Most people get into the education business to work with kids. But you can’t work in schools for very long before you start to realize there is a lot more going on in the education system than just standing in front of a blackboard all day. And that realization may have led you to the conclusion that educational leadership jobs are critical to allowing every teacher to be as successful in the classroom as they can be.
Educational administration jobs are the natural next step for many educators who still love kids and teaching but realize they have more to offer. These jobs give you a shot at putting your leadership potential to work to influence the path of not just a couple dozen, but hundreds, or even thousands, of kids in any given year. They represent a way to step up and help junior teachers who are struggling, and a way to fill gaps in the system to ensure every single student has equitable opportunities in education, and in life.
What Are the Different Kinds of School Administrator Jobs Available?
School administration jobs come in a vast range of shapes and specializations. The field of education has become enormously complex. New research, new ideas, and fresh perspectives on society and human development have opened all kinds of avenues for schools to do a better job of their core mission of educating and socializing the next generation.
While a lot of those changes come in the classroom, they also require administrative expertise to execute well. For example, thirty years ago, it was unusual for districts to have specialists in multilingual instruction to offer teacher support. Today, it’s common to find multilingual services departments that offer resources and assistance to ELL (English Language Learning) students.
New positions – including roles for specialists dedicated to serving the needs of students experiencing homelessness – are popping up all the time and offering fresh educational leadership jobs for master’s-prepared educators.
In other cases, those leadership positions emerge through the discovery of areas of concern that need more systematic attention at the district level. For example, new recognition of the systemic effects of long-term racism have created focus areas in schools around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It’s also true that as school systems grow, so do layers of supervision. A principal working in a rural elementary school with an enrollment of 300 isn’t going to have any trouble tracking what is going on in every classroom and every corner of the school. A high school principal responsible for over 5,000 students, however, may need a dozen different functional areas split out and delegated to other admins to stay in control.
And, of course, there are still those stalwart jobs that are the mainstay of the public school system: the principals, vice-principals, and superintendents that are responsible for the big-picture of modern education.
Finally, it’s always been true that leadership isn’t just useful at the top, supervisory levels in education. Think about the other leaders you’ve encountered in your career:
These are all educational leadership jobs that make a real difference to students and schools. And if that’s why you got into education in the first place, any of these positions might be right for you.
Educational Leadership Jobs Come In Different Niches
One of the wonderful things about educational leadership jobs is the sheer variety. Almost every district in the country, more than 13,000 of them, has its own take on the best way to organize an education system. That means different niche specialties, different challenges, and all kinds of ways to make a difference as an educational leader.
Still, you will find that most systems seem to settle on certain broad categories of educational administration roles. These are often reflected in the way that states license those roles, so they are important to understand as you pick a career path in education administration.
Educational Leadership Jobs for Subject Matter Specialists: Teacher Mentors, Instructional Specialists, Coaches, and ECE Leaders
These are teachers who have extended their teaching and subject-specific education at an advanced level. They serve as leaders and specialist instructors in areas such as math, reading, or early childhood education.
The larger or smaller the school you work in, the more likely you will find these hybrid roles that combine a standard faculty teaching position with elements of administrative responsibility. These are the instructional leadership roles filled by math coaches, reading and language arts specialists, and literacy coordinators. These teacher mentors develop both subject-matter expertise in their field and the mentoring and interpersonal skills to pass it along to other educators. At the college level, deans fill a similar role.
Deans occupy the middle ranks in the college world and hold the leadership hierarchy together. They oversee entire departments or schools that support academic and research functions, serving both students and faculty. They have the challenging job of building strong subject matter expertise in their field while serving as guides and leaders familiar with the university’s overall goals.
These are experts in teaching curriculum design, with extensive understanding of both their subject-matter areas and current pedagogical best practices. They help develop curriculum and instructional materials and guide teachers in how to teach them. They also frequently audit and monitor teachers, offering feedback and guidance to improve their performance.
Coaching and Athletic Administration
Coaches exercise a special kind of leadership, one with a direct and lasting impact on the kids they train. They focus on teaching physical education, general fitness, and specialized training for the sport they coach. They develop strategies, game plans, and instruct students in executing them. They also work with to coordinate transportation, games and practices, and frequently work with parents on fundraising events and other extracurricular activities related to athletic programs. In small schools, coaches are often teachers, but at large schools it can be a specialized administration role.
