30 Leadership Tips from Super Successful School Administrators

Do things that don’t scale.

I learned this idea from the founders of AirBnB who grew their business by doing things that wouldn’t scale at first. For example, they would stay at AirBnB homes. They would have one-on-one conversations with both guests and hosts. The founders couldn’t keep this up at scale, but it gave them insights that would help grow AirBnB in the future.

The same is true for school. After the pandemic, leaders are considering how to address “learning loss” and other gaps in their students and staff.

So do things that don’t scale. Start with one student. Then, take what works and help a few more …

Get into classrooms.

Get into classrooms every day! You can’t lead a school effectively if you don’t know what is happening in your classrooms.

Without having first-hand knowledge about how your classrooms function daily, you will be making decisions blindly.

Be intentional with your time.

Preplan your week. Invest time before the following week to review your schedule. Schedule the most important things first. Make sure to include time for administrative work (office time). You should also include chunks of time for deep thinking or deep work.

When you plan the important things on your schedule, you will get them done. If not, urgent things always take precedence. It’s the difference between thinking Upstream versus being reactive. That’s leadership.

Develop your emotional intelligence.

Learn your impact ...read Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and learn how you come across to your staff!

I thought I was self-aware — until I read Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and learned how I came across to people — my high expectations were unknowingly communicating to my staff that they could never measure up.

Understand what a real emergency situation is.

The best tip I have learned over the years is that not EVERY issue is an emergency. It is okay to have “wait time” before addressing non-urgent items. This is especially beneficial in allowing time to think and reflect before responding.

As a school leader, the amount of issues we deal with is endless in any given day, prioritization has to be at the forefront.

Level up your communication.

Spend time developing communication skills. Moving from AP to Principal, I was prepared in nearly all arenas of my new job. The amount of and diverse types of communication caught me off-guard. To really have a powerful year, spend time crafting your communication skills. Getting YOUR message across with clarity and conciseness will give you a head start with connecting all the stakeholders to your vision, mission and agenda.

My tip is a product of my experience transitioning from my former role as an AP to being a principal.

People crave authenticity.

Be real. Be transparent. You don’t have to have all the answers.

During my first couple of years, I was determined to get it all right. I have learned that my authenticity allows for others to get to know the real me. I can relax a bit more and learn alongside everyone.

Develop an attitude of gratitude.

Focus on what you can control by “creating a culture of caring and gratitude”. This will help others feel valued and remind them of the importance of their work while helping you remember the positives of the work and impact we can have upon others.

This has been a most challenging year in many unprecedented ways — by focusing on what you can control you make it the best year possible and along the way find new and innovative ways to carry forward.

Get to know everyone in your building.

Get to know your staff (everyone not just your AP’s).

Your students have the answer.

When in doubt ask a student.

This year let’s reframe schooling as an experience done WITH students not TO students. So often we make decisions that impact the student experience without them. This year, whenever you have a big decision to make, a problem to solve, or an opportunity to reimagine, invite students to the dialogue and watch how quickly the culture shifts and the impact magnifies. In students we trust.


The word wait stands for “Why Am I Talking?” Just listen with the intent to learn first before you make a decision.

Yes, you cannot force people to follow you. They have to be willing. They have to be committed. They have to know that you’re listening. You cannot hear people if you are talking.

Practice what you preach.

Lead yourself as an example to those you serve.

Moving forward is the best direction.

#KeepRolling…as a school leader, you gotta have a keep rolling mindset…Next day, next student, next teacher…getting better with each interaction. You are not and cannot be perfect and you have to forgive yourself when you make an error…

Have a short memory & keep rolling. I end with the 5SW’s: Sometimes it Will, Sometimes it Won’t, Someone’s Waiting, So Stick With it. Keep sticking with it & keep rolling! The best ones do! If I can help you in anyway, don’t hesitate to reach out @andrewmarotta21 on twitter or andrewmarottallc@gmail.com #SurviveThrive

Photo by Samuel Clara on Unsplash

Demonstrate patience while pushing educators to evolve.

Extend grace to teachers who want to re-introduce traditional instructional methods back into their teaching. However, make it clear that they should not revert back to outdated traditional instruction. Instead, use the upcoming school year as the ultimate opportunity to implement true blended learning.

I shared this tip because, coming out of pandemic learning, I anticipate that some teachers may be inclined to revert back to teaching methods that may not be as student-centered or future-focused as they should be.

Create a change community in your school.

Start a change network in your school both at the organizational and personal level.

You can go on developing your ideas, continue helping leaders to reach their full potential and that is what is most important. Encourage them to live up to the Better Leaders Better Schools’ motto “Everyone WINS when YOU get better.”

Inspire your people.

Inspiration Matters! Start Each Day: How are you going to create excitement for your teachers and students today?

I believe that if students and teachers are excited to come to school, the school will experience real joy. The community will come together knowing that they are all a part of a special place. Creating excitement can be as simple as playing and dancing your way through the hallways.

