November 20, 2018

So you want to be an admin...the aspiring leader

Ok, last installment of So you want to be an admin... (for now). This one is straight from a young teacher (I hired by the way) who has aspirations of being a school leader. Let me correct that, he is already a school leader but he wants a position that pays him for it...eventually. This is a must-read for the aspiring leader and even those who have done it for awhile, like me. Check it out and give Mr. Epley some leadership love.

So you want to be an admin?

Why pursue a career in administration?

      This is Caroline, my five-month-old daughter.  

When I think about education, as a teacher or an administrator, I wonder what Caroline’s educational journey will look like. It’s this curiosity that motivates me because I want to a part of the answer.  I will lead in education from my teaching position as long as I’m allowed to do so.  However, I decided to take the necessary steps to open doors to the world of administration.  I did this to give myself the chance of leading education into the future from a related, but different, chair.  To fully understand my “why”, it is important to understand my journey to the field of education.

Education is about serving and building relationships.  I chose to enter the field of education because of my love for history, but more importantly, my desire to positively influence the lives of our youth. Early in my life, in 8th-grade US History, I decided I wanted to be a teacher.  Throughout high school I joggled ideas of physical therapy and other fields that would have made great careers. Yet, I always ended up back where I started - teaching.  I was later hired as a young graduate of the University of Tennessee to teach 8th grade US History at my old school and in the very classroom that jump-started my desire to teach.  

I believe mentors are essential to professionals who desire to grow and lead within their field.  My 8th grade history teacher, Coach Jones, was one of the earliest mentors I remember.  Much later, I was lucky enough to be hired by Dr. Mick Shuran and mentored by him during my first few years as a teacher.  The many conversations with him stimulated my interest in school leadership.  Those conversations revolved around “everything education” and what we can do better as educators in the 21st century.

 I quickly realized I had the ability to build strong relationships with students, which allowed some of the obstacles they faced to become obvious.  Some of these students came from extremely difficult situations at home.  Their home lives were so different than mine as a child.  I grew up in Tullahoma but was naive to the conditions many of our children dealt with at home.  Teachers have a unique ability to see potential in all their students.  I was no different and saw massive potential in all my students.  

As educators, we allow our youth to have meaningful experiences, some of which may end up being their lifelong passion. The 21st century offers educational tools and access to knowledge in greater capacities than at any other point in human history.  These tools give students access to information (OER) and chances to see places (AR/VR) they may never have been able to in a previous decade.  It’s these chances and opportunities that provide all students with new opportunities and may very well save some of our young children by helping them find their passion.  I hope to lead education into the future and provide support to teachers so ALL of our students have the chance to find their passion and their own “why.”

Through much thought and prayer, I decided I wanted to further my education and begin preparing for a possible career in school leadership.  For the record, I do believe teachers are school leaders, actually the most important ones (and it's not close)! I chose to pursue (August 2016) my Ed.D at Carson - Newman University with a concentration in administration with licensure and plan to defend my dissertation in March 2019.

My “Whys”
Disclaimer: My “whys” apply to all the “hats” I wear or may wear over the course of my career in education.

     I chose this path because I understand the tools we have today may very well save kids with difficult home situations by opening doors and providing opportunities.  Serving teachers and students while providing the necessary support, training, and resources to take advantage of these amazing tools (AR/VR, OER, Coding, etc.) is something I’m passionate about.
     I chose this path because I believe the digital divide is closing (even if slowly) and access to knowledge will break down barriers for students that may have never been given a chance to succeed in the previous 20th century “industrial style” classroom.  I believe this happens by exposing students to more information, in relevant delivery methods, which increases their chances of finding their own “why.”
     I chose this path because education needs strong leaders willing to disrupt education norms and help navigate classrooms into the future.
     Lastly, I chose this path to enhance my ability as an educator.  The lessons learned and thinking skills gained from my degree will serve me well as a teacher and any other position I hold throughout my career. 

My “whys” are built on the same foundation that led me to this field: a desire to serve and my passion for people and building relationships.  Serving is the foundation of my career and it is my hope that it is what my career will end on, as a teacher or administrator, and maybe most importantly an educator.

How do you begin to prepare and pursue a career in administration?

          Ask me this question in 30 years (I’m 27), and I will probably tell you certain things I could have done better to prepare for a career in education in general, as well as administration. I don’t pretend to know what an administrator’s daily life is like.  Just like I didn’t know what a teacher’s life was like prior to entering the classroom.  I would not have ever thought to use the video linked below to explain to the “real world”, as they like to call it, what teaching is like, but that's exactly what I do. 

