Hit It Out of the Park with Substitute Administrators

Ashley Barker, Inclusionary Practices Director and Next Level Leaders Lead
Feb 23, 2024

baseball blog

As busy building leaders, we know we’ve made it past the halfway mark of the school year. Sickness is still hitting our schools, we have district meetings that never land on the right day, many behaviors are here to stay, and sports and activities are on a whole other level. You can see the writing on the wall and need a possible solution.

Now that spring training is kicking off, and there’s a renewed sense of hope for baseball fans across the country, allow me to use a baseball analogy to highlight a possible new tool in your school leadership toolbelt; if you haven’t already, I suggest that busy building leaders call in a “pinch hitter. ” Or, in this case, a substitute administrator to support them. Let me talk through some common baseball strategies connected to what principals can do to ensure they have support in their buildings.

Definition: Pinch Hitter

A player who bats in place of a teammate, typically at a critical point in the game.

Do you ever wonder why our most valuable educator (next to the classroom teacher) gets pulled from the building for various meetings and events but has yet to have a substitute? Sometimes, a replacement may not be needed for schools with adequate staff resources; however, many elementary and small middle schools need access to administrative staff beyond counselors and administrative assistants. Let’s be honest, no matter how many staff we have, we each have a more than full-time job. And all of us have found ourselves short-handed post-pandemic. Either way, when school leaders are out of the building, ill, or engaged in activities off campus, the work piles up and is waiting for them when they return, not to mention the “S” word: safety. We don’t want any of our players to end up on the injured reserve list.

Definition: Injured Reserve List (IR)

The injured reserve list (IR) is a designation used in North American professional sports leagues for athletes who suffer injuries and become unable to play.

A logical solution to ensuring building leaders have safe, productive learning environments, not to mention double the work when they return, ensuring they can be present and available to the students and staff they serve, would be to have a substitute administrator cover the building when they are away or are engaged in activities and cannot be disturbed. When thinking about this complex situation, we can liken the school building to a baseball game. We need the team (the teachers), the students (the fans), the coach (the administrative team), and the manager (the district office).

Winning the World Series

Houghton Mifflin, a long-time curriculum development company, describes model schools as providing opportunities for students to be academically prepared, equipped with social and emotional schools, and engaged in stimulating, joyous learning experiences. For our schools to achieve at high levels and be considered for the Hall of Fame, the conditions must be right, which means having ample support.

Definition: The World Series. The professional championship for North American major league baseball, played at the end of the season between the champions of the American League and the National League. It was first played in 1903.

When considering the needs of our schools, students, and staff, why would we consider putting in a pinch hitter for these valuable leaders, much like we would for a baseball team? The National Education Association (NEA) describes substitutes as “educational bridges” and states the following:

While we’ve spent significant time and attention on improving teaching and learning in America’s public schools over the past 25 years, there is one part of the education equation that is rarely addressed: The important role that substitute teachers play in America’s public schools.

The National Education Association recognizes that effective substitute teachers make a significant contribution to the school program. They serve as educational bridges when regular classroom teachers are absent. The Association urges school districts to employ highly qualified individuals to fulfill the critical role of substitute teachers.

Post-Game Interviews

How a principal feels about their position and level of support is almost as important as getting their work done.

Definition: Post-Game Show

A post-game, postgame, or post-match show is a TV or radio presentation that occurs immediately after the live broadcast of a major sporting event.


Having a substitute administrator in a building without assistant principals has allowed me to grow professionally and take care of my personal wellness. I have always held to the philosophy that our positions are not a job but a lifestyle, but without a competent substitute whom I confidently know will help navigate the day-to-day challenges, the lifestyle can quickly turn into a never-ending treadmill. - Dr. Jeff Naslund, Elementary Principal 
Having the opportunity to have a sub-principal has been enormously helpful, professionally and personally. Professionally, it has allowed me time to attend meetings or meet with teachers and maintain operational support for students and teachers in my absences. I have been able to be away for training, and bring back those ideas to positively impact student achievement back at school. Personally, it's an incredible support for work-life balance. Maybe other principals are like me and hesitate to take a sick day when sick or a personal day for a special family occasion. This contributes to poor physical and mental health and eventually to burnout. Knowing the building is covered, and I can step away from my phone and email for a few hours is so valuable. - Christine Spinnell, Elementary Principal 
Subbing allows me to experience all the great aspects of the job. I get to connect with students, support teachers, and interact with parents in positive conversations. It is a joy to be in the schools, and I look forward to my days subbing.


