Focused on the Prize; Few People Begin Their Careers Wanting to Be Administrators, but Many Educators Take on the Challenge in Order to Open More Doors for Students

By Brown, Melissa; Ellerbee, William, Jr. et al. | Leadership, March-April 2002 | Go to article overview

Focused on the Prize; Few People Begin Their Careers Wanting to Be Administrators, but Many Educators Take on the Challenge in Order to Open More Doors for Students


Brown, Melissa, Ellerbee, William, Jr., Lum, Evan, Miller, Susan, Leadership


How can we enhance the life chances of young people across the diverse communities of our nation? This pressing question starts one on the path toward educational leadership. But the passion to provide workable solutions that develop students' skills, talents, promise and possibilities is what motivates the high quality educational administrator.

We know that highly skilled leaders press through perceived or binding limitations to achieve greatness. They master the art of improving their practice and critical learning from daily events. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the secret of their success is making their vocation their vacation.

Taking on the challenge

Few of us began our careers with school administration as a goal. It was the furthest thing on our minds. Most of us wanted to be teachers -- teachers who made a difference for all students. In the process, we discovered a talent for working with others to improve the educational environment.

Perhaps other teachers sought our advice. Perhaps we discovered a knack for problem-solving in a school setting. But the quest to become more effective -- to help others create positive and responsive environments for young people -- led us to become school administrators.

Most of us took on the challenge of school administration to make a bigger difference for students or to become a teacher of teachers. We wanted to open more doors for students to explore their possibilities.

But the real reason many of us went into school administration is because we each had a mentor(s) that encouraged us to move in that direction. Most of our mentors were master teachers before becoming outstanding school administrators. Without guidance, encouragement and support, the field of school administration is full of pitfalls.

How do educators find satisfaction? The answer is simple. We keep our focus on the prize: student achievement for all students!

Setting priorities and managing time

Focus, focus, focus is the mantra used in Sacramento City Unified School District. If you want results, you certainly have to be focused. But you also must be able to set priorities and manage your time. These are the two top concerns of most administrators who make hundreds of decisions within a week.

Stephen Covey reminds us to put first things first. We must recognize that everything cannot be done. So limiting one's priorities is the first step in balancing your day. These priorities should be based on your short- and long-term goals. Anything not directly related to these goals should be reassessed to determine its importance and value. The least valued tasks should be put on a wait list while the more important tasks are prioritized for completion. Establish timelines for completing the tasks. Record the work schedule and deadline on your personal calendar as a daily reminder.

This is especially important for first-year site administrators. Everything is virtually new to the new administrator who sees the need to get everything completed. They must learn from mentors or colleagues about the value of leading first and managing second. This will come with time and is critical to success.

A good tip for all administrators to use to ensure priorities are met and time is well spent is the educational Swiss cheese approach. Learn to cut your projects into bite-sized, manageable sections with realistic outcomes. Not only will you be more aware of what steps are needed to complete the task, you will develop self-assurance about how to get the task completed.

From manager to enlightened leader

Leadership is both an art and a skill. Coupled with confidence and conviction, good leadership inspires and motivates others to stretch and excel. A new principal often focuses on managing many tasks while thinking, "I wonder if I am leading anything." Enlightened leaders connect with their inner selves. …

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