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How to Transition From Teaching to Educational Leadership

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Teachers are the natural choice when you’re looking for the leaders of tomorrow. Teachers already have great communication skills, honed by years of communicating with students. Plus, they know how to speak to a room full of people and hold their attention. Most importantly, they are familiar with the problems students, parents, and professionals working in the educational field face. Educational leadership itself is something that can shape the direction of an institution, whether that institution is a school or a college. The leaders of the institution can help it to develop academically as well as in the fields of athletics, special education, counseling, online learning, etc. They can also help to make sure that the institution stays on its feet financially.

With better leaders, schools and universities can flourish and produce a more accomplished generation of students, workers, and of course, leaders.

Understanding the Shift From Teaching to Educational Leadership

Understand the difference between teaching positions and leadership positions. This is the first thing you need to do when considering a career in educational leadership. Why should you consider making this transition?

Differences Between Teaching and Leadership

Although teachers make great leaders, there are definitely some differences between teaching and leadership.

  • Responsibility. A leader has more responsibilities. They need to look at the bigger picture and address that rather than just the needs of the moment.
  • Flexibility. Once the syllabus for a class is set, a teacher won’t have to make any changes for the rest of the semester. But if you’re in a leadership position, you might need to be more flexible and respond to the institution’s needs at that moment.
  • Looking Ahead. As a leader, you’re going to have to consider the next few years for the institution and not just the current year.
  • Communication. Leaders need to communicate with many people, not just students and their parents. They might need to work in tandem with others at their own institution and other institutions.

There are many differences between teaching and educational leadership. It is possible to make the shift, as long as you can switch your perspective.

Reasons to Transition From Teacher to Educational Leader

There are many reasons why teachers might opt to go into educational leadership. Keep in mind that every field needs leaders, and this is also true of education. The field of education is always changing, with people becoming more sensitive to the needs of children. Before the early 1900s, for example, special needs children did not receive much education. But this changed in 1954 when the rules regarding any kind of segregation were challenged.

So education is always changing and becoming better, for students and society at large. If you want to bring about change and improvements at a systemic level, then the switch from teacher to educational leader might be right for you. On a career level, if you want to go above and beyond your role as a teacher, then it makes sense to opt for a career as an educational leader. This will bring you greater responsibilities and more remuneration.

Essential Steps and Strategies for the Transition

Woman standing at a podium with laptop while giving a speech.
Businesswoman standing at podium with laptop giving a speech. Successful female business professional addressing a seminar.

When you’re looking to make the transition from teacher to educational leader, you’ll have to go through a few steps.

Education and Certifications

Here are some of the degrees that might help you to make the shift from teacher to educational leader:

  • Master’s in Educational Leadership
  • Master’s in Educational Administration
  • Doctorate in Educational Leadership
  • Educational Specialist Degree in Leadership
  • Post-Bachelor’s and Post-Master’s Certificates in Educational Leadership

Your first step should be to find out what kind of degree is required for the leadership post you are aiming for. Once you know that, you’ll need to consider your state’s requirements when deciding which degree or certificate is right for you.

Gaining Relevant Experience

As a teacher, you already have some work experience within the educational system. But if you can perform some leadership tasks that are within your purview, then you’ll have more relevant work experience that you can put on your resume.

  1. Leadership Roles. You can take on leadership roles within teaching positions, such as organizing events at your school/university.
  2. Committees, Projects, and Initiatives. You can also lead committees, projects, or department initiatives that you find interesting. Be sure to volunteer for these as and when they come up.
  3. Mentoring New Teachers. New teachers at your school may need mentoring and coaching so that they better understand the needs of students and parents. As a more experienced teacher, you might be the perfect person to volunteer for this.


Any recruiter will tell you that networking is the best way to find a position for which you will be a good fit. Networking enables you to hear about leadership positions even before they are listed on job boards. A recommendation from someone who is on the hiring committee can help your chances of getting a position exponentially.  Here are some networking tips:

  1. Getting to Know Administrators and Leaders. As a teacher, you already have access to current administrators and leaders at your institution. It’s always a good idea to introduce yourself and ask to pick their brain about the position you are aiming for. Most people will be flattered that you approached them and will share their knowledge with you.
  2. Seminars, Workshops, and Conferences. Attending educational leadership seminars, workshops, and conferences can also help to increase your network of professionals in the field of education.
  3. Joining Professional Organizations. Professional organizations like the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) or the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) are good to join because you’ll get to meet people in the field whom you would not otherwise have met.

