Principal as Instructional Coach: Developing Your AP in Leadership
APs are generally viewed as being in the pipeline for principalships in the districts where they work, and as such, the mentorship of their principals is key to their development.
Assistant principals need broad experience and mentoring
Unfortunately, too many APs experience their role within very narrow confines, chiefly handling student discipline. They may also have smaller technical tasks, such as responsibility for state and local testing logistics, textbooks, supply orders, and