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6 Traits for Modern School Administration

Posted by Grace Lee on Oct 24, 2013 8:32:00 AM

McKinsey & Company recently released a report entitled, “How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better.” It is a very compelling bit of research that every school leader will want to explore. Through their research the McKinsey team found schools/systems that were consistently improving, and crafted this report around the elements of school design that were enabling them to attain consistent growth. They identified these 8 key points:


In relation the last point, "Leadership continuity is essential," every school board should note that the most important aspect of leadership they provide is support, relationship, accountability and coaching with the chief administrator. It turns out that schools superintendent/heads are not disposable--which is supported by our own research which indicates that at least 8 years with the same chief administrator is required for a school to attain an exceptional level of success. Because school heads are the most important aspect of moving towards a high level of performance, how and who the board select as a new chief of school is THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION the board will make. This can’t be stressed enough, as change in other areas of administration will not be successful without continuity of leadership.

What traits should be evident for modern school Administration?

As we’re looking for policies to put in place around school leadership, consider the results or goals that are most desired. These might be a safe and orderly school environment, focus on learning, the ability to facilitate collaboration around staff, etc. Each policy adjustment should make an impact on your goals.

  • Developing faculty - This is the #1 job of administration. It can be difficult because often administrators are moved up out of the classroom where they are accustomed to cultivating student relationships. The primary role of administrators is not child education, however, it’s the adult education and development of your faculty and staff.
  • Data - Administrators should be expected to use data wisely to make good decisions, and should be training their staff to do the same.
  • Wisdom - It is vital for administrators to exercise a level of wisdom so they’re not reacting, but rather responding to situations as they arise. This involves a high level of emotional intelligence, communication, and relationship strengths.
  • Engaging leadership - We need administrators who are able to engage the students, parents, and faculty in the vision of their school.
  • Presence - The best teachers I have worked with want administrators that are in their classrooms. They want feedback and dialogue on how they as teachers are creating great experiences, data and instruction.
  • Performance - The board is looking for an administrator who is able to deliver on their promises--they don’t want surprises! They want a school they can be proud of and an administrator that communicates with them first, and who can handle problems as they occur. The schools that are experiencing the greatest performance results are those with heads who are implementing disciplined collaborative leadership with their faculty.


Improvement Analysis

One concept from the McKinsey report stood out repeatedly, and is summarized well in this direct quote: “The vast majority of interventions made by the improving systems in our sample are “process” in nature.” Whether they were small adjustments or big adjustments, they were all about repetitive process. That is where you’re able to achieve the greatest and most consistent results.

In our work with Matchbook Learning in turning around bottom 5% schools, one of the first things we implement is a coaching process for teachers. To improve the classroom experience, teachers must commit to a consistent level of practice and quality. The teachers in these schools are observed 30-40 times per year, and receive coaching and feedback because the process of teaching is so critical to the success of the students. That’s an example what we’re looking for in the administration--continuous improvement of the processes.

Administration Drivers

You want an administrator that can effectively pursue your school’s mission. The schools that are best at doing this are very intentional about defining their values, rules and goals.

describe the imageWhen you can define your values, rules and goals, you’re going to find the ability to have greater focus, greater agreement on expectations, and a higher degree of intrinsic motivation within your administration.


Your school operators are your people, processes and systems. As leaders involved in strategic planning, you need to ask yourself what key questions you can ask in these areas:

  • People - This is all about investing. Your people are the ones who really deliver on the mission - how are you investing in their professional development? Help them develop a vision for where they are headed, and clearly communicate your expectations in a way that lets them know what they need to do to “win.”
  • Processes - What processes need to be in place for effective administration? For example, recruiting is a process that administrators must be able to do really well, and it is a 24/7 responsibility. Administration must be able to deliver consistently and effectively on these processes, and progress on process improvement.
  • Systems - What administrative systems are needed, and how should these be utilized most effectively? Often administrators are inclined to just let the operations team do what they do, and not get involved in areas such as the school’s student information systems. But this is a part of the school that requires real thought, and attention should be given to how the data can be used to improve the learning experience for all.

What are high-return opportunities that a school should consider for Administration in your school?

Look for high-return opportunities with low-complexity to build momentum before tackling more involved projects. Here are a couple successful examples we have seen:

Collaborative time for faculty - I recently spoke with a charter school in California that has deliberately built collaborative time into their master schedule. There are five schools in the organization, and they have a team of electives teachers that rotate between the schools and lead two-week intensive mini-mester classes. During this time the other teachers engage in a time of professional development and assessment. This is a brilliant way to keep electives as key parts of the program, but also be creative in allowing teachers to spend time together to improve the quality and process of teaching.

Day off for chief administrators - Some schools allow chief administrators one day a month to visit other schools, or participate in other activities such as leadership development. This allows the administrator time to step back and benefit from some thinking time, engage in development and planning, as well as to take some time to escape the tyranny of the urgent.

Administration design that is focused on process improvement is producing the best results and these schools are sustaining this high quality. There is commitment to the discipline of habit and practice, as well as accountability for a top results. Remember, you’re looking for high-return opportunities with a real "wow" factor, starting with a low threshold of complexity and growing up to increasing complexity levels. Take these ideas and apply them to the design of your administration to improve to achieve school growth!


Topics: Administration, School Design

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