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What Do School Leaders Need to Be Successful?

As in every profession and line of work, it is important that leaders set good examples in the areas of organization, timeliness and thoroughness. But the qualities that make school leaders successful are in some ways unique to the field of education. When experienced teachers want to take the steps necessary to become educational leaders, they must look closely at building their skills in specific areas most needed by leaders and administrators at the building and district levels.

Communication Expert

School principals, assistant principals, directors and team leaders have several distinct audiences: teachers, students, patrons and parents. Finding the appropriate and best means of communication for each of those groups is an integral part of starting the school year on a positive note.

Teachers want to know where they stand. They expect open communication about policies regarding instruction and student behavior, academic expectations and resources, and local or national news that affects the school and the system. Teachers want to feel trusted, and they want to be sure that they will be heard about important school and district-wide issues.

Students want much the same from school leaders. They want to know the schoolwide expectations for their academic performance as well as their behavior. In addition, they want to be included in the conversation, and they want to know that the leaders respect them and their ideas. Finally, students need assurance that conversations meant to be held in confidence will be kept in confidence.

Team Builder

Successful leaders know that success is impossible without teamwork. They must be able to create and maintain these teams in order to maximize the effect of the available resources and meet the educational needs of their students.

Creating teams involves both hiring qualified candidates and developing well-matched, high-functioning teams. When school administrators look for new staff members, they review credentials and resumes which provide the critical information necessary to ensure potential teachers are well-prepared and capable. However, during the interview process, the best leaders dig deeper into the character of candidates, finding people who not only fit into existing teams but also represent the school and district with dignity and respect.

In addition to sound hiring practices, successful administrators know how to promote teamwork and collaboration between and among colleagues. They are intentional when making team assignments, finding the right combinations of personalities, abilities and talents.

Teacher and Student Advocate

The primary focus of education is, and always has been, students. The primary goal of school leaders consists of ensuring their students are academically and emotionally prepared for a successful future. In order to achieve that goal, leaders are responsible for providing the following:

  • A safe, clean and healthy place to learn.
  • Qualified teachers to present excellent curriculum.
  • Sufficient and appropriate materials and resources to meet each student’s need.

Since everyone learns differently, school leaders must commit to providing for the needs of every student. They must be willing to go to bat for their teachers and students in order to meet these needs.

At times, principals, directors and other administrators must advocate on behalf of both teachers and students. They may need to lobby for anything from additional resources, staff support, and innovative materials for exceptional students to air filters for a student with unusual health issues or incentives for students who struggle with behavioral and emotional issues.

Independent Thinker

One of the responsibilities of administrators in the public-school system is to know and follow mandates imposed at both the state and federal levels. Accurate reporting of information such as student attendance, head count and demographics, and high-stakes testing results is of utmost importance to ensure that districts receive their fair share of governmental funding.

Meeting the demands of the governing bodies, however, does not mean that administrators agree with all rules or requirements imposed by governmental authorities. It is true that administrators must meet every deadline and submit all appropriate documentation to the appropriate entities in order to keep the wheels running smoothly.

But strong leaders keep an open mind and think independently about what is best for students, staff, teachers and the school district in general. If a particular mandate or rule seems focused on elevating the public appearance of school progress rather than helping students really succeed, the best leaders push back at the authorities and question what they believe to be less than the best. They are not afraid to disagree with grade-level expectations or curriculum choices when they are convinced that other standards or materials are available that better suit the needs of their constituents, staff and students.

So, What Is the Real Job of a School Leader?

Being an administrator at the district level means more than attending meetings, showing up for graduation and maintaining relationships with the mayor and school board members.

The roles of administrative director and principal all include far-reaching visions for teachers and students, looking beyond the day-to-day issues. In these roles, leaders must be willing and able to delegate responsibility and let go of some of the decision-making. They are willing to delegate because they know the right people are in place to do what they do best. They can let go because they understand their time and energy is best spent on defining a vision and providing resources for others to work effectively.

Earning a Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership from Northwest Missouri State University can help you acquire the skills and leadership know-how to move from a position in the classroom to a position of leadership at the building or district level. In as few as twelve months, working entirely online around your teaching schedule and responsibilities, you can start looking for challenging leadership openings in districts across the state.

Learn more about Northwest Missouri’s online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program.


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