An Evolution in Education
Supporting Our Administrators May Be the Key Change Needed
By NAfME Member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl
“Everyone needs help from everyone.” — Beroitt Brecht
In April 2022, a colleague and I published our article, “The Heartbreaking Truth about Education: Why and How Will We Survive?” My co-author, Ken Buck, was a former administrator and current South Carolina school board member. As educators, we have experienced the heartbreak that is occurring in education and are observing the implosion that education is undergoing with teacher stress, burnout, and turnover. It has escalated in the last few years and is visible to students, families, educators, and administrators. It is going to drive our most compassionate, creative, and competent educators out of the profession—if it has not already.
Why and How Will Education Survive?
The theme of the article stated that “Our educators and support staff are leaving the teaching profession at an alarming rate. . .The bottom line to fixing the problem: We MUST treat our teachers like the professionals that they are. . .If we want to save public education from an almost certain disaster, we must be willing to turn the problem over to the educators themselves. We will be amazed at what they will accomplish in saving education.”
The article resonated with readers; it earned the #1 spot in the Top 10 Most-Read Articles for the National Association for Music Education. Ironically, the article did not touch at all on music. Rather, it highlighted education as a whole. Ken and I spoke about the need to save the profession we love. We spoke about the people who have the chance to improve public education. We spoke about the need to listen and adapt. The goal is for educators of all levels to feel confident, equipped, and supported to teach all students regardless of circumstances.
What about Our School Administrators?
The April 2022 article focused on our teachers and support staff. However, our administrators are also educators. We can not forget them. Their first steps in education began in our classrooms by leading students. Now, we find them leading not only students but entire communities of students, staff members, and families. What are we doing to best serve their needs? How is the community connecting with administrators? How are school staff responding to administrators? Most importantly, how are those in leadership positions seated above school-site administrators in the organization’s hierarchy managing, serving, and treating them?
I have had recent conversations with family, friends, and colleagues who serve in various school leadership roles. These individuals range from representatives for the educator association to coordinators of special programs. There are current and recently retired principals. I have spoken with school board members, a recently resigned superintendent, and administrators located all over the globe. I cherish them. They are amazing human beings. They are caregivers. They are educators. They are leaders. And, they are miserable in their positions.
Similar to educators serving in the classroom setting, administrators feel unheard, underappreciated, and overworked. They are filled with emotion and sometimes anger when speaking of their role. They are exhausted. The role they are fulfilling often is not the position they expected it to be. They are spending more time putting out fires rather than leading initiatives. They can not get beyond the daily initiatives placed on them in order to mentor staff, motivate students, and be the change they hoped to be.
What Steps Are We Considering to Offer Support to Administrators?
When we consider resources and support needed in education, are we also considering the needs of our administrators? Who has their backs? Who is concerned about their well-being? Who checks on them when there is violence or even death in their schools? Who allows them the space to grieve? Who fills in when absences occur on their leadership teams? Who listens to their ideas, frustrations, and concerns? Are we taking appropriate and frequent steps to support our administrators, too?
Consider the following ideas as ways to support administrators:
- Recognize them. Praise and acknowledgment are always appreciated—by everyone. However, recognition can extend beyond reward. Understand that administrators are human beings, too. Recognize the weight they carry within their positions. Invite them into classrooms, laboratories, auditoriums, gymnasiums, fields, and communities. Accept that they can not be everywhere at once, nor know what is occurring at all times throughout their classrooms, programs, and schools. They have personal commitments of their own, as well, and may be unable to attend every school-wide event. Share achievements with them and remind them of upcoming events, but do not expect their presence at every function.
- Realize their position. Administrators may have incredible ideas, connections, and competence. However, at times, they may be encouraged to follow through on directives from above. This does not mean they are always in agreement. They may be struggling to present themselves in a manner that supports decisions for which they may not agree.
