A school community is a little bit like a beehive. First, there's so much going in those buildings (you might say they’re buzzing with activity . . . ahem). While teachers and aides run the classrooms, the school administrators, like a principal or a superintendent, take on the larger role of watching over the entire operation of keeping a school or a network of schools running smoothly.
Administrators hold jobs like school principal or superintendent at the elementary and secondary levels but are known as deans, provosts, or even presidents at universities and colleges. They have a dual role: as a leader in the schools or the district, they must have the educational background to know what's important in teaching the children, but their duties also include things like budgets, capital improvements, teacher negotiations and reviews, and implementing any educational requirements and changes.
Those are some heavy responsibilities, making getting the proper educational background for these positions even more crucial. Very often, the people in the top spots in the schools have years of teaching under their belts—and the requisite degrees to do so. They then move on to graduate programs that instruct and credential them in running a school system.
If your professional goals include leading a school or a school system, you'll need to obtain a master's degree, usually in the field of education leadership or education administration. Often, school administrators hold a doctorate degree in education, though administrators at the college level often hold a doctorate in their preferred field of study rather than specifically in education.
Because school administrators generally begin their careers in the classroom, they are able to learn all the nuances of working within a school before taking on more active leadership roles in the school community. If you plan to become a school administrator, you may be able to complete your master's degree while teaching a classroom of students, or you may decide to take the time away from work and focus exclusively on your studies.
In many states, a mentoring or shadowing component is required as part of your master's degree training. You may spend several weeks learning the ropes as you work with a current administrator. Many school administrators work up a ladder of promotion (teacher, department head, vice-principal, etc.) before taking over a head position.
As with a teaching profession, school administrators are often required to obtain licensure and pass an exam before being able to perform the duties. However, college deans or provosts, who typically have a master’s in education if not a doctorate, may not be required to be licensed by the state.
Master's-level courses in education leadership or education administration focus on more than teaching children in a classroom setting; classes for these degrees give a solid foundation in everything involved in running a school. Course work covers the business and legal aspects of working with staff and federal and state educational requirements. You'll also learn the intricate steps necessary for working within a town- or city-determined budget and how to plan for future costs and upgrades. And, of course, there are the ethics and psychology of learning how to be what's often a top disciplinary figure in the school.
Working to understand the classroom, the students, and the larger school system as a business entity will give you a solid understanding of how to most effectively become a school administrator at any level.