        Once I determined I wanted to begin preparing to ready myself for a potential shift to school leadership and understood my goals, I had to unravel the seemingly infinite amount of layers revolving around university programs, licensure, cost, and value.  I wanted to make sure I could become a licensed administrator in the state of Tennessee and that my degree held value.  Value is obviously hard to measure, so I went with a school I knew had a great reputation and was within my budget.  There are many aspects to consider when contemplating a doctoral program, but some of the more notable ones are discussed below.

 FAQ of Aspiring Administrators


What level degree do I need? What level degree do I want? Ed.D. or Ph.D.?

I received my master's degree in 2014 from UT - Knoxville.  So, I decided I wanted to earn my Ed.D.  Carson-Newman offers Masters, Ed.S, and Ed.D programs.  Some schools offer an Ed.D and some offer Ph.D.  Some may even offer both.  Carson-Newman’s doctorate program awards you with an Ed.D.
Which school should I attend? In-state or out-of-state?
Several reasons I decided to attend Carson-Newman University include their accreditation with the state of Tennessee’s licensure program, they are in-state, and I really valued their Christian perspective.  I wanted an in-state school, because I wanted to be a licensed administrator in the state of Tennessee.  I’m sure there are ways to accomplish this with out-of-state schools, but I’m unsure of them.
Should I participate in an online program or hybrid?
Many universities are moving to online methods of delivery.  UT-Chattanooga and UT-Knoxville offer a hybrid model.  Students attend classes periodically but also find coursework online.  This was a big decision for me.   I felt the ability to network and learn from others would be valuable in a hybrid program.  However, due to costs and proximity, I chose an online method of delivery.  I have been impressed with Carson - Newman’s ability to communicate and ensure students grow while participating in their program.
Is my school accredited with the state of Tennessee’s licensure program?
Some doctoral students already hold an administrative license.  I was not one of those.  So, it was important for me to choose a school accredited with the states licensure program.  
 What do I have to do, in unison with my coursework, to become a licensed administrator?
At Carson - Newman, you can earn your Ed.D without gaining licensure.  You have to be accepted into Carson - Newman’s Leadership Licensure program to have the opportunity of becoming licensed.  The licensure program is a completely separate program filled with tons of requirements that must be met.  A few of the steps that must be met: Portfolio filled with information related to your career, interview, 175 practicum hours, completion of a practicum project, and a passing score on SLLA.
How will I pay for my school? Are there tax benefits I should know about?
You can take out student loans to pay for your school or can utilize Carson - Newman’s partnership with Official Payments: Payplan.  This program divides your annual tuition into 12 payments making it much more manageable.

There are tax credits!

The Tax Assistant is a great tool for you to use to understand your eligibility for certain benefits.

Widely Used Education Tax Credits

What does it take?
I believe having a mentor or someone who has “been there, done that” is important.  That person can provide advice and confidence as you pursue your degree.  Other characteristics that are important include: 


All of these are extremely important because it's not easy paying for it, spending time away from family, and continuing it for three years minimum. I would also say it’s important to find a friend to complete the program with.  I didn’t have this, but it would have been helpful.

 My Professional Goals

During the first few years of my career, I developed three broad, but important, professional goals.  They are meaningful and applicable to any position within the field of education and certainly as an administrator.

1.  Do what is best for the students.
2.  Positively influence the progression of education
3.  Be a lifelong learner.

          These goals apply to many areas of education and are how I hope to be able to summarize my career.  Since these are somewhat long term, I have developed several other goals, or Maxims if you will (thanks, General Neyland), that help direct my daily professional life.

          I hope to use my degree to positively and efficiently stimulate progress in education by meaningfully implementing new and relevant strategies that correlate with the current and future job markets of the world.  I believe this happens by taking risks and being supportive of trying/implementing new instructional strategies.  My long term goals still leave room for people to say, “Ok, so what does that mean? What does that look like?”  Similarly, I don’t want to reflect on my career and see someone who had lots of great ideas but never acted on them.  My Maxims help establish my daily mission and are explained below.

