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Les Potter received his doctorate from the University of South Carolina. Les has over 45 years in school administration and educational leadership including: Assistant to the Superintendent (...
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So You Want To Be The Principal

Many assistant principals (AP) aspire to the principalship, but some simple strategies can make those aspirations become reality.

The assistant principal job is complex, demanding and often underappreciated. Its complexity is true regardless of whether it is in an elementary, middle or high school; in a rural, suburban, or urban location; in a large, medium, or small school; or the only assistant principal or one of several.

School district leaders as well as parents, students, community members and teachers expect an assistant principal to be a contributing leader on the administrative team. There is a steep learning curve for every new assistant principal and because the AP is a member of the team they must know the roles and responsibilities of that position.

Improve your odds. Although in your average school district there are usually many more assistant principals then there are principles. You can figure that all APs that aspire to the principalship may not reach their goals.  You can improve your odds by taking a few "simple" steps towards the principalship.

Set goals for yourself. Develop short and long term objectives. How does an AP get promoted in your district? Do your bosses know your goals? In my first principalship in the 1980's we had an outstanding assistant principal that was quiet but extremely efficient. He had been in this position for years and everyone thought he was content to retire in that job. One day I asked him about his career goals and he said i want to be a principal. No one knew as he never said a word about it until I asked.

If you want to be promoted, you must make it happen. Find out the steps that it takes to be promoted-do them and be patient. I have seen APs be promoted after one year on the job or they stay an assistant principal for many years. It takes a plan, hard work and luck.

Learn what the principal knows. You may be the manager in charge of discipline, transportation, room assignments. etc. but the principal is the instructional leader. The principal must be an expert in curriculum and instruction. An excellent AP does not necessarily mean that he/she will be an excellent principal. They are two different jobs. Be prepared to learn what the principal does. If you can shadow the principal, observe teachers, attend curriculum meetings, and get out of your comfort zone.

Having taken leadership courses in graduate school is helpful but it will not replace the hands on experience of working with the curriculum and instruction.

When possible get involved with district committees. There are usually many to choose from. This will help you learn more about your district but the superintendent and others see you not as an AP but as a potential principal. Attend school board meetings. Get to know and see in action your superintendent and board members.

Work on your doctorate. Having a doctorate in educational leadership or curriculum and instruction will only help you to get to your next goal. If you can't do this (or already have a doctorate) keep current with the many educational trends, technology and issues.

Keep your resume and portfolio up to date. You never know when you may need it. I would recommend updating your resume and portfolio at least on a yearly basis. If a principal position opens up and you want to apply for it, you will probably be asked to submit your resume. It is very difficult to remember what you have done or accomplished over the last ten years. It is a lot easier and more effective if you keep your resume and portfolio current.

Be Flexible. If you have been in a position for years and you feel that you have learned all that you can there, consider requesting a transfer, either to another school at the same grade level where you can learn from a different principal or a school at another grade level. If you have been an AP at a high school, consider moving to a middle school. This will give you a different experience but it will open up more opportunities for you to be promoted as you now have administrative experience in both high school and middle school. I always recommended that you look for a position that gives you more experience in different  aspects of administration. Sometimes at a middle school you might be an AP for grade 7 and you may be in charge of the entire 7th grade: hiring the teachers, observing and evaluating teachers, scheduling,  discipline, testing, etc. as opposed to being an AP in a large high school where you are just in charge of data.

Work on your leadership style. Most APs will mirror the leadership style of the principal but this is a great time to start exploring different styles. If you were named principal tomorrow, what is your leadership style? How do you handle situations and plan for success? Fail to plan, plan to fail. Create a vision of what you would do to be principal of a school. How do you want to lead a school? What fits your personality and belief system? Every school is different and every situation is different. I was principal of seven secondary schools in four states in the US. They are all different but the outcome is the same. Develop the best school that you can given the resources that you are handed.

Keep learning and good luck!


Dr. Les Potter
Assistant to the Superintendent
The American International School West, Cairo