Working with Pre-K students either integrated into elementary schools or in dedicated ECE programs, these jobs provide oversight and guidance for educators dealing with the earliest phases of learning. They analyze ECE policy and curriculum, build support systems, and mentor the specialized workforce handling the youngest of students.
The positions listed here are just a taste of the kinds of roles you can explore among master’s in educational leadership jobs.
School and District Administrator Jobs in Supervisory Roles: Principals, Assistant Principals, and More
The principals and assistant principals of the world are the best examples of supervisory positions in educational administration, but there are many others. Large districts may split their teams up into various departments lead by educational supervisors. There are also frequently positions that are specific to business or operations management.
Principals and their assistant principals organize, maintain, and lead the teachers and students of more than 100,000 schools across the country. They work in both public and private schools using skills in strategy, communications, HR, and instructional leadership to handle the day-to-day challenges of keeping kids on track for graduation. The unique complexities at each level requires a degree of specialization.
Leading an entire school district calls for extensive experience and elite leadership skills. Though a master’s in educational leadership satisfies the requirement, these jobs are commonly filled by doctoral and EdS graduates. These jobs involve relationship-building throughout the community and a strong grasp of educational policy and pedagogical methods. Reporting to the school board, superintendents are responsible for accounting, human resources, discipline, and performance within their district.
College presidents, or chancellors as they are sometimes called, act as both principal and superintendent at large universities. They have the same range of responsibilities, sometimes overseeing several campuses, but a different set of pressures and challenges to meet. They need the same strong background in operations and relationship-building to be effective.
Provosts are the vice superintendent or assistant principal analog in the college world. They are delegated responsibilities by the chancellor so may need to specialize in everything from personnel to budgeting to research to global affairs. They are expected to have a strong academic background and have oversight for instructional and research activities; in some schools, roles with strictly operational duties, like maintenance or finance, may instead be called vice president.
Every student and faculty member counts on the registrar’s office every day. A university registrar is the assigner of classrooms and class time slots, the recorder of grades, the keeper of degree awards. Running the office with one of the most critical academic roles in any university is a job that requires meticulous attention to detail and a first-rate command of organizational and educational leadership skills.
College department chairs are the lubricant between the wheels of higher education administration and the hard-working faculty doing the roadwork of actual teaching and research in any university. They represent the interests of instructors and coordinate with other departments in the school, working out details of curriculum, student affairs, faculty recruitment, and other important elements of interest to their field of study. It’s a role filled by active professors but one that benefits even more from genuine leadership training for that very reason.
Typically working at the district level, though also found keeping offices humming in large public schools, school business administrators take care of all the many details required to run a major educational organization. From developing school operating budgets to finding the most affordable vendors to contract with to make sure not to exceed budgetary limits, nothing important happens in a modern university, school, or school district without their oversight.
School Administrator Jobs in Educational Support: Special Education and Gifted Program Administrators, Counselors, Librarians, and More
Sometimes called students services staff or staff associates, these positions are typically school and district roles that offer resources and support to teachers and students, but don’t directly engage in education. Examples include counselors and librarians.
With training in behavioral and mental health management, these leaders offer teachers assistance in developing special teaching techniques and curriculum tailored to special needs students. They may recommend technologies or other support services to better assist teachers and students. They may advocate for individual students or for additional services and accommodations in general in their school or district. Special ed administrators are often tasked with dealing with the extra paperwork and coordination required to serve this population. While many special ed leadership positions are within traditional schools, there are also increasing numbers of special education principal jobs for schools dedicated to this student population.
In a mirror of special education leadership positions, gifted and talented program administrators cater to the special needs of students who need additional challenges and incentives in their education. These administrators develop tough and sometimes specialized curriculum plans, advise teachers, and advise students themselves how to get more out of their education.
With NCES estimating that 15 percent of all American public school students were covered by IEPs as of 2021, special education administration has emerged as a crucial role in modern school systems.
Operating at the individual school and district levels, counselors work with teachers and students to develop academic achievement strategies, cultivate interpersonal skills, and deal with specific behavior or setbacks. They may use data to create plans for entire schools or districts, or simply sit down with individual students to discuss life and post-secondary education plans as a trusted resource.