Whether in a building for a day, week, or long term, staff have a feeling of security knowing someone is present who can answer questions, help with student behavior, manage emergencies, and show a presence around the school. It also makes it much easier for the building administrator to be out of the building, knowing they won’t have as many situations to manage when they return. Lynn Olsen, District Designated Principal Substitute 

Expand your Roster

Draft Prospects

When considering this strategy, determine who could be “drafted” as substitute principals. Here are some ideas:

  • Interns: It would benefit administrative interns to learn in a different context. Consider having them come to your building, do a walkthrough, and set up a time for them to substitute for you.
  • University Site Supervisors: Did you know that all the administrative preparation programs across the state employ administrative intern supervisors? These folks may be retired, unable to commit to a full-time position, have flexible schedules, and may be available to support your school.
  • Retired District Employees: Consider calling one of your former colleagues. Districts may be more inclined to hire a former administrator for support. Additionally, the HR process may be easier to navigate for former employees.
  • District Substitutes or Current Teachers with Administrative Credentials: You may have an administrator in your building or on the substitute list. For various reasons, individuals with administrative credentials don’t go into administration. In these cases, it may be easier to hire a general substitute for their position and have them cover the office in your absence.


The Draft

The process used to allocate baseball players to Major League teams.


A potential baseball player that coaches and scouts are looking to add to their team.

40-Man Roster

Includes a combination of players on the 26-man roster, injured lists, the bereavement/family medical emergency list, and the paternity leave list, as well as some Minor Leaguers.

Did you know a typical baseball team comprises 26 players; however, all teams develop a 40-man roster that can support teammates for medical, family, and other issues.

Though there is no authentic substitute for a principal besides another principal, consider the following additional players who you can prepare to support you when you are absent or engaged in office-bound activities:

Office Assistant(s) — if you are going to be unavailable, your front office staff, as you know, are your first defense to ensure your building is running smoothly. If something pressing “comes to the office,” be sure they can assign it to someone else in your absence.

Counselor — as we know, counselors play a very different role than administrators. However, their skillset can be utilized by de-escalating a situation, calling parents to notify them of a situation, and ensuring them your support when you return.

Assistant Principals and Athletic Directors (at other buildings, too) — we know that if you have access to these additional staff, you have a backup; however, it’s essential to be explicit with what you want them to do in your absence. For example, supervise arrival and dismissal, check in with specific students, and stop into designated classrooms. Additionally, ensure your staff knows who is “subbing” for you and how to reach your designee if they need anything.

District Office Staff — consider having someone from the district work from your office and address anything that walks through the office door. This would be an excellent way to support their work connected to students and staff in the building and a great opportunity for them to be visible and approachable to school staff.

Support Staff — again, specific staff have job duties and scope based on their title and contract; however, having an extra supervisor and an extra set of eyes may help when you are out of the building. Alternatively, having someone check in with students regarding any issues can prevent situations before they start. Do you have a support staff who is a “kid magnet?” If so, consider getting a sub for their regular duties and having them be more visible and available when you are out of the building. When you return, they can report any situation to you directly.

Supervisor/Superintendent — again, this is an excellent opportunity to be in the “principal’s shoes” and to provide context for both the superintendent and/or your supervisor. You can let them know the measures you have put in place to ensure your students achieve and have rigorous learning opportunities and receive authentic feedback while also gaining empathy and compassion for all you do to support your school.

On The Field: What Substitute Administrators Can Do:

  • Supervise lunch/halls/class/bus
  • Take parent calls, identifying themselves as a substitute
  • Check-in with substitute teachers and provide support
  • Support the counselor
  • Cover the office
  • Make announcements and be an adult supervisor presence in the principal's absence
  • Stop in classrooms and provide feedback to the leader
  • Be a second supervisor and provide information/feedback to the principal

Definition: Baseball positions. In baseball, each of the nine players on a team is assigned a particular fielding position when it is their turn to play defense.

In summary, the work of the building principal is complex and cannot be “substituted”; however, even the most famous skilled athletes have access to coaching and support. Why wouldn’t our most valuable player – school principals – have access to similar resources? Asking for a substitute or substitute support could mitigate some of the low-level work that distracts us from the heavy lifting our principals are expected to do every day. This way, when they return to the building without extra work and follow-up to complete, providing an overall sense of efficiency and effectiveness, not to mention enlisting a possible partner to support you in the ongoing work, resulting in overall job satisfaction.

There are three types of baseball players: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” - Tommy Lasorda 

Our 2019 Interview With Mariners Manager Scott Servais

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