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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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Tips for the Aspiring Principal

Many assistant principals (although not all) want to be a principal. To be an assistant principal (AP) at any educational level is a very complex, demanding and difficult challenge and always underappreciated. So is the principalship! In most school districts they have three to four times the number of APs as principal’s so the numbers alone may mean that you might never become a principal. Here are some simple strategies that I hope will make those aspiration become reality!

The AP is the usual entry level position but having experience as a team leader, head of department, athletic director, grade chairmen is also very valuable to prepare yourself for the principalship. Not only do you gain experience to help make you a better principal, but it allows your colleagues to see you in administrative roles.

Set goals for yourself---short term and long-term objectives that are reachable if all of the stars are aligned for you! Sometimes you can be too young (someone’s perception) or too old (someone’s perception) for an administrative job. At what educational position would you like to end your career? Start working towards that goal: another degree, more AP experience, working at a different educational level, etc. If your goal is to move up the school district career ladder, then find out all the protocols about how to proceed.

Get involved---volunteer for committee assignments, particularly at the district level-so the people who decide your future can get a chance to see you. Volunteer in the local community and make connections with community leaders. Superintendents want to see administrators that are willing to give time and energy to the school, district and community.

Develop an action plan---think about how you will respond to setbacks. Ask yourself, what do I do if I don’t reach my established goals by the deadlines I set for myself? Can and should I use mentors to help me be successful? What is plan “B”? Planning your career takes a lot of time and work and it must be flexible as your goals as well as your opportunities change.

Where do you want to work---in your present district out of state? Are you career or place bound? Have certification will travel. Can you move if needed? Do you want to learn more about different levels of schools to possibly give you more opportunities? This is usually a family decision.

Share your career aspirations---let your bosses know your short and long-term goals. Make an appointment to meet with them to discuss your goals, find your where they think you are the “best fit.” They make give you several suggestions but act on their suggestions soon. Superiors generally like to help others and usually everyone likes to see their advice followed.

Learn to live with vagueness---bosses will encourage you to pursue your goals, but they may not give you specifics school assignments or timelines for promotion. Also, superintendents, school board members and district administrators change and what you were once told may not be accurate now. Generally, you have little control of your promotion or assignment. As an administrator you must adjust to that vagueness.

Learn the principal’s job---while you are doing your current job, learn the principal’s roles and responsibilities. Principals need to create a vision for school improvement. Especially with testing and accountability. Understand climate and culture of a school. Learn the traditions and rituals. Most are hard to change.

Stay positive---do not be negative about your boss, parents, students, teachers, the district, board members, etc. that is political suicide. Stay positive! Would I want to hire a negative or positive principal?

Learn what the principal knows---learn about instruction, evaluations, Common Core, accountability, school budget, etc. As I mentioned earlier get involved on committee work (textbooks-discipline-calendar, etc.) at the district, attend school board meetings, get yourself recognized as a doer.

Be flexible---you might have to take a different path to get to your ultimate goal. Be ready and agreeable to any new assignment in the district. You hope that the added experience will be good for your career.

Work on your leadership style---if you are named principal tomorrow, what is your leadership style? How do you handle situations and plan for success? Fail to plan, plan to fail. What is a good fit for you and your school? Watch school leaders, take the good with the bad and process which works for you. You have one instance of a good and positive first impression to your school community. You may be new, but the expectations will be for you to create a vision, goals and standards for your school.

Keep a current resume and portfolio. Never stop learning! Good luck to you!


Les Potter, Ed. D.

American International School West
Cairo, Egypt