Librarians are reading and resource experts available to both teachers and students. They have in-depth knowledge of both common and uncommon texts and how those books fit in best with current age interests and lesson plans. They are also research experts, with both the knowledge of resources and systematic planning necessary to guide students and educators to uncovering more knowledge both online and in printed works.
Instructional technology coordinators and admins are well-known in every school in America, assisting teachers in adapting their curriculum to take advantage of high-tech teaching tools and supporting the use of those tools in classrooms. Behind the scenes, educational technology leaders support ed tech teams at the district level and are responsible for designing, managing, and upgrading technology throughout the school system. Their role increasingly includes taking on concerns over security and social media. It’s a job that helps train the next generation in the type of tools and tech they will need to succeed in life and in the workforce.
Depending on the state, it’s not uncommon for subject matter specialist roles to transition to supervisory roles from a licensing and responsibilities perspective as you move from the school to the district level. For example, an instructional coordinator providing coaching and leadership at an individual school may need only an advanced teaching license. But to perform the same duties at the district level in some states, a separate Director of Curriculum and Instruction supervisory license is needed.
Each of these jobs calls on leadership skills, but sometimes in different ways and with a different audience and objectives. All of them call for advanced degrees. When you’re stepping up to be a resource and an inspiration to a team of people who already have bachelor’s degrees, as teachers do, then you need to take your own education to the next level first.
Every district tends to have their own titles for these positions, so you can find them listed as Program Administrator for Remote Education rather than Online Learning Administrator, or as a Director of School Mental Health rather than School Counselor. And it’s not unusual for different schools or districts to mix and match duties to fit their unique needs or budgets.
State-Level Superintendents of Public Instruction Hold a Unique Place in American Education
The job of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) is one that few educational leaders will reach in their careers. But those that do will have an unequal influence over the state of schools and the lives of students.
Each state has a single superintendent of education to oversee the policies, budgets, and administration of all public school systems in the state. It’s a job with awesome responsibilities and great authority. But it also takes extensive education and experience to survive, along with sharp political instincts and a deep understanding of governance processes. An advanced degree in educational administration is the perfect opportunity to hone both knowledge and skills for one of the top 50 educational leadership jobs in the country.
As the head of the educational system in their state, these are the leaders who make big things happen for every student, teacher, parent, and community member. Just some of the things that land on the SPI’s desk for final decision-making include:
Whether elected or appointed, the SPI holds a position that is inherently political. They need to exercise leadership skills to persuade the public, state legislators, and professional educators to get on board with their initiatives. They field the most complex and most hot-button issues facing state education systems, from test scores to funding to culture clashes.
It is the kind of job that demands the utmost in terms of both energy and leadership potential. An advanced degree in educational leadership is only the beginning of the kind of preparation you need to become an SPI… but it is a sold step in the right direction for that long process.
Entry-level Leadership Roles Often Lead To More Advanced School Administrator Jobs
Many of these roles can exist at either the school or the district level. A special education administrator, for example, may start off in a single elementary school, managing a limited program dealing with a small group of special needs students. But by cultivating their knowledge, skills, and leadership abilities, they’ll find that jobs in the same field open up at higher levels. A director of special education may oversee a dozen special ed admins and their teams around a district, setting policy and monitoring progress and needs.
It’s normal to make a start in these types of administration jobs at a low level where there are no formal leadership responsibilities. Instead, entry-level positions in these fields help develop the experience and interpersonal skills needed to advance to the next level.
Leadership isn’t simply the outcome of being assigned direct reports to boss around. Instead, it’s a set of complementary skills that you develop and exercise in any role, wherever you are. Exercising educational leadership skills doesn’t require subordinates—you can be just as effective as a leader among colleagues or even with your superiors in areas where you are an expert.
What About Remote Jobs in Educational Leadership?
Remote educational leadership jobs are becoming more and more common in the American education system. According to the National Education Policy Center, there were 477 full-time virtual schools in the U.S. in 2021 with a total enrollment north of 330,00 students (about twice the seating capacity of Madison Square Garden).
Virtual schools have many of the same administrative and leadership needs as traditional schools, but not all of them—facilities maintenance administrators won’t find much work at a non-existent school building, for example. But they also open new opportunities and specializations. An online learning administrator is a new must-have role for any virtual school.
It’s also possible, particularly in rural districts without the headcount or resources for on-site specialists, to engage instructional coordinators, reading specialists, and other experts for part-time, online roles.