1.  Be a risk taker.
-      I hope to use my degree to positively and efficiently influence educations progression by meaningfully implementing new and relevant learning strategies. 
2.  Promote trying new things without fear of failure.
-       I believe this happens by taking risks and being supportive of trying/implementing new instructional strategies.
3.  Move and lead!
-      I am as guilty as anyone of coming up with grand ideas but leaving them at just that - an idea.  Don’t wait for the next lesson, the next unit, or the next year to try something new.  Likewise, support others brave enough to implement new instructional strategies.  Lead by assuming extra responsibilities and offering assistance to others even when it may be inconvenient.

Interested in starting your journey as a doctoral candidate?
Click the table below (or HERE) to take you to links of programs throughout the state of Tennessee as well as one in Kentucky!

I'll refrain from giving too much advice and defer to Dr. Dan Lawson, another excellent mentor who gave me great advice while I was contemplating starting my EdD when he said, "My best advice is to MOVE!"

Thanks for reading! If you liked what you saw be sure to check out the previous installments on So you want to be an admin. If you like getting weekly tidbits of joy and coolness, click HERE to get my 5 Things Friday.

November 8, 2018

So you want to be an admin...the Principal's Perspective

I asked my good friend Thomas Fuhrman to provide the insight of a current principal on what it is like on that journey towards becoming an administrator. Thomas looks into personal experience and relates it to YOUR future journey. This is definitely worthwhile for aspiring admins as well as the veteran.



Why? Sharing and Caring

When posed with the notion that others want to be education administrators and Mick Shuran’s prompting to share something on the topic, three major ideas popped into my mind about my journey to this role and decision to persevere in it.

For every person who anticipates or even aspires to be in educational administration, I would pose the quick response for which Simon Sinek has become such a spokesperson lately: 

However, I would pose the question in a mirror to mirror sense that must continually look at the image reflected to determine the “why” underlying the “why.” Think of the child who inquisitively and perhaps somewhat obnoxiously fires a barrage of “whys” in an adult’s direction, seeking multiple layers of justification for some inquiry. In other words, the conversation may begin, “Why do you want to be a principal?” to which the person responds, “I want to make a difference.” The next question might be, “Why do you want to make a difference?” To which the person responds, “I remember what an impact my high school principal made on me.” Again, the question leads to, “Why did that principal’s model matter?” Certainly, this could go on and on until it seems to lead away from one’s central purpose or reason for the aspiration, but it is critically important to establish the “why” so that it can overcome the “hows” and “whats” that will inevitably pose seemingly insurmountable challenges without a clear sense of “why.” Furthermore, if you can’t find your “why,” you will continually struggle to bring others to a sense of “why” to which they can subscribe with your leadership. Furthermore, there is a clear difference between wavering in one’s conviction and changing one’s perspective. If your “why” changes, make sure that it is led by conviction, not by political agendas or influences that lead you away from the heart of your initial purpose.

My “why” begins with a purpose greater than my own, a purpose driven by my faith in Jesus Christ and God’s will for my life to be involved in the lives of others as a servant. As I was serving in the capacity of high school English teacher in a school and position that I loved, I realized that I desired to have an impact on children’s lives when they were younger. I prayed that God would somehow answer this prayer, and within a month, I was responding to a tweet seeking an elementary school principal.

I knew that this and the resulting position were an answer to prayer, and my “why” was reinforced. Though I have been in other principal roles since taking this initial principal position, I have continued to hold onto the “why” that first catapulted me into education administration. I like to hold the mirror of meaning before myself frequently to learn a continually deeper “why” which evolves each day with the realization of greater purpose that God has for me. This keeps me in humble recognition that though the waves of education may come crashing upon me, I can ride them without a sense of overwhelming failure even when they crash on my plans or ideas. Within this vein, it is important to me that I fill “the right role” for which I am appointed, not just “any” principal position. My “why” is grounded in my being the right “fit” as a school leader for the school where I am supposed to be, not just the qualified candidate for some school somewhere.

As a caveat, if your “why” includes any of the following, I would discourage you from considering or continuing your path towards educational administration:

-        A cozier, more commodious office
-        Greater sense of authority over others
-        The opportunity to fix everything that is wrong with education
-        Less concern over specific students by removing yourself from the classroom
-        Popularity as a school leader
-        A higher salary without additional time commitments

I would like to reinforce that each of these delusions of grandeur sometimes associated with educational administration has the wrong motives associated with it for leadership, and each further reveals unrealistic expectations that are too often a general caricature of principalship in our popular entertainment media which is far from the reality of daily life as a school administrator, expectations for self-focus rather than school community focus. 

Rather than dealing with each of these individually or other related, misaligned myths about principalship, consider the other two words that have become the essential “hows” for the “why” that makes a difference in the lives of a school community.

