My Answers to 21 Common Administrative Interview Questions


  1. Why are you interested in becoming our next administrator? My advice is really do your research! This is a great opportunity for those selecting their next leader to imagine each person being interviewed in the role. Doing your homework demonstrates your work ethic and passion for the position. To get the information you need, thoroughly check out the district website, looking for the names your district leaders, board members, building leaders, and staff members. Also, be sure to read several months worth of school board minutes to learn more about the district’s current initiatives and future plans. Make sure you also carefully read the job description. Going into the interview, it is crucial that you know what goals and expectations they have for their new administrator. Also, ensure you know the school and community demographics such as: current enrollment, enrollment trends, nature of the community, key businesses in the area, etc. Also do your research on the school. Make sure you know a great deal about the current programming, technology initiatives, graduation requirements, extracurricular activities, TLC program structure, building goals and past performance, school report card, curriculum guide, calendar, and daily schedule. Newsletters and social media are also great places to get information.
  2. What does great teaching look like? Great teaching is learner and learning focused. It taps into the interests, curiosities, and passions of every student. It invests just as much in building relationships as it does in exposing students to the curriculum. It leverages moments of learning to create memorable learning experiences for students. It recognizes that learning is an organic process that is necessarily messy and creative. It focuses on teaching students how to think, not just what to learn. It includes instructional strategies that are more diagnostic and less prescriptive. It is also public and transparent, inviting any others to view it in action.
  3. What ideas do you have to celebrate staff and students? I believe that we should make every effort to celebrate our people, especially those that work hard and have a great attitude, yet rarely receive recognition. We cannot afford to take them for granted. We also need to make every effort to celebrate our diversity and view it as a strength of our school, ensuring that every student and staff member feels included and connected to our building. Among the ways to accomplish this is to establish a building Celebrations and Culture Team, comprised of a diverse group of teachers, associates, students, and parents. This team could develop a monthly focus on a specific quality that staff and students demonstrate that makes our school better. We could then ask students and staff to nominate one another and feature them on a video production or newsletter. This would cost next to nothing, yet mean the world to those people being recognized and inspire others to aspire toward those qualities that make our school great. It would also build a stronger community and create a more positive culture in our building.
  4. What are your strengths as a leader? I believe very strongly in the power of distributed leadership. No one person has a monopoly on great ideas. Instead, more voices shape better ideas. I also believe that a leader cannot be above doing any of the same work they are asking of others. I’ve had to work very hard for anything I’ve accomplished in life and am not afraid to get my hands dirty and work alongside my staff to help support them in getting our work done.  I didn’t rush out of the classroom and into administration. I’ve taught for 11 years and over that time I’ve taken on several challenging teaching assignments, traveled between multiple buildings and classrooms throughout the day, attended countless meetings, and been through several curriculum adoptions. I took the time to become a good teacher first and I believe that this gives more credibility as an instructional leader among the teachers I will be leading.
  5. What are your weaknesses as a leader? Sometimes I have tried to hard in the past to keep everyone happy and focused too much time on trying to please the vocal minority. I had to learn the hard way that not everyone working in education has the same core beliefs or has the same passion that I have and that is perfectly fine. Over time, I’ve learned the best way to lead change in a building was to engage the innovators and early adopters, leveraging their work ethic and passion to build a critical majority of people to keep things moving forward. This doesn’t mean I will not listen to criticism. I just won’t let it paralyze progress. The train is still going to keep moving forward and we are going to keep innovating and getting better. I’ll also keep giving resistant staff continual opportunities and entrance ramps to opt into leadership actively commit to and engage in the work happening in our building. 10408821_10100163209009971_5221878921035108239_n.jpg
  6. What qualities comprise a great leader? I’ve been fortunate to work under many great leaders in my life. Those that were most effective in leading me were those that had a clear leadership compass informed by their core values and beliefs. They were clear about why we were doing what we were doing and how it would make us better and could articulate this vision effectively to others. They also were continually humble about themselves and their abilities, even though all of them clearly knew what they were doing and had a great deal of wisdom we all could learn from. They put the interests of their people ahead of their own self-interests. They created followers not by using the power of their position, but through their contagious passion. They worked hard and challenged us to do likewise, nurturing a climate of possibility that expected more of us than we thought was possible and then provided the support to ensure we were successful.
