From Knowing to Showing: 9 Musts for an Assistant Principal

tie-690084_1280Today I will embark on a great journey. A journey that will undoubtably be riddled with turmoil and danger lurking around every corner. One that will put me face to face with fears I have yet to realise, and help me to discover the depth of my inner strength. There will be anxious moments, joyous moments, moments of defeat, and moments of sweet victory. It will be journey for which I vow to navigate with the determination of a beaver and the courage of a lion.

Today I become an Assistant Upper School Principal (insert ominous music here).

As student buses arrived I realised a goal that was set five years ago, when I took the advice of my then school director, and registered for a post graduate degree in educational leadership. There were times when I thought becoming a school administrator might not ever happen, and that my efforts were all for not. I also remember administrative recruitment discussion panels stressing patience, and so I continued to work hard.

And now sitting in an office, rather than a classroom, I am faced with a question that I perhaps should have asked a long long time ago.

What does the Assistant Upper School Principal at my school do?

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know educational leadership and pedagogy. I know how to motivate and empower teacher leaders. I know that change takes time and that teachers must feel valued and appreciated. I know curriculum is an ever changing entity (and that schools should have one), but now that I sit in this particular chair with my Google calendar opened up on the screen, I must now transition from knowing to showing.

Over the years I have been a sponge. Listening to and learning from past and present mentors, administrators, teachers, and students, has shaped they way I view my administrative role.

  1. Be early and stay late. This philosophy I developed while I was a teacher, and is a direct result of how I felt toward the actions of my administrators. Teachers work extremely hard, and I know that most often their their work day does not finish when they leave the classroom. I also know that the last thing teachers want to discover is that they are spending more time at school than their administration team. A great, simple way to show appreciation for your teaching team is be present when they arrive in the morning and leave in the afternoon. No teacher want to be working harder than their administrators, even if it is only perceived.
  2. Be visible. This is important for the entire administrative team, but it’s especially important for the assistant principal, who is often a direct link with faculty and students, as well as the one responsible for school discipline. Being visible not only allows for easy access when issues arise, it also helps you to keep your finger on the pulse of daily vibe of the school. The assistant principal should get out of the office during passing times, lunch breaks, for informal class observations, and whenever else it possible. Don’t forget to be seen in commonly used areas such as the athletic field, the library, the clinic, and the cafeteria. Just being visible can help to make life easier for everyone on campus.
  3. Walk the talk. All too often administrators are very good at creating and communicating a particular vision, but tend to drop the ball when it comes to their own actions. For example, at one of my past school the administrative team wanted teachers to enforce the uniform policy a bit more rigorously. At the same time that team could be seen ignoring uniform policy infractions. If you as an assistant principal want your faculty to act in a certain way, or uphold certain policy, than you better be a prime model of your expectation. You better be walking your own talk!
  4. Stay positive. Nothing can kill the cohesion and and effectiveness of a team like the words of a pessimistic leader. Teachers view the assistant principal as an example of what is acceptable and true, no matter what is being said. Therefore, if an assistant principal wishes to foster an educational atmosphere where everyone works effectively together toward a common goal, he or she must remain positive, no matter what!
  5. Be Social. A large part of the assistant principal’s position requires him or her to be social. Positive interactions with faculty and support staff help cultivate strong professional relationships built on respect and trust. Don’t underestimate to good that can come from engaging in conversation that doesn’t necessarily revolve around educational pedagogy. This does, however, bring to line a fine line on which effective leaders must balance. On one side assistant principals shouldn’t be afraid of developing such relationships, and on the other they must always remain an example of professionalism as they may one day be conducting performance evaluations
  6. Be approachable. While acting as a professional link to the principal the an assistant principal must remain approachable. This importance of this is magnified when you acknowledge that fact the assistant principal is the link for students, faculty, and often parents. By not being approachable, the assistant principal would be significantly limiting his or her ability to effectively perform the professional responsibilities associated with the position.
  7. Listen. This is an area in which I cannot over exaggerate the importance. There’s nothing more frustrating to me than speaking with someone whom I know isn’t really listening to what I am saying. I leave those conversations feeling undervalued and under appreciated. This is not how you want people to feel when they finish a conversation with you. As an assistant principal stop what you are doing and give the speaker your full attention. If they came to speak with you they feel the topic was of importance. Make them feel it’s important to you too by actually listening.
  8. Lead. Much has been discussed pertaining to the differences between leading and managing. In my opinion managers are great at organising people, scheduling, budgeting, and general operational routines. Leaders are managers that also guide and inspire people to work hard toward achieving an institutions educational vision. I am also of the opinion that all great leaders are great managers, but not all great managers are great leaders. An assistant principal must be more than a manager, they must lead.
  9. Care. This one can’t be faked. You either care or you don’t, and those around you will always know where you stand. If you’re passionate about your work your passion will spread, making your school a better place for the leaders of tomorrow.

No doubt, as my journey as the Assistant Upper School Principal continues, I will be faced with many situations that will test me on multiple levels.

Share your Principal Thoughts! Feel free to comment below.


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“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”

- John Maxwell

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