Managing Up: A Path to Professional Learning

The early years in the classroom can be a daunting experience for novice teachers. Nieto (2018) recounted her struggles as a first-year teacher and the challenges of other classroom teachers who persisted despite the difficulty. Too often, novice teachers have few opportunities to participate in meaningful professional learning experiences to improve their practice. Having a licensed educator in a classroom is not enough to ensure sustainable growth for teachers and students. Well-intentioned school leaders succumb to competing priorities (Kim et al, 2019), which often overshadow the professional learning needs of new and experienced educators.  

The myriad of items on a school leader’s “to do” list can inadvertently sabotage their efforts to provide effective instructional leadership for the novice, mid-career, and veteran teacher. Engaging novice teachers in customized professional learning opportunities develops their pedagogical practice, improves their self-confidence, and prevents an early exit from the profession. Mid-career teachers benefit from professional learning activities which refine their teaching and prepare them for potential peer leadership roles, e.g., department chair. Veteran teachers need to engage in continuous learning to share best practices, serve as models for their colleagues and prepare for roles as instructional leaders. However, shifting the practice of a good principal or assistant principal to a great instructional leader sometimes requires teachers to manage up. 

Managing up is a term synonymous with corporate industries as an approach to making a manager’s job easier and cultivating a positive work relationship with a supervisor whose leadership style may not align with your work style (Pohle, 2021). As an educator, managing up may be less about appeasing a superior and more about charting a healthy and productive path for your professional growth and development. The critical difference between managing up in a corporate environment and an educational environment is the potential impact on your school leader’s ability to lead effectively, the trajectory of your pedagogical practice, and student outcomes.  

Recommendations for Teachers

1. Communication--Communicate your professional learning needs. Email your request or voice your need during a department meeting. Secure a tentative date and time to discuss your needs in person (or virtually).

2. Follow Up--Confirm the meeting and follow up if you do not get a response or actionable commitment.

3. Accountability and Impact--During the meeting, communicate how the professional learning activities align with your professional goals and the potential impact on student outcomes

4. Sustainability—Indicate your need to participate in a series of sessions on a topic or multiple opportunities, e.g., workshop (in-person or virtual), webinar, conference, to strengthen your practice in a particular area (One-off workshops are not sustainable).

5. Return on Investment—If there are costs (time, human resources, and financial) associated with the professional learning activities, propose how your school leader will see a return on investment. Be willing to present your new learning in a department or team meeting, model new learning for colleagues or conduct action research.  



Nieto, S. (2018). Beginning is always the hardest. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 54(1), 8-13.

doi: 10.1080/00228958.2018.1407167


Pohle, A. (2021). How to manage up at work. The Wall Street Journal.  Retrieved on October 25,

2021 from


Kim, A., Hanna, T., & Dotres, J. (2019). Anchors for resilience: Strategies and routines resilient

leaders use to balance competing priorities. Learning Professional, 40(5), 18-19, 21, 23. Retrieved on October 25, 2021 



Marcia Sobers-Charles, Ed. D

NCU Alumna, Class of 2021

School of Education