  7. What are 3 words that describe you? Ambitious. I grew up poor and we worked hard for everything we had. This built a strong work ethic that is an asset that I still use every day. Analytical. I am constantly critically examining my own views on education and best practices. I like figuring out how ideas connect and align, as well as how to do work and processes more efficiently. Passionate. I believe you’d be hard-pressed to identify someone who has been more passionate about education, advocacy, writing, reflection, and continual growth as I have been over my last 11 years as a teacher. Fairly consistently over the course of my career, I have been one of the first, often the first people to arrive to work at my building. Often, I am also one of the last ones to leave and frequently the one of the few people in on the weekend. I say this not because I believe I am better than anyone else, but to illustrate how passionate I am about what I do. My passion wakes me up early in the morning without an alarm clock. I am constantly driven to improve and better my craft, find new ways to reach my students, and do every thing I can to ensure my students are better off for having had me as a teacher.
  8. What is your leaderships style? I am goal-centered, ambitious, and hardworking. I also know I cannot lead effectively from a fortress of solitude. I can accept when my idea is not the best idea in the room. Great ideas can come from anywhere and an idea’s merit does not depend on the person who came up with it or the title after their name. I also believe very strongly in distributed leadership that is inclusive and enables our staff to share in ownership and accountability for creating the best solutions to complex problems. Such and approach shifts the culture in a building from compliance to genuine commitment.
  9. How will you effectively lead in this building? First, I will need to loyally support the vision of my Principal and/or Superintendent. It is my responsibility to help them turn their ideas into action. I also need to ensure our staff have clarity about our aim as a building and district and help manage our system to ensure that our initiatives are in alignment with our mission and vision as a system. Perhaps most importantly, I will need to seek out ways to cultivate and sustain positive relationships with our students, staff, and parents.
  10. How do you respond when an initiative is not going well? First and foremost,one caution would be to have patience and discipline during implementation dips. Too often in education, we abandon new initiatives when they don’t immediately yield marked improvements. Instead, when our results diminish or stagnate, we should first critically examine whether our system is performing as intended or not. A great idea has minimal value if it cannot be successfully implemented. Therefore, we have to be sure to create the conditions for implementation to be successful, ensuring we remove or substantially reduce the barriers that will inhibit its success. This may require us to simplify, prioritize, and align our work. We should also be sure that we are not setting our bar too low. Our students deserve for us to be aspirational; therefore, we should continually set high standards for ourselves that enable us to leapfrog our competition.11071168_10100163209069851_363820420986769368_n.jpg
  11. What ideas do you have to build parent and community engagement? It takes a village to raise a child. Our parents are our students’ first and most important teacher. As administrators, we need to provide our parents with multiple opportunities to provide input on the learning happening in our schools. After all, we are all on the same team and all have the same goal of ensuring that students are successful. One idea I have is to create a Parent Advisory Council that is composed of a diverse subset of parents from. This group could act as an intermediary between our schools and our community. I believe this would be reciprocally beneficial as it would enable our school to provide information and communicate more effectively with parents about various initiatives happening in our schools and explain the rationale for them. It would also enable parents to share ideas of their own, ask questions, and act as true partners in the educational process. I also believe more schools need to critically examine Parent Teacher Conferences. I supect that one of the reasons attendance at conferences is declining in many schools is due to the fact that the nature and scope of conferences hasn’t adequately adapted to our available technologies. Parents rarely just want to meet and confer about a student’s grade, as they already have access to their student’s electronic grade book. Instead, many are seeking context and strategies to support their student’s learning at home. They often come to conferences wondering: What is my child learning? What kind of student is my child in your classroom? How well do they get along with the other students? What is the classroom environment like? What is the teacher’s style and philosophy? How will this class prepare my child for success in the future? How can my child get better? I wonder how well we are answering these questions and why we aren’t adapting to change the scope and focus of conferences to be more student-focused rather than grade focused. Perhaps if our conferences were student led and the student was present, this would occur on a more regular basis.