Be a purple cow. Be an original.

It doesn’t matter what everyone does. Make decisions that are specific to the needs of your school. Be different.

During this pandemic, we did not follow other schools. We opened in August and taught simultaneously all year long. We shut down specific grade levels as needed. As a result, our learning increased as did our enrollment.

Vision matters.

Be intentional in how you’re ensuring your vision permeates…and eventually transforms…every aspect of your work. Including work that might seem mundane or managerial tasks! From budgets and staffing to scheduling and professional learning experiences, there is one person who is uniquely qualified to give shared values and beliefs traction…and that is YOU.

For example, I’ve been collaborating with one of our teams on creating the ideal student-centered schedule for a specific group of learners. We’ve been connecting on the goals and vision for almost two years now. Despite hitting countless barriers (some of which seemed immovable) we are closer than ever to implementing our dream for students next school year. The team has been instrumental in this process, but many of the challenges we’ve navigated with the schedule required principal leadership. Never underestimate how you can help support student-centered change in the foundational/management areas of your work!

Sometimes it can seem as though there’s a disconnect between a mission/vision and the work being done directly with students. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Create remarkable moments

Read The Power of Moments and find ways to create moments with staff, students, and stakeholders.

We often think about school systems when we begin a new school year. Take time to look at the human element and find ways to create powerful moments in your school. People will remember the moments vs. how you organized the lunch schedule.

Learn how to tell great stories.

Tell your school’s story, widely and often. If you don’t create the narrative about the great things happening in your school or district, someone else will. The first part to building a winning team is the reputation you create about what it means to be a member of your community and all the great things that happen within your culture.

Fewer and fewer people are electing to become educators. Not only do we need to build the brands of our individual schools to instill pride in our communities, but we need to build the brand of education, period, so that people know how awesome it is to work in a school.

Avoid hiding behind email.

Prioritize face-to-face contact & telephone calls for important information, rather than electronic messages.

Meeting and speaking with people in person helps to build trust and relationships.

Connection Matters.

Avoid parent emails when you can — take the time to pick up the phone (or Zoom!) and make a connection with a parent.

Understand the amount of information you are communicating.

Just in time training — don’t fire hose people with info at the beginning of the year and hope they remember it. Give it to them when they need it.

Relationships are core to your success.

When trying to create momentum and ensure high levels of success for students, be intentional about relationship building with every adult in the school.

People are what drive progress, not systems or programs.

The values of design thinking.

Consider your year from a ‘design’ stance. Overlay design thinking into your psyche and processes. Start with human-centered, empathetic thinking. Think about your students, your team, your year, and your dreams. Then, ideate and prototype quickly. Look for feedback and iterate on everything. This design system thinking will help you create a change-ready, change-resilient, and change-making learning community this year!

I have followed a design thinking approach in my school community for almost a decade. It has served me to design for thriving. Plus, we have a growth mindset woven into our culture. Over time, this system’s approach has served us to create a dynamic and world-class learning community at Willowstone Academy.

Don’t forget who you actually serve!

Broadcast student voices in your school.

In my experience, we often talk about what is in the best interest of students without ever asking our students. We don’t actually consider user needs, but instead, design learning experiences from an adult perspective.

Be visible. Be accessible.

Get out of your office more often. Visit classrooms. Get in the hallways. Go out for recess. Get into the cafeteria. Be at student drop off and pick up. Attend PD sessions and learn with the staff. Smile. Give high fives or fist bumps. Teach a class, or two. Cover for a teacher or instructional assistant. Call home about good things for students and staff.

You can be a good principal from your office but you can be a great principal by getting out of your office.

Show your work!

Share your goals and progress with others. This can really help you stay accountable to your goals and stay on track.

To this day I share my goals with my network and it has always paid dividends.

Engage in mirror moments.

Know thyself. What are your triggers and/or your blindspots? What fills you up so that you can bring your best self to those you serve every day? Get to know your ego. What does it look, sound, and feel like, and how can you get to know it well enough so that when it DOES show up (that ego can be sneaky sometimes) you know how to handle it. Know thyself!

I worked too many hours and did too much my first year and almost burned myself out. Joining the Mastermind helped me to create a mindful morning, prioritize my work and calendar, and identify when I needed to step away and recharge. I used to feel guilty about stepping away and recharging, but now I see how important it is not just for me, but for those I serve.

Have a personal growth plan.

Personal growth plan is essential for a school leader. Like what John Maxwell shared “We cannot give what we do not have.”

I constantly reminded myself to grow in a few areas:

  • Knowledge of my area of work.
  • Knowledge of myself.
  • Knowledge of others.

I want to be intentional in my growth plan to make time to learn, to ask when I am in doubt and check my growth in these 3 areas.

I have gained from having a growth plan and wanted to remind all school leaders to make time for it. Time is a rare commodity as a school leader, but it is paramount.

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

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