3 questions to ask yourself when mapping a career in education leadership

For many educators who hope to move into leadership roles, myself included when I was looking for other opportunities, a potential transition is sparked by our deep passion for education. It’s sparked by our investment in students and teaching. It comes from wanting to make a difference on a broader scale. But sometimes, especially when we’re situated in a classroom or in one school building, it can be difficult to see a clear path between the classroom and school leadership.

My own leadership path has involved a gradual expansion of influence as a STEM educator – first coaching across five schools in Washington state and now serving as a private sector executive, working with educators and school leaders across the nation. These days, I work to help improve communication between the people who develop educational technology and those who use it in schools to make an impact for students.

I work with educators and leaders at every level from pre-service teachers to district-level administrators, and an important piece of my role is cultivating leaders for the next generation. Part of my passion is helping educators plot a course forward, and it begins with examining their core values as educators and exploring how their skills might flourish in a leadership position. 

Through all these conversations, I encourage educators to ask themselves what their unique talents and offerings might provide to students on a larger scale and to map leadership goals from there. Whether you’re interested in pursuing a role in leadership, or you’re mentoring aspiring leaders, the questions below can serve as a guide on your journey.

3 Questions to Help You Map Your Education Leadership Pathway

1. What value do you want to offer to schools?

Before you even start your leadership journey, focus on the value you want to bring. What type of leader do you want to be? Do you want to focus on instruction, academics, and coaching? Are you more interested in instructional technology? Do you want to fill an executive administration role as a principal, assistant principal or district leader? 

One way to approach this bigger question is to notice what you already do well. Say to yourself, “Here’s what’s best about what I’m already giving to students and colleagues. What more can I give?” or “Which of my skills can help people on a broader scale if I step into a leadership role?” 

When I was a classroom teacher, it helped me to think about my areas of expertise for which colleagues turned to me for support. People often came to me for resources and guidance with technology, and I thought: Here’s an area in which I could help even more people as a school leader.

2. How do you want to design your learning pathway?

Even teachers who have served in the classroom for decades can find that administrative roles draw on a different skill set than their classroom practice. 

It’s different to manage a team of dozens of adults and to oversee a building budget, as a principal does, and most education leadership roles require some kind of certificate or master’s degree. To gain these credentials, you may want to attend a brick-and-mortar educational institution or choose to complete an online degree. You might even decide to pursue leadership in private or charter schools, where the credentials can be more flexible.

When making your choice, consider not only the learning style that works for your life, but also which programs can give you the skill set and connections you don’t yet have.

3. What can you do in your current position to build toward the next step?

The best way to figure out which leadership role is best for you is to begin taking on some additional responsibilities based on your potential interests for the role you hold now and see how it feels. It can definitely be challenging at times to add additional duties to your plate, but making space will give you the sense of which forms of leadership fire you up – without burning you out. 

It will also demonstrate to future hiring managers that you’re invested in continuing your education, and that you already have some experience under your belt. 

Ways to build leadership skills now:

  • Attend conferences to continue learning. It’s important for practitioners to stay current and learn from other people. Find out if your school or district has the budget to send you to conferences that might expand your professional network and grow your knowledge base outside of district-level PD. And, if they don’t…
  • Present PD in your district community or at conferences. Look for opportunities to share your thinking in your leadership area of focus, from presenting at in-school PD to presenting at conferences.
  • Expand your reach through writing. Consider publishing your writing about your experience and beliefs as an educator – in education publications or even on your own blog. Not only are you continuing to grow by doing that, but you’re building a paper trail of your accomplishments and positioning yourself as a leader.
  • Utilize LinkedIn to learn about leadership opportunities. LinkedIn has really transformed into a valuable resource over the years. When it first started, it felt kind of like a living resume, but now it’s a place where people connect, learn from each other and find jobs. Even if you’re committed to your current role for the foreseeable future, beginning to explore LinkedIn can give you a glimpse into the types of roles that do come up – and the types of people who hold leadership positions you’d like to pursue.

The leadership possibilities available to our many talented, committed educators inspire me. It’s no secret the past few years have been difficult for teachers and leaders – but in many of my conversations with educators, it’s clear that the passion is still there, even on the most exhausting days. 

I believe that passion ebbs and flows. For those of us who feel called to work with kids and teachers, our fire for education can be reignited. Sometimes stepping into a new leadership role with new challenges, new demands and new rewards is the way to find that fire again – and continue growing alongside students and teachers.