  12. What is your philosophy regarding student discipline? Every conversation we have with another person represents an opportunity to build or damage a relationship. As administrators, we should proactively seek opportunities to build relationships with our students, especially those that may exhibit problematic behaviors down the road. Our students should not only interact with their principals when they are in trouble. While an office referral should always be a last resort for a teacher as it takes away from learning, I also understand that when a student’s behavior violates rules or policies, an office referral is justified and appropriate. When such behavior occurs, my role as an administrator is not to be evaluator or judge of students, but rather an investigator. I must have a conversation with each student that seeks first to understand the root causes of the behavior manifestation. I will ask the student how they got to this point and how I can support or help them. As administrators, we do not abandon our roles as teachers. After all, the word discipline means “to teach.” The discipline process should not be a socially rewarding experience for students. Rather, it must be a restorative process that, while preserving the dignity of the student, also teaches him or her to take ownership and accept responsibility (and the consequences) for their behavior. Administrators, teachers, and parents must also understand that behavior modification is a process that takes time, as the neural networks of teenagers have had years to become established and learning and assimilating new behavior patterns and responses new takes some time. Therefore, one office referral likely won’t prevent recidivism for every student.
  13. What is your philosophy regarding teacher evaluation? Evaluation of teaching, much like assessment of learning, need not be only a summative process. I would strongly encourage a structured, informal, ongoing rounding/walk-through process in every school. This will develop a culture of collaboration and promote high quality student learning in every classroom. When doing a summative evaluation, the number one question an administrator should ask themselves is: Would I want my child in this teacher’s classroom? For the overwhelming number of our teachers, we would. A great number of our teachers meet or exceed all 8 Iowa teaching standards and are, by all accounts, excellent teachers. For these teachers, the evaluation process is really about growing them in areas most closely related to student growth and achievement. However, not all teachers meet every teacher standard. When this occurs, we must remain mindful that, as administrators, our primary responsibility is to improve education for every student in our building. Our evaluation process must be clear and straightforward. Every evaluation is either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. A teacher either meets the standards or they do not. There is no gray area. When a teacher is not meeting the standard(s), we must communicate this very clearly and directly to the teacher, outlining a process that :
    1. describes the concerns related to specific teaching standards,
    2. outlines a plan for meeting the standard,
    3. establishes timelines, dates, required activities, and responsible parties,
    4. clarifies assessments and indicators of progress,
    5. identifies resources and supports needed,
    6. and schedules a future meeting date
  14. What is the most important issue or challenge in education today? We need to reframe the narrative surrounding public education. There are so many great things happening in our schools and classroom in Iowa and across the nation. We need to do a better job of celebrating and promoting our successes and embrace our roles as “storytellers in chief” for our schools. If we don’t tell our story, others, with much more questionable motives, will tell it for us.
  15. What is your communication style? I’ve always been a bit of an social introvert, preferring to not be the center of attention. I believe this has enabled me to become a very effective listener and understand people on a level that helps me lead effectively. Too often, in our conversations, we listen to respond instead of listening to understand. I have continuously worked to become a better active listener. I also understand that not every conversation will be positive or complimentary. In these conversations, active listening is even more important.11071091_10100163209259471_1748754664334184276_n.jpg
  16. What your experience in using technology in education? Technology represents a significant opportunity to reimagine learning in the classroom. With technology, our students have access to a world of information at their fingertips. As educators, it is our responsibility to facilitate a learning process that enables the technology to be used not only as a substitute to learning previously done on paper. In my previous district, we had a 1:1 iPad initiative. We were the largest school in the state of Iowa with a 1:1 initiative. Prior to giving the devices to our students, our teachers received a great deal of training on how to use the devices to create more engaging and authentic learning experiences for students. We were trained on the different apps available and how to use them in the classrooms. We also created a process that enabled teachers to share ideas with one another on an ongoing basis called “Appy Hour”. I was fortunate to teach in this 1:1 environment for several years and every year we received awards from Apple for our innovative uses of the iPad in the classroom. I was also interviewed by KCCI due to being an early adopter and leader in my building on how to use the iPads to transform learning. Speaking personally, these combined years of experience have enabled me to be able to go into any setting and discuss ways to infuse technology into teaching and learning. I can also provide a great deal of support to help teachers to design, develop, and infuse digital learning experiences that utilize technology with the goal of transforming learning experiences so they result in higher levels of achievement for students.