Of course, while online learning is a hot new field, remote studies are old hat in some parts of the country. The Interior Distance Education of Alaska program run by tiny Galena City School District has been acting throughout the state as a virtual school supporting homeschooled kids since 1997. With over 7,000 students enrolled, IDEA deals with all the modern challenges of special needs students, standardized testing requirements, and racial disparities.
Moreover, it competes with other homeschool programs in the state. It takes talented and creative educational leadership to keep remote learning thriving.
The Duties and Responsibilities Associated with Educational Leadership Jobs
The daily tasks and responsibilities of a school district superintendent are a far cry from the day-to-day duties of an elementary school counselor. It may seem like these administration positions don’t have much in common.
And in many ways, that’s true—you’ll find very different experience and qualifications required for all these educational administration jobs, each tailoring your expertise to the demands of the position.
But you will also find that there is a core of each of them that taps into the same essential duties. They’re not called leadership positions for nothing. They all share the common ways in which leaders express their guidance and expertise:
Experience is a surprisingly good teacher that will teach you how to handle some of these tasks through trial and error. But you already know the better, easier way forward: earning a degree that teaches you the job.
Learning How To Become a School Administrator of Any Type Loops Right Back To Education
Leadership is a set of skills that you learn, not ones that you are born with. That makes training a must-have for any position in education leadership. Additionally, the kind of technical specializations required for many of these positions takes some advanced study to absorb in order to master. And on top of the very real need to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to do well at these jobs, many of them require a license that takes a specific degree to qualify for.
All of it points you right back to the education system: an advanced degree is in your future for almost all educational leadership positions.
While a degree in educational leadership alone isn’t going to meet all the qualifications for these jobs, it may be the most important part of the checklist. You wouldn’t be in the field of education if you didn’t believe that formal study could give you the valuable skills and knowledge you need for new roles.
Understanding the Degree Requirements for Educational Leadership and School Administrator Jobs
Most of these are jobs you can get with a master’s in educational leadership, such as a Master of Arts in Education Administration, a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership, or a Master of Education in Educational Administration.
The Master of Education, or MEd, is a specialist degree in education. In the same way an MBA represents advanced studies that are specific preparation for careers in business, an MEd offers master’s-level coursework that revolve around pedagogy and educational systems.
Other positions see more candidates with the EdD in Educational Leadership, or Doctor of Education as it’s formally called. Doctorate in educational leadership jobs can also be filled by graduates with a PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, in Educational Administration. States rarely require that candidates for the most senior education administration jobs hold a doctorate, but districts are happy to consider candidates that hold them.
While similar, these advanced programs differ in that an EdD is consider a practice-oriented program, with more practical training and less of the research and theoretical work that goes into the typical PhD. Both programs include at least some original research requirements, though, and a culminating project designed to tie together all your studies in a unique expression of expertise—a capstone project or doctoral dissertation.
And yet another option, the EdS (Educational Specialist) in Educational Leadership, is available for jobs for doctorates in educational leadership. The EdS isn’t a doctorate itself, entirely cutting out the research and original investigation work, but it offers courses at the same level and cuts about half the time out of those degree programs. Since it includes the right kind of coursework to meet licensing requirements, it offers a fast-track to some of the most senior roles in educational leadership.
For many of these jobs, specific coursework is mandated by the states before they grant licensure. These EPP (Educator Professional Preparation) classes cover subjects considered foundational to the jobs at hand. And like teacher certification modules, they are only accepted from programs that the state has already approved—although alternate routes do exist.
Alternate Paths Exist to Educational Leadership Degree Jobs
Mobility is a big deal in America. Facing a leadership crunch at every level, you can bet that school districts are happy to have qualified educational administrators coming in from anywhere they can get them.
But state licensing standards are rigorous for a good reason. Everyone wants to know their kids are being watched over by someone with the right qualifications.
These two competing ideas come together in alternate pathways to qualify for licensure available in most states.
While a few states offer reciprocity for licenses earned elsewhere, or at least temporary licensure based on out-of-state credentials, most give you an opportunity to go through your degree coursework and prove that it matches up with the required components for their EPP requirements.
This can sometimes extend to meeting experiential requirements, too, if you can prove that you have had an internship or other position that has equivalent responsibility to those required for licensing in your current state.
The exact courses will vary from state-to-state and position to position… a distinct set of classes is required for principal licensing, for instance, different than what’s required for superintendent credentials.
