in education leadership or educational administration.1
Classroom experience is an important part of becoming a school administrator. If you are already teaching, you have learned what it means to work in a school setting. If you are switching careers and earning a master’s or doctorate in education without classroom experience, you may want to consider volunteering at a school or getting a job at a private school that does not require a state teaching license.
Most master’s degree programs require documentation of some teaching or classroom experience as part of the application process. Additionally, being a classroom teacher while you are enrolled in an advanced education degree program can help you immediately apply the skills you are learning. It also gives you immediate access to research and dissertation ideas.
For many public-school teachers who make the switch to being school administrators, the career journey follows a certain path:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree
- Complete a teacher preparation program
- Earn a state teaching license or certificate
- Teach in the classroom for several years
- Complete a master’s degree program in educational administration or educational leadership
- Earn administrator licensure or certification
- Apply for school leadership roles
How to Prepare for a School Admin Job Interview
School administration job interviews usually have several rounds so that candidates can meet with many stakeholders. Candidates often meet first with current school administrators, such as the superintendent, other principals or deans and vice principals. They may then meet with teachers, school board members, staff, parents and students.
To prepare for these interviews:
- Make a list of your qualifications and practice sharing real-life examples of how you have demonstrated the qualities you listed in an educational setting.
- Know your educational philosophy and be ready to discuss it at length.
- Research the school and district to find out about their successes, challenges and student population.
- Write down a list of questions you have about the job, the school, the community and how you will be evaluated.
One of the best ways to prepare yourself for a school admin job interview is to search online for commonly asked questions you might encounter. Think through your answers to some of the following questions ahead of time:
- What does great school leadership look like?
- How will you ensure that safety is a priority at school?
- What current educational research is most intriguing to you?
- What is your conflict resolution style?
- How will you support teachers who are struggling?
- What kinds of professional development opportunities do you think are most impactful?
- How do you see yourself working with the school improvement team to implement change?
- What mistakes have you made in your own teaching practice, and what did you learn from them?
Benefits of a School Admin Job
Imagine how great you will feel when you get the call inviting you to accept a job offer as a school administrator. You will know you have put a great deal of work into your new career. As you walk into the school as an administrator, there are several rewards that will assure you that all your effort in earning new degrees and passing state tests has paid off.
1. Your Salary
School administrators earn higher salaries than classroom teachers. The median annual salary of elementary, middle and high school principals is just over $98,000.2*
Every day is different for a school administrator. You will be involved in every aspect of the school, so some days may be primarily focused on working with teachers and students, while others may be focused on policy and budget, and still others may involve working with the grounds crew to upgrade facilities.
School administrators help teachers support students. You can bring together teams of professional development providers to help the school move in a new direction. Through your leadership, your personal educational philosophies can come to fruition in a systematic way.
The journey of becoming a school administrator is not always easy. School leaders have important jobs that they must take seriously in order to ensure the best outcomes for students. Earning an advanced degree, like the Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership at either the K-12 or higher-education level at Grand Canyon University can set you up for success as you aim for your career goals.
Blend your passion for inspiring young learners with purpose when you enroll in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Grand Canyon University. We are a leading destination for future educators, with a wide diversity of undergraduate degree programs that lead to initial teacher licensure. For example, you can earn a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics for Secondary Education or a Bachelor of Arts in English for Secondary Education. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to explore these and other exciting secondary education degree programs.
1The School Superintendents Association, AASA Study: Half of Superintendents Hold Doctoral Degrees, in June 2021.
2The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals, in June 2021.
2*The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals. They are not calculated using wages from GCU graduates but from workers across the country with varying levels of education and experience, and they reflect a national median wage for this occupation in May 2020. This national data may not accurately reflect earnings of workers in particular parts of the country and include earners at all stages of their career and not solely entry level wages. COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on May 2020.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.