  17. What is your philosophy on grading? A grading system should first and foremost account for the fact that learning is a messy process unique for every learner. To this end, I believe that timelines can be flexible, yet learning mastery cannot. Segments of our society tend to overvalue the importance of a GPA, specific letter grade, score, or percentage. I believe all grades, scores, or percentages merely represent a snapshot of learning at a given moment in time. That which we have “learned” is never fixed. Over time, it will either be built upon, diminished, or ultimately forgotten. Ideally, a grade should communicate a student’s current level of understanding relative a set of learning standards or targets. A grading system cannot simply be a point accumulation contest. A student should be much more concerned with accumulating learning than points. After all, it is the learning, and not the points, that will actually translate to success beyond high school. Many cautionary tales exist of high school valedictorians that learned to play the “point accumulation game” in very well in high school, yet went on to only marginal success in their careers. To this end, our grading system should take efforts to ensure it is not creating winners and losers. Components like class rank are outdated and only encourage students to focus more on point chasing than deep and meaningful learning. Ultimately, and most importantly, students should have clarity about what they are expected to know and be able to why this learning is important to their success beyond high school. When students have clarity about where they need to be, how to get there, and why it is important to do so, learning becomes an intrinsic process where extrinsic motivators like “points” become less meaningful.10999519_10100163209508971_7754351717673117916_n.jpg
  18. How will you handle teacher complaints? In every conversation, I strive to listen without judgement, yet will also ask for a solution as well. If someone wants resolution on an issue or challenge, they need to have thought about it enough to present ideas or solutions on how the issue can be resolved. In considering their solution, I will also keep my compass focused on what is best for students.
  19. How should student data be used to enhance learning? We cannot afford to wait until the end of the year to determine if our goals have been achieved. Instead, we should be monitoring our performance relative to our goal on an ongoing basis and be willing to make necessary changes along the way as needed. We need to remain objective and let our data tell our story. In this process, transparency is key. We should take joyful accountability for the results our systems produces. We should cascade ongoing performance measures throughout our organization, measuring what matters and ensuring that our measures are aligned to our aim. When analyzing our data, we should triangulate data to identify and verify trends and results. We should also be disaggregating our data into subgroups and tracking cohorts longitudinally to ensure that every student is making one year’s worth of growth. Our way of thinking is also a key driver to our success. As educational leaders, we must have the self-discipline to see the whole picture, identifying interrelationships rather than things, seeing patterns and seeking out root causes rather than static snapshots. Most problems that emerge in schools are systems-problems, not people problems. If we do not invest the time to examine the entire system, our easy solutions will lead right back to the same problems. We must avoid the temptation to enact familiar solutions to repeating problems. Instead we must constantly seek to bring the work of all the adults we serve into alignment. Everyone in our system must be keenly aware of our aim and how all our work connects to and supports this aim. As leaders, we have the responsibility to ensure continual alignment and clarity about our work.
  20. What type of professional learning leads to the best growth for teachers? Ultimately, for any professional learning to be effective, it has to be implemented, not just learned. Implementation of new learning can be an uncomfortable process. Often people prefer to remain in a comfort zone rather than to humble themselves enough to be vulnerable in order to get better. Continually implementing new learning requires staff to have a growth mindset where failures are seen not as impediments, but a necessary part of the growth process. Paradoxically, we all understand and embrace the need for failure in certain areas of our lives. The best gamers in the world fail in new video games constantly. Skateboarders fall off their boards attempting new tricks many times before they are successful. The world’s best basketball players often miss 50% or more of the shots they take. The top baseball players only get hits about 30% of the time. Why doesn’t this mindset translate into our continual growth as educators? Ultimately, I believe we need to help staff have clarity about how their failures serve a purpose and how they will help them and their students get better over time. Professional learning must also be job-embedded and provide teachers with the professional trust and autonomy they need to align their interests and passions with our goals as a school. If we can find a way to give our staff more choice and voice in their professional learning, yet also hold them accountable for sharing their learning with their peers, I have no doubt our school would achieve phenomenal results over time.11070097_10100163209324341_7124195147959940317_n.jpg
  21. Do you have any questions for us? Yes you do! This is perhaps the most important question of all.  Some of my go to questions so far have included:
  • Why do you love _______________ school and the ____________________ community?
  • What are the most significant opportunities and challenges at _______________________ school?
  • What type of qualities are you looking for in your next ____________________________?
  • What are the top priorities you you would want me to address during my first few months as your next _____________________________________?

I hope this was helpful. Hopefully, it will also help me land my first administrative position someday.



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