Teaching Opinion

Should Teachers and Administrators Be Friends?

By Starr Sackstein — November 23, 2018 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

If it wasn’t for my assistant principal when I was teaching in New York City, I probably wouldn’t have made it through many school years. He wasn’t only an instructional support, but he was also a friend, as was the dean in my school.

Since we worked in a small school, it didn’t matter the title, relationships were formed based on our human need to connect and our shared interests in each other’s lives. Although I’m certain this kind of boundary-blurring may be uncomfortable for some, it was important for me to have this connection and ally when I was in the classroom.

Now that the roles are reversed, and I’ve debated with a few of my leadership friends about the boundaries we need to put in place as leaders, I think that it is OK and preferable to have friends, regardless of their roles as trust in education can be hard to come by.

So if I’m working with a teacher who is on my team and I connect with him/her based on their beliefs and/or practices and as human beings, why not be friends?

Of course, this friendship should not impact the way anyone is treated, and as we develop relationships with our staff, we must be cognizant not to have favorites or show favoritism in any way. This can create an uncomfortable environment for the teacher who could potentially be alienated by his or her peers, and it can also create a hostile working environment for the leader.

Leadership is lonely, so if we can genuinely connect with people on our team, why shouldn’t we?

In an effort to get a really thorough view on this topic, I posted the question to my professional learning network on Twitter and Facebook, and many had something to say about it. Many, like me, believe that it is, in fact, OK to have friendships that span hierarchies, but just as many believed that there were potential pitfalls that would need to be avoided.

There were many folks who chimed in on the subject but didn’t want to be named in the article. So thank you to everyone who answered my call and provided some context, whether or not you are explicitly named below.

Here are what some folks in the field of education think:

I think if they are, they have to accept that there will be accusations of favoritism. They also need to be careful discussing work issues outside of work. A teacher who is friends with an admin has more access and chances to persuade the admin of their perspective." - Walton Burns, Senior Editor, Alphabet Publishing "I agree with the "favoritism bit." I have been in jobs where the administrator was elevated to a role and had a tough time keeping the same "friendships" when she became an administrator. Favoritism can definitely seem present." - Jennifer Lenarz, 10th grade English teacher "Absolutely. Quite often the friendships began earlier in their careers and should continue even though coming from different purposes now. If new to each other, friendship can develop through collaboration and trust." - Dr. Michael Curran, Rider University "Wherever I have taught, the most comfortable of these relationships have been with administrators that welcomed connections. Social events among colleagues goes a long way to strengthen those bonds and develop the trust I have in my administor. When I've needed an understanding admin., it is because we see each other in more than just an evaluator/evaluatee capacity." -Colleen Simpson, Library Media Specialist "I will always treat my staff with respect, and care about them, but reserve the deep relationships for those outside my school tribe and those in my admin circle. I would suspect there are many definitions of friends and friendship in people's minds, too. We should treat all people as friends, but as a former administrator, there are some things, many for legal reasons, that we cannot and should not discuss with others. As an evaluator, I also believe that we have to draw a line between our jobs and the depth of our relationships." - Jackie Nieukirk, Retired Principal "As a teacher who has taught in a few different schools, I've always developed friendships with my admin and maintained relationships as I've moved around, professionally and personally. They are mentors to me and important in my life." - Melissa Thompson, Grade 5 Teacher/Teaching and Learning Coordinator at The Ottawa Jewish Community School "Yes. Work is work, and I can separate the two. As an expat, your staff is your family. When I was in the U.S., it was still possible but more difficult." - Jeremy Williams, Head of School, Manor Hall International School Al Ain "I think we need to know what friends means for this. You can be friendly, and that is important, but when one person has evaluative power over another, friendship can be hard to maintain." - Nicholas Provenzano, the Nerdy Teacher "I prefer to work in a school where administrators are friends with faculty and staff. It promotes a feeling of family and everyone working for the same cause and reduces the separation between the office and the classroom." - Nicole Neal, English Teacher, Quaker Valley High School in Leetsdale, Pa. "I think when it works it's great. My kids' elementary school is like a giant family, and I love it. You can feel the good vibes. Teachers, parents, etc., all hang out." - Lori Vaccaro Stark, Parent and fFormer Elementary School Teacher. "I think it is the perfect setup for a healthy school environment. Students benefit from the harmonious relationships, and the professional morale remains high. It goes far beyond mutual respect. #leadership" - Gena Cooley, 5th Grade LAL Teacher "I believe it's a double-edged sword. Yes, obviously they can be friends. They will connect with certain teachers right away. The connection brings a closeness that most likely makes them better administrators to those teachers because they bring them into the discussion." - Jill Holder, 6th Grade Math and Social Studies Teacher "In school where edu philosophy and ideology is constantly being brought to the forefront, it's natural for like-minded people to become close. The position should not affect this relationship, professional or personal. And friendships last longer than tenure in a position #leadership." - Stacey Weinberg, Staff Developer for Technology and Assistive Technology "I personally think you can, and in some cases, I think it's inevitable. If you spend your career working toward being an administrator in one building, you would have formed friendships along the way." - Gina Barr, Special Education Teacher "Context-dependent to a large extent. I've mostly taught in large, suburban comprehensive high schools. If the friendship predates the administrative position, that might require some care to articulate boundaries. I wouldn't try to cultivate a friendship with an administrator. Friendly, of course, but I think both parties have some potential issues if there's a friendship involved in a supervisory/administrative relationship. At some point, decisions will be made where either the influence of the friendship or the quality of the friendship will be called into question, either by those directly involved or others in the school." - David B Cohen, English Teacher "Yes. When you value the individual and care for them on a professional level, yes, I believe it is possible." - Elyse Hahne, Social -Emotional Teacher "I think there is a difference between friendships and relationships. Admin should have strong, positive relationships with all teachers. Whether or not there can be friendship depends on the professionalism and maturity of both people. It's possible, but not easy." - Keri Snowden, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Innovation "I work in a rural high school in a small town. It's common and natural for admin and teachers to be friends in and out of school. In fact, in my school's environment, it's a critical component to the school running properly because of the family atmosphere that is created organically. That atmosphere, in turn, drives student outcomes." - Mike Stein, English Teacher and Department Chair, Coffee County High School in Manchester, Tenn. "You would have to clearly define what "friends" means. It can sometimes cloud or adversely influence decisions. It could also cause morale issues with nonfriend faculty. I would say that clear boundaries must be established. I personally feel you can be friendly but not friends." - Dr. Nixon, Assistant Principal, North Mesquite High School "Building relationships is always key, and sometimes that leads to healthy friendships. But one thing I'm certain to do when in my admin role at work is to be fair, consistent ,and a professional. I'm not there to be liked but rather to be respected. From the respect comes the likes." - Kim Lawe, Ed.D., Director, Eastvale STEM Academy | Adjunct Professor, Azusa Pacific University