- Share concerns. You may not always agree with administrators. However, the most productive conversations occur when what is best for students is attempted. Provide data. Prepare suggestions. Offer solutions. Do not assume that an administrator will follow-up immediately. This does not mean the idea or issue presented is dismissed. At times, administrators’ plates may be too full with immediate concerns. Do not be afraid to readdress with an administrator if time is of the essence.
- Ask if they need help. Inquire if administrators need an ear to listen, additional resources, or extra hands on deck. If you have the time, offer it—in the classroom, in the cafeteria, on the playground, or in the hallways. If you can not, attempt to find someone who can assist or make it known to people of influence that there is a need.
- Trust them. Allow administrators the opportunity to offer a shared vision and mission to enrich the school community that they lead. Trust them to include the voices and choices of their educator teams in ways that best serve the students in their care. Don’t alienate them. Administrators simply have a different role, hopefully not a different heart.
- Show gratitude. Let administrators know they are appreciated. Thank them in any unique way.
Dr. Kris Cosca, former California administrator and Founder of Next Level Leadership Services also suggests that school systems must look at the way schools are staffed. He states, “The way we have staffed schools in the past is no longer sufficient. We need to determine what we can do differently to reduce the need for school leaders to serve as substitute teachers, mental health providers, etc.” In addition, Cosca suggests offering confidential coaching support to interested school leaders. “School leadership is lonely,” he says. “Having a coach allows those school leaders to be honest and vulnerable about their strengths, weaknesses, and goals. An experienced thought partner can be a difference maker for a school leader.”
Are We Making Key Changes to Support Our Administrators?
Similar to any profession, there is a mixed bag of experienced employees. This is the case for education, too. We have less-motivated teachers, and we have exceptional ones. The same applies to administrators as well. There are some we would follow to the ends of the hallways and others that make us want to transfer schools or even leave the profession. Before doing so, consider the steps to support administrators. Helping our administrators may be the simple answer to helping our teachers and students.
According to Noah Kalodner, an Employee Experience Product Manager at Qualtrics (an American experience management company), “Data published in the 2023 Qualtrics Employee Experience Trends Report indicates that employees across all fields are now, more than ever, feeling the need for healthy boundaries and extensive support after operating at ‘surge levels’ throughout the turmoil caused by the pandemic.” Kalodner believes that administrators and teachers are perhaps two of the best examples of individuals who had to push themselves to their limits to keep their schools, programs, and classrooms functioning throughout the past several years. “After an incredibly rapid shift to online instruction and the subsequent challenges experienced with students returning to schools,” he states, “it is clear that teachers and administrators deserve the resources and support they need to manage not only their schools and classrooms but also their workloads.”
Everyone Needs Help.
Are we making key changes to make a substantial evolution in education? Let’s not simply empower our educators and administrators; let’s support them—in every role. Let’s check in on them. Let’s listen to them. Let’s make adaptations based on their needs. Let’s make accommodations for our educators and administrators as we do for our students. If we are not helping those who lead our schools, how can we expect anyone to want to take a step into an administrator role?
The teacher shortage is real. The administrator shortage is nearing a concerning level, too. Supporting those who lead our schools may be the key change needed to positively transform education. Who is willing to help them?
About the author:
Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl is a champion of mentorship and motivation in education. Her mission is to encourage individuals to reflect on our practices while making key changes to refresh strategies that represent a shared vision to enrich the classroom, company, and community. Dr. Reichl’s unique educational experiences have permitted her to expand her multifaceted career into a portfolio as a clinician, conductor, instructor, writer, and speaker.
Dr. Reichl is the author of nearly 100 educational articles that have been reprinted with permission by more than 10 organizations worldwide. She has presented hundreds of professional development sessions and keynote speeches for educational systems, organizations, and conferences in almost half of the nation’s states including for international events. In addition, she has been interviewed for 16 education and leadership podcasts. Dr. Reichl also creates inspirational content for a monthly newsletter consisting of thousands of subscribers.
Contact Dr. Reichl and invite her to collaborate with your students, educators, and administrators.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.
February 7, 2023. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)
February 7, 2023
- Music Education Profession
- Recruitment and Retention
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February 7, 2023. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)