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Les Potter is currently the director of the American International School West in Cairo, Egypt. Les has over 40 years in educational leadership in the US and Egypt and most recently has been a...
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Growing Your Own - Preparing for the Principalship

All senior educators are very concerned about the tremendous need for new and better principals. Different strategies are in place to fill vacancies in the principalship. Principals can be developed from the existing ranks of educators, hired from outside the education field or through a combination of both. To meet the immediate needs, most school districts want to grow their own principals. Many districts will hire from outside their districts but there can be a learning curve involved. Growing your own almost ensures a good basic knowledge of the schools, policies, communities, etc.

The benefits of growing your own principals are obvious. Graduate schools do not provide enough of the “practical” training that most teachers need to be knowledgeable assistant principals let alone principals. Assistant principals often are confined to the three “Bs” of management: buses, books and butts. In other words, doing what is needed to allow the school to function but not providing the experience needed to “lead” a school. An assistant principal is usually a manager that my not acquire the experience to become a principal or leader. A leader is someone who creates a vision the lead the staff to hopefully school improvement. The assistant principal is on board with the vision (hopefully) and assists to make sure the train stays on the tracks.

Most school districts have some type of mentorship or principal training program for their future school leaders, but even the most sophisticated programs can fall short of its goal. I have seen preparation programs that are chalk talk with written assignments. Not what is needed to help the assistant principal acquire the skills needed to lead a school.

In my experience of an educational administrator since 1977, is the practical, hands on approach for the assistant principal to grow and be successful. I was principal of seven secondary schools with one to up to seven assistant principals in each school.  I believe meeting with the assistant principals at least once a week to discuss issues, goals, ideas, etc. is essential. The future principal does not need to be isolated in their own little world and office without an understanding of the “big picture”.  I believe that assistant principals should have their roles and duties expanded and changed to keep them learning and growing. After a year or so, switch some of the responsibilities among your assistant principals (you can even include your department heads or team leaders). Have the AP for a year or two, work with facilities, transportation, textbooks, etc. then in the future have them learn about the school budget, curriculum, visit classrooms to observe and evaluate teachers, get involved with the scheduling process, etc. Not only does this keep the assistant principal “fresh” but it helps with job sharing and with the preparation of a knowledgeable principal.

I understand that some school districts will move assistant principals from one school to another and I personally think this is good if it is the same alignment. This gives the assistant principal a fresh start with no bias from the old teachers (it is a different role and perspective to go from an AP to a principal at the same school). I do not agree that a ten-year assistant principal at a large high school in July becomes the new principal of a small elementary school on August 1st. Often the last time the new principal was in an elementary school was as a student. I do not think this is fair to the administrator, teachers or students. Obviously, there is a huge difference between elementary pedagogy, structure, goals, curriculum, etc. between a secondary and an elementary school. If your district does have a habit of doing this then I would encourage assistant principals to try and find out from the superintendent if you are in consideration for a transfer like this. If so, then I would try and learn as much as I could about the school (whether elementary, middle or high) as I could.

Empowering your assistant principals as once described by Diane Tracy about 30 years ago but is still relevant:

  • Tell your people what their roles and responsibilities are.
  • Give them authority equal to the responsibility assigned to them.
  • Set standards of excellence.
  • Give them the training they need as well as the knowledge and information.
  • Give them immediate feedback on their performance---be encouraging.
  • Recognize them for their achievements.
  • Trust them.
  • Give them permission to fail but help them succeed.
  • Treat them (and everyone) with dignity and respect.

Assistant principals need to develop their own leadership style. Working with your principals (and reading) can help you do this.

I believe it is a responsibility of a principal to work closely with assistant principals who want to be promoted to get them ready for the move. I also feel it is the responsibility of the district to put the best administrative team at each school.

 

Les Potter, Ed. D.

Director
American International School West
Cairo, Egypt