How? Sharing
Especially notable in the expectations for Tennessee educational administrators is the mention of “shared leadership.” Though some may have experienced or even admired seemingly autocratic rule by principals in the past, this is neither the norm nor the desired leadership model for an educational administrator today. Sharing leadership requires some very vulnerable practices, namely seeking authentic feedback and trusting others to act in accordance with a unified “why.” It requires the patience that not all leadership operates on a continuum that brings forth expected outcomes within anticipated timelines. Sharing leadership means not only sharing responsibilities but also sharing accountability for some actions for which you aren’t directly involved, but for which your school family is. Sharing requires us to consider other perspectives before forming our own, sharing experiences with others in order to better empathize with their respective perspectives. Sharing, in short, requires humility, whether intentionally sought after or brought upon by the conditions of situations common to complex relationships among school family members. It is imperative that one is prepared to be humble in circumstances in which integrity is the greatest goal and that everyone should have an opportunity to play a part.

One of the most significant features of sharing (in terms of leadership and responsibility) for me is a release of the burden of always having to be right (or assumed so). Many seek leadership to have the answers that they don’t have, and fairly enough, when the answers aren’t correct or problems can’t be solved, the leaders face the greatest scrutiny. By surrounding myself with innovative people and problem solvers, I can share in the struggle to solve the inevitable problems and face adversity with resources well beyond what are in my toolbox. Sharing is not only the right thing to do; it is imperative to the healthy functioning of a school. In every principal role I have held, I have relied on an amazing cast of characters around me who demonstrate amazing ingenuity in areas in which I am an utter buffoon. In the Shakespearean play As You Like It, Jaques reminds us that “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.” Without tapping into their expertise and experiences, I could never
accomplish what too often is attributed to me. If you struggle with sharing, know that going into
school administration, and be ready to learn how, or know that you won’t be a good fit as a
school administrator. In short, be ready to play “many parts” and play the supporting role just as
often as the leading role.

How? Caring
Sharing can’t happen without a profound commitment to caring. At my current school, we commit to the motto: “Let’s prove we care!” We don’t want to merely pay lip service to caring, but we want to be held accountable to “proving” that we care. Caring is expressed in learning student and family names and greeting them daily with a smile, in preparing lessons that engage and enrich students’ education, and in follow-up calls to parents and school community partners to come up with creative solutions to life’s difficult situations. This year, we have expressed our school philosophy in the following (included in our student handbook):

We care about…

Safety. It is critical to a child’s learning that he or she feels safe at school.

Wellness. Health and physical fitness significantly impact children’s development.

Attendance. Students need consistency in their routines and progression of learning.

Academics. Developing academic skills  and critical thinking drives lifelong learning.

Character. Students should make informed choices and respect one another.

Equity. ALL students should be supported based on their respective individual needs.

Opportunity. Students benefit from multiple diverse experiences.

Caring often means sacrificing comfortable conditions for the sake of constructive solutions. Mantras without action are moot and generally turn one into a figurehead without substance; I have found that part of caring as a principal is investing in one’s school, investing time and money, yes, but also investing one’s energy and attention to listen, to respond, and to admit when I am wrong. Caring is validating others’ perspectives and seeking opportunities to empathize when doing so is possible and sincerely understanding when empathy is beyond my capacity. I can’t relate to everyone’s exact situation, but by caring, I can enter into a relationship in which I am willing to listen and understand before responding.

Caring ultimately means persevering through challenges and setting goals to improve situations for all students and families. This is exhausting work, and I am far from meeting the expectations I have set for myself in this area, but I want to continually act with integrity to always empower our JWES family. Caring also means recognizing when to exercise your sense of humor to reduce tension in a situation or to act with grave concern to be sensitive to the serious nature of someone’s tragedy or loss. Caring means taking a pie in the face when a child works exceptionally hard at a fundraiser to raise funds for the school. Caring means holding back tears when meeting with a colleague when his or her tears are too much to bear or crying along with him or her because you know just how he or she feels. Caring means running a mile with students while wearing a mascot costume to encourage the students at the back to keep going. Caring means commitment and longsuffering. I don’t want to live in the past or the future, but I want to consider both in helping those around me to grow and achieve more every day. Caring is intimately woven into my “why,” and I can’t imagine any significant meaning in my role without it. Caring can’t happen effectively without the concerted efforts of those around us committed it, and caring is far less likely to happen if it isn’t embraced, encouraged, and perpetuated by school leadership.

