The Best Investment of Time and Energy for Principals: The Assistant Principal

In my work at the Central Office working with various school buildings in our district and talking with other Central Office Administrators from other districts, I discovered a glaring professional development gap in schools. While attention on the development of curriculum, school safety, teacher professionalism, differentiating instruction, and positive behavior supports, the development of the Assistant Principal by the Principal has been neglected.

While pre-service Principals took classes or attended workshops on how to work academically and behaviorally with teachers, students, and parents, nothing exists for Principals to develop their Assistant Principal (AP). Left to their own core beliefs and approaches, I have witnessed Principals work differently with their APs to build their leadership capacity.

With clear and overt plans and practices, Principals can not only provide the necessary professional development their APs might need, but also build a better team for their students, teachers, and parents. Through my work with districts across the state, I have 5 Keys for Success for Principals to consider with their APs:

  1. Support Their Learning – While there is a lot on your plate with academic concerns, assemblies, discipline, lunch schedules, parent meetings, and staff needs, it is imperative you conduct a thorough evaluation process with your APs. Do you work with them to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses? Do you create shared goals for the year? Do you provide overt and timely feedback? Once areas of need are identified, it is necessary to help develop an action plan for their improvement.  These should be short weekly meetings on how they are progressing in their professional goals with mid-course corrections.
  1. Coach Them Up! – The Principal’s role with their AP is to determine where they are in their understanding of educational initiatives and leadership, and coach them up. One Principal used this approach by telling his AP he would be presenting to the staff on the changes in the State Report Card in three weeks. With proper support, the Principal provided feedback on the AP’s workplan, provided feedback on his presentation, coached him with resources and other people to talk to, and allowed him to practice with the administrative team and then a department chair meeting before presenting to the whole staff. The result is now having an AP who is an expert on the District Report Card and looked at as the point person for questions in the future among the staff.
  1. Send Them Away – Let’s be honest and remember your first year as AP. You took a majority of parent complaints and student discipline. To avoid burn-out, do you give opportunities for your AP to get away from the building? Not for an expulsion meeting at the Central Office or a handbook workshop. A true leadership, Principal conference. Expose them to new ideas and network with other thought leaders. Not only will your AP come back inspired and rejuvenated, but he/she will better lead initiatives from a higher level of understanding.
  1. Find Their Style – Just like we expect our teachers to differentiate to the various learning styles of students in their classroom, we have to recognize the various learning styles of our APs.  Say there are two APs working on a similar project in two different buildings. One AP only needs encouragement and some direction to lead the initiative. The other AP needs time with the Principal to sit down and develop a plan, ask questions, and practice presentations to lead the same initiative. While latter may be frustrated initially with the time spent, the focus should be on the initiative being accomplished with great success in both buildings. Principals need to find the learning style of their APs and leverage that to lead.  Principals need to remember that not everyone learns or needs the same support as themselves to lead.
  1. Let Them Lead – Although it may be hard to give up control, it is necessary for you to let them lead. Do you let them lead or just manage? Provide them opportunities to lead in a department. Let them lead a staff meeting. Let them take over a student group or parent group. Knowing this may bring about many issues, provide support to them prior. Ask questions about timelines and agendas. Have them practice, so you can provide feedback. Co-lead with them.

Before I finish, keep in mind one huge realization – not every Principal is lucky to have an AP in their building.  For the sanity and need to be efficient with a Principal’s time, letting their AP grow as a leader and be part of the team is vital. Principals need to know their weaknesses and see how their AP can leverage those areas. As the initiatives continue to increase in education, it is crucial Principals look to their AP as the best investment of their time and energy to enact positive change!

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