If you know what path you plan to take into educational leadership and the state you are going to work in, the EPP requirements for your job and state are the easiest answer to what degree you should pursue. Even if you’re planning to shift states, you can check on reciprocity and out-of-state licensure requirements to lay the groundwork.
Picking up a degree first and then aiming for an educational leadership role is more challenging. But it’s not impossible. Some schools offer EPP programs as part of a certificate course, or you may be able to get your state licensing agency to approve specific courses you have already completed.
Educational Administration Jobs Generally Involve Meeting New Licensing Requirements
Educational leadership degree jobs are usually jobs that require licensure, just like teaching. Every state has a different method of defining and obtaining those licenses, however. And you’ll find that some jobs that require credentials in one state may not in another, or that one state has different licensing for distinct roles while another has a blanket license for several administration roles.
The category that these roles fall into can have a lot to do with how they are licensed, although the rules vary from state to state. These often relate back to the general category that a state drops an administration job into for licensing purposes.
Requirements for Subject Matter Specialists
These types of education administration jobs are often licensed as an extension of a base teaching license. In the same way that you can earn other endorsements with the right training and by passing a subject matter test, you can easily add endorsements in many states as a reading specialist or similar with additional experience and testing.
Requirements for Supervisory Roles
Principal and superintendent positions are some of the most consistent state-to-state licensure positions. Almost every state uses the same license for both the primary position and deputy or assistant jobs. The specific details of the criteria may vary, but they all require checking off the same general categories of qualification.
Whether looking to become a principal or assistant principal to take on building-level leadership duties, or gearing up for district-level leadership by learning how to become a superintendent or deputy superintendent, you’ll follow a similar series of steps:
These positions sometimes have licenses that come in stages, where you can begin to build experience with a limited or initial license, and eventually work up to a full professional license.
Requirements for Educational Support Positions
Support roles tend to have their own licensing progression and standards, although in some cases they also build on a basic initial teaching license. That’s particularly true for counselor or librarian roles in many states.
This category includes non-admin service providers like physical therapists (PTs), nurses, or speech language pathologists as well as educational administration jobs, which is why they tend to have their own distinct professional qualifications. Such positions have very different testing and degree standards.
For educational leadership support roles, though, you’re likely to have to earn a master’s degree at a minimum and accumulate a certain amount of teaching or assisting experience.
On top of that, each role has unique qualifying tests, usually those offered by the Educational Testing Service’s Praxis series, as well as a set of state-approved EPP coursework you must take that is specific to that job.
Of course, not every state follows this exact pattern for every job here—you’ll find all kinds of exceptions based on how the roles are interpreted in different areas. In some cases, separate licenses may not be required at all, with just a basic teaching license considered sufficient.
All these licenses, in any role, also have the same basic state-level qualifications as other educator jobs, such as:
What Is a School Administrator Job That Will Fit Your Interests?
Just because all these jobs are out there somewhere doesn’t mean they are right where you want them.
You won’t find all these jobs in every school or district, for starters. Larger school systems are where more intensive specialization is most common. But larger schools and districts can also change the character of the job even for positions with the same title.
There’s also the fact that the higher you climb the ladder, the fewer openings you will find. For example, there are just under 13,500 school districts in the country according to 2019 NCES data. That means you’re only going to find about 13,500 jobs for school district superintendents (although many of those superintendents will have a lot of assistant superintendent slots around them to help).
And with the differences in defining and qualifying for various educational leadership positions from state to state, you’ll definitely have to settle in and do some detective work to find something that lines up your interests with the credentials and positions that are available.
Universities Offer a Parallel Path Through Higher Education Leadership Jobs
Although many of the degrees in the field and much of the career guidance revolves around the vast range of different primary and secondary educational administration positions across the country, there is a whole other level of education that also has plenty of work for leaders and specialists.
Colleges have many of the same administrative and specialist needs as any major educational institution. Students need counselors, librarians, and online services administrators. Schools themselves need management and oversight from chancellors, provosts, deans, program administrators, and other well-trained educational leaders.
Of course, not every job translates exactly—don’t expect to find any early childhood education positions open, not even at community colleges.
Another significant difference is that working at the postsecondary level doesn’t require licensure. On the other hand, it’s common for college leadership jobs to demand even higher and more rigorous educational standards than their primary and secondary counterparts.