Ultimately, I think we have to specify the difference between building positive relationships with all staff and developing deep friendships with some. A mentor of mine said it was important to define what I meant by “friend,” and others have touched on that as well.

Although there is certainly a distinction between being friends and being friendly, I do believe that people in leadership can be friends with their team. Whether teachers grow into leadership roles and stay in the district they worked in for years, or a new leader who still identifies as a teacher moves into a new district and becomes friends with the people he or she works with, it’s OK.

We must acknowledge that there could be challenges and we need to be transparent about them. Boundaries should be clearly delineated, and no one should be given preferential treatment as this will erode the leader’s effectiveness and alienate the teacher involved.

What are your thoughts about friendships between administration and teachers? Do you have a story to share? We’d love to hear it!

Photo created using Pablo

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Opinion You Can Motivate Students to Accelerate Learning This Year
If young people suffered setbacks during the pandemic, it doesn’t mean they’re broken. Now is the chance to cover more ground than ever.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Teaching Opinion A 6th Grade Class on Racism Got Me Ready for the Rest of My Life
Every student should have the opportunity to learn about race, writes a college freshman.
Cristian Gaines
4 min read
Illustration of silhouettes of people with speech bubbles.
Teaching Opinion The Classroom-Management Field Can’t Stop Chasing the Wrong Goal
And, no, new social-emotional-learning initiatives aren’t the answer, writes Alfie Kohn.
Alfie Kohn
5 min read
Illustration of children being cut free from puppet strings
Daniel Fishel for Education Week
Teaching Photos What School Looks Like When Learning Moves Outside
One class of 5th graders shows what's possible when teachers take their lessons outside.
1 min read
Teacher Angela Ninde, right, works with students in their garden at Centreville Elementary School in Centreville, Va., on Sept. 7, 2021.
Teacher Angela Ninde, right, works with students in their garden at Centreville Elementary School in Centreville, Va.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week