Developing a Leadership Philosophy

If you are really interested in becoming an educational leader, you need to be clear about your leadership philosophy. It helps to know what you believe in, what you feel passionate about, and what you agree with.

If you can, write down your thoughts on the topic in the form of a mission statement; this can help to clarify things in your mind. Some people even believe in the power of a mission statement in attracting what you’re looking for.

Even if you don’t tend towards the mystical, there’s a very practical reason to craft a mission statement. It will help you to answer questions at job interviews, panels, etc.

Application and Interview Process

It’s a good idea to study the resumes and cover letters of people in educational leadership roles if you can get access to these. Or you can simply have one of your contacts in these positions look over your resume and cover letter to give you their opinion.

Make sure that you showcase all your educational qualifications, work experience, and skills on your resume. If you feel that the resume doesn’t give you enough space to do justice to your background, you also have the cover letter.

Once you’ve sent out your resume and cover letter to a number of positions, you’re likely to get called in for an interview. You’ll need to do some research to find out what types of questions you’re likely to be asked at this interview. Make sure that you display your individuality in your answers rather than just telling people what you think they want to hear.

Personal Experiences and Advice From Professionals

Woman giving a seminar on educational leadership.

If you’re planning to make the jump from teacher to principal, read on for some advice from those who have gone before you.

Case Study: From Classroom to Principal’s Office

Mike Huss, who became the principal of Ione Elementary last year, actually started out as a janitor at the school. In addition to being a janitor, he also used to coach students in youth sports.

When he was encouraged by friends and family to go for a teaching degree, he did so. He was a teacher for 19 years before they reached out to him and said, “You’re the leader this school needs”. And that’s when he became the principal, in 2022.

The only difficulty Huss faces is that he has to carve out the time needed to get administrative work done because students are always asking for him. However, he says that these students “give you an honest assessment of how you are doing.”

Interviews and Anecdotes

Kevin Armstrong, who was heckled by a parent on his first day as principal, kept his cool. His advice on being a principal is, “It’s all about how you treat people”. He also goes on to say, “You don’t know what you don’t know. You kind of learn by messing up. It’s that fail-fast mentality. You’ve got to fail fast. Because you’re not going to know everything, and you’re going to make mistakes, and you can’t beat yourself up. You just have to learn from it and move on. Document the error, and the next time it comes up, you’re like ‘Wait a minute, this happened a couple of weeks ago, what did I do? I remember. Don’t do this.’ So you learn.”

Melissa Hensley, who came to a school with a lot of turnovers, says, “People say ‘you are the principal, tell them to do that’. And I’m like it really doesn’t work like that….The best way that I have found—and that I wish I had really known this—was that it’s OK to share that leadership role. Not only is it OK, it’s imperative for success to breathe in a building.”

Challenges to Anticipate

When you’re moving from a teaching position to the principal’s office, you might have to adjust a bit. As we saw in Mike Huss’ case above, you need to make time to get your administrative tasks done.

In other cases, you may also find that it’s difficult to be in a leadership position over people who were formerly your peers. If you’re a principal now, that might change your relationship dynamic with other teachers. But as long as you keep in mind Kevin Armstrong’s advice about treating people well, you won’t run into too many roadblocks.

Positively Impacting the Future

Educational speaker speaking in front of audiences.
Speaker in front of audience

Teaching is, in itself, a fulfilling and rewarding position. Informing young minds and making a difference in someone’s life can give you the type of satisfaction that is difficult to quantify. But moving to educational leadership, where you have even more responsibility and where you’re influencing more than just a classroom full of young minds, can be even more fulfilling. When you’re shaping the future for an entire school, or even an entire generation of young minds, you’re impacting the world in a positive way.

So it makes sense to choose the type of educational leadership position that you feel passionate about and work towards it. Going back to school may be the first step towards fulfilling your goals. However, keep in mind that leadership is a journey where you’re going to learn something new every step of the way. Check out Degree Guides to learn more about the journey to educational leadership.

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