The Journey
My journey as a school administrator is an ever-changing puzzle of acronyms, legislative actions, curricular adjustments, and various other commonly identified features on the edges; however, the central pieces of the puzzle are people and the relationships that form the basis for my “why”: sharing in the journey of educating our youth and families through loving and caring relationships which never neglect the potential that we all have to contribute to our world. I encourage others to think about why you are starting your administrator journey before ever jumping into the driver’s seat, to be ready to respond to navigation along the route, and to change direction, as long as it allows you to arrive at your intended destination with your invaluable passengers. Also, be willing to allow other qualified passengers to spend some time behind the wheel with your support.

Thomas could be in this has not been confirmed.

Hey, I hope you liked this post. If you are new to this post or interested in exploring this topic even more...
to read the last post "So you want to be an admin...the director of school's perspective."

Stay tuned for the next post "So you want to be an admin...the aspiring admin."

November 1, 2018

So you want to be an Admin...The Director's Perspective

Just as I promised, thoughts on becoming an admin from someone else other than me. This one is coming from Tullahoma City School's former Director, now Professor Dan Lawson. Enjoy!

Ironic, but Mick asked for my thoughts with a due date of 11/ first day out of office! And I clearly understood why he asked a cockroach, I am first and foremost a survivor...Surely no Zombie apocalypse, and no nuclear blast, but thirty years as a superintendent with great leadership teams around me that accomplished great things is a legacy that I'll gladly accept.

I think Bennis and Nanus were on point as they advised that most leaders are (my words) just a little smarter than the average person that they lead.  NO that's not heresy, in fact in my case it may be charitable. You will all punch that Yogi Bear ticket because you are willing to read and thoughtfully consider your path.  I can tell already, you're a little bit smarter than the average bear... 

I also, however, believe that those effective leaders work to develop a level of emotional intelligence that will allow them tremendous portability. Or as I'm inclined to share with others, "...sufficient EQ to go from the pulpit to the pool hall."  You get my drift.  An effective 2019 model leader can't and won't know all she needs to succeed.  But she can certainly surround herself with skilled practitioners to accomplish the variety of tasks required.  


So much for philosophy, how did I serve as a superintendent that long and what can others learn from the scars and bruises I earned?

1) One can study swimming, watch swimmers, and visit with swimmers about how they decided to jump into the pool.  All of that is great, but at some point in time, you have to commit to jumping in. Here's the rub, most are successful at the present level and hesitate to risk stability to access that first position.  No easy way around this one, If you are going to lead you are placing yourself in "harms way." I tell prospective superintendents that nearly all are ready to move that first time, but as a superintendent, you have to know that you may move the first time on your terms and the second on others terms.

2) Focus on the mission at hand not the happiness of the team. Too many are inclined to have an idea that the team effect is enhanced by their happiness and underestimate the value of success in completion of a task or responsibility.  If your focus is on team happiness instead of effect and mission you then negotiate all decisions around that as your priority.  Don't. 

3) Know yourself.  Yeah, it would be easy to go with a "to thine own self..." but I've got a better one. When I started thinking about leading schools and districts, I studied a great educator named John Goodlad.  This quote truly has been my guiding star for decades. "If the experience of "doing school" destroys children's spirit to learn, their sense of wonder, their curiosity about the world, and their willingness to care for the human condition have we succeeded as educators, no matter how well our students do on standardized tests?" Goodlad in that quote captured the essence of priority and JOY in the educational experience.  Truly NOT counter to the point above ...JOY matters to me and JOY is under my control as a leader. 

4) Develop thick skin while keeping a soft heart. If you can keep business, business and glean ideas and solutions from the most detestable sources, that's a win.  But too often if we don't like one thing about someone we turn off everything.  You are giving away too much when you can't accept ideas from those that you find generally disagreeable. If your heart is focused on a rubric, the letter on the report card or some "heat map" on a data dashboard, try to find some position where you are managing things instead of leading people.  No disrespect, but both you and your team are in for a miserable existence if your heart is not focused on SERVING the people you are blessed to lead.

5) Embrace and learn from your errors.  You will make them...and the more you try to accomplish and the harder you push, the more inclined you are to err. The first error is a learning experience and the second becomes a choice.  NO one expects perfection. But they do expect character, competence, and chemistry as you lead with joy. So if you're ready, lose those floaties and jump in the pool.    

Dr. Dan Lawson
Lee University
twitter: 1danlawson