Reflections of an Assistant Principal

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Reflections of an Assistant Principal

As a teacher, I remember walking by my assistant principal’s office one day as he was leaning back in his chair smiling.  I distinctly remember the look on his face. He looked stress free. I had no idea what he was doing; however in that moment, I formulated a judgment that his administrator work compared to my teacher work was unmatched. In that moment, I felt he didn’t have to grade another paper, he can use the restroom at his leisure and have lunch at an appropriate break table instead of standing and monitoring students during lunch duty.

Boy was I wrong!  The tables turned for me when I was asked to leave the classroom to take a giant leap into administration.

Prior to the transition, I felt prepared for the responsibility in a number of ways. I had a very unique opportunity which offered me practical leadership experiences while pursuing my degree in administration. With this, I was acquainted with data analysis, discipline, intervention, public speaking, facilitating staff meetings, conferring with parents, coordinating testing programs, organizing school-wide events and leading initiatives like our inaugural digital learning environment and school accreditation teams. With all of this behind me, my first year demonstrated that it is always more to learn.  

The role of the assistant principal is a great deal more complex than most can conceive at first glance. As administrator you move from one thing to another in record time. Most of your day is not planned by you. You are responding to calls on the phone & the radio, potential disruptions to safety, impromptu visits and complaints. Some visualize it as more money, not accounting the additional days & nights worked to include weekends. It is often perceived as great since you have an office with a door that you can shut when you want to, not calculating the calls that you are taking with parents, counseling with students, providing feedback to teachers, planning with district office personnel and other work it takes to operate a school so it remains safe and secure, but most importantly that everyone on board has an excellent experience.

What I learned through this experience was there is no way to compare teacher duties vs. what administrators do. Both jobs have committed a service to students, parents and the community. The work is important on any side of the spectrum that you stand. That’s the bottom line.

Since I have stepped out on this path, I have had several people ask me about this role and my thoughts on leaving the classroom for administration. If you are considering venturing down this path, here are a few things that you should do in order to have a great experience:

  • Don’t leave the classroom because you’re tired of teaching. Remember you never stop being a teacher; in fact, instructing and developing adult learners is an entirely different level of expertise
  • You have to be comfortable with uncomfortable conversations and prepared to make decisions that are in the best interest of children.  
  • Management & Leadership are two different entities you need to be aware of how both will impact how well you perform at your job. Management is for your tasks; leadership is for your people.
  • Being silent about something is just as powerful as taking action. Some things will require you to take immediate action and some battles aren’t yours to fight. Decide with caution.
  • Take the time to reflect on why you are leaving the classroom, if it’s not because you want to help people in a great way. Re-think it.
  • Relationships matter; they are the key to accomplishing most of your work.
  • Though your day may not always go as planned, set daily goals for yourself so that you can manage your responsibilities in a timely fashion.
  • Dedicate time for white space whether that means going to the gym, reading for pleasure, walking around the mall, spending time with family, etc. There should be a cut off time for work so that you can refresh yourself for what is to come the next day. Unplugging is important.
  • Know your purpose for going into administration. It is servant leadership at best. You will be successful if you genuinely love people and don’t mind being everything to everybody.
  • You are there to assist your principal; however, you need to work each day with the end in mind. Set annual goals  for yourself and have an accountability partner or mentor that can keep you close to your goals.
  • Vow to work collaboratively. It helps to build capacity in others and helps balance your workload when you are not the only one with knowledge about a certain thing.

Administration is a huge responsibility; however, it should be ventured into with great consideration. Take it from me, it’s easy to make assumptions when you are not walking in someone’s shoes.


Cheryl Wilson is a former English Teacher and current Assistant Principal for Curriculum & Instruction in Richland School District One in Columbia, SC. She is a member of the 2015 ASCD Emerging Leader cohort and an SCASCD board member. Cheryl enjoys connecting with other educators; you can join her professional learning network on Twitter @only1clw

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