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How to Become a School Administrator

June 24, 2020

College dean awarding diplomas to graduates.

School administrators are at the heart of educational institutions, making sure that students and teachers receive the intellectual and emotional support needed to succeed. Whether leading a preschool, high school, or college, school administrators are responsible for setting strategic direction, navigating obstacles, and making sure goals and missions are reached.

If you’re an educator or student wondering how to become a school administrator, you’re likely passionate about enriching students’ lives and improving the education system. Aspiring school administrators can learn to lead effectively and compassionately by pursuing an advanced degree in education.


What Is a School Administrator?

School administrators oversee all of an institution’s daily activities and operations, including staff, curriculum, and student safety and productivity. They make sure that teachers and other school employees have the right instructional resources and support; they also guide teachers in the development of curriculum and classroom goals.

School administrators keep a close eye on students, making sure educators reward them for their academic achievements and apply disciplinary actions fairly. In addition to implementing strong academic programs and monitoring learning progress, administrators are responsible for making sure schools meet students’ social and developmental needs.

Other responsibilities may include setting schedules and course requirements; managing budgets and supply procurement; and scheduling building maintenance and upkeep. Administrators are also in charge of meeting state and federal standards and creating reports on teacher performance and student achievement. School administrators receive support in completing these tasks from assistant directors, vice principals, counselors, and other managing roles.


Administrative Positions

Preschool director. Preschool directors’ top priority is making sure that their schools provide students with proper development and learning activities, nutritional resources, and emotional nurturing. They also ensure that enrollment levels are maintained, manage facility budgets, hire and train staff, and address parent concerns. The median annual preschool director salary is about $42,000, according to PayScale data from April 2020.

Principal. Principals monitor daily school activities while ensuring that long-term visions are achieved. A principal of an elementary, middle, or high school spends the day planning for future milestones, assessing school needs, monitoring students, and communicating with teachers and parents. Principals earn a median annual salary of about $95,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which projects employment for these administrators to increase by 4% between 2018 and 2028.

Superintendent. A superintendent is responsible for an entire school district, which can consist of a handful to dozens of schools. These administrators work with principals and school board members to set goals and manage budgets. They also solve district problems, oversee personnel, act as public liaisons, and petition legislators and taxpayers for increased funds. Superintendents make a median annual salary of about $119,000 per year, according to PayScale data from April 2020.

Provost. A provost assists the university president in developing academic policies, making faculty decisions, setting and allocating budgets, and driving institutional goals. These administrators also make sure that their universities are meeting student and faculty needs across campus, and many provosts monitor faculty research projects. Postsecondary education administrators such as deans earn a median annual salary of $94,000, with a faster-than-average projected job growth of 7%, according to the BLS.

Dean. An academic dean is responsible for an individual university division, such as a history department or medical school. Duties include managing faculty and staff and meeting department goals. Deans might also specialize in faculty oversight, student affairs, or admissions for the entire university. Postsecondary education administrators, including provosts, earn a median annual salary of $94,000, with a faster-than-average projected job growth of 7%, according to the BLS.


The Importance of Educational Leadership

As schools have grown in size and complexity, the need for administrators to coordinate educational directives has increased. Educational administrators allow teachers to focus on student instruction, shouldering managerial burdens such as budget planning and public communications. When new programs and initiatives are introduced, these leaders must ensure that the implementation runs smoothly and that teachers agree with and understand the goals.

School administrators contribute to the success of a community’s youth, making sure that every student has the chance to excel in life. Ensuring that students have a sense of physical and emotional security when they attend school is an essential role of principals, deans, and other institutional leaders.

School administrators also play a vital role in filling gaps in curriculum, extracurricular programs, and community-based needs. For instance, one principal might identify a department that needs to focus on improving math scores, while another sees a need for extended after-school programs or student wellness services. A school administrator’s ability to see the big picture of an institution or district can make a huge difference in achieving an organizational vision.


Necessary Education and Skills to Become a School Administrator

A school administrator needs to be equipped with strong leadership and management skills to create a positive and successful learning environment. Educators hone these skills as they achieve advanced degrees and obtain years of direct experience in teaching or management. High-level administrators, such as superintendents and provosts, often work their way through levels of leadership to reach top posts.


School Administrator Skills

Some of the key leadership skills needed to succeed as a school administrator include:

  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Goal setting and monitoring
  • People management
  • Data analysis and reporting
  • Strong critical thinking and decision-making skills
  • Effective problem-solving capabilities, including in crisis situations
  • Strong understanding of childhood development
  • Deep knowledge of instructional quality and curriculum improvement
  • Ability to cultivate leadership in teachers and managers
  • Ability to build a positive and nurturing school culture
  • Knowledge of current educational trends
  • Public relations

Becoming a School Administrator

To serve as a principal, an individual typically needs:

  • A master’s degree in education administration or leadership
  • Several years of firsthand experience as a teacher or counselor—and likely as a vice principal
  • A state license for school administration, which typically includes an exam and background check

To serve as a dean or provost, an educator needs:

  • A master’s or doctoral degree in education, management, or their core teaching concentration
  • Several years of experience in college managerial roles
  • Several years of higher education teaching experience

Pursue a Career as a School Administrator

Students and teachers looking to make a greater difference in the state of the educational landscape can benefit from pursuing an advanced degree such as LSU Online’s Master of Education, which offers an educational leadership track. In courses such as Ethics and Educational Leadership, Understanding and Applying Research in Education, and Administration of School Personnel, educators learn to enact positive change and build strong learning cultures for students and staff.

Learn more about how you can become an effective school administrator by exploring the LSU Online Master of Arts in Education with a specialization in Higher Education Administration, which prepares students for university-level leadership roles, or the LSU Online Master of Education in Educational Leadership, which examines roles across the educational management spectrum.


Recommended Readings

Leadership Styles in Education

Educational Leadership Philosophy

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Educational Leadership


Sources