Being a school administrator is a bit like being the captain of a ship. You’re constantly navigating uncharted waters, each new day brings unexpected gales, and there’s always a member of your crew who urgently needs your attention. The school week races by in a spray of activity, and you frequently must balance between school improvement needs with project management demands. On top of everything else, the role of a school administrator continues to accrue new responsibilities, with students, staff, and community members relying on our decisions.

In order to excel in the face of these growing challenges, school administrators must hone their skills at “managing to lead.” How you allocate your time and collaborate with those around you to fulfill core responsibilities is the key to long-term effectiveness. Unfortunately, the management process is also littered with hidden problems that can drag you down like unseen riptides. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up too busy treading water to help anyone – including yourself! Here are just a few bad habits to avoid while sailing through this school year.

Five Common School Management Problems that Impact School Leadership:

  1. Design/Function Mismatch: The management strategies employed by a major corporation probably wouldn’t work if used in the United States Navy, and vice versa! It’s important that everyone on your team be on the same page, with a shared vision and destination, which allows them to work effectively toward a common purpose.
  2. Open Door Policy: Most captains wouldn’t be able to lead if they had to meet with the crew 24/7. Neither can school administrators. Take advantage of your assistants and delegate tasks to them when necessary. This is their “ship” too after all. Remember to clearly communicate your availability as well, both to your staff and those outside the school.
  3. Desk/Email Inbox Tyranny: How often do you find yourself returning to your email inbox? Is there something on your desk which constantly distracts you? Find an organizational system that works best for you. One that gives you the time to accomplish the things you need to do without interruption.
  4. Ongoing Multitasking: Here is a secret about multitasking; nobody does it well. In fact, research has shown that humans can’t really multitask, we just switch our focus very quickly and very poorly. School administrators multitask every day, and while it may be impossible to prevent, you should avoid it as much as possible. Instead, give your full attention to a single task and only start another once it is complete.
  5. Having a Career, But Not Much of a Life: If you chose to be a school administrator, then you know you have the passion for it. You care about kids, you care about the future, and you’re prepared to do the hard work to succeed. However, if you give everything to your work, then you have nothing left for yourself. Give yourself time to be a whole person, not just a school administrator!  

If you found these strategies to be helpful, then be sure to check out VAI Education’s latest webinar, Managing to Lead: Elevating Impact for Staff, Students, and Community. In this free resource, Steve Buss not only explores the five aforementioned management problems in greater detail, but also highlights ten core concepts that can help schools “leap forward”. In the turbulent seas of education, it’s important for school administrators to lead with confidence, but also trust in the skill and determination of their crew. By “managing to lead” you can get your students, teachers, and community working in harmony toward a shared success. So, set your sails high, and use these new tools to steer your school towards a bright future.

Steven Buss is an experienced educational leader of over 20 years as a K-12 school administrator. He currently serves as Principal at Altoona Middle School in Altoona, Wisconsin. He is also a member of Van Andel Institute for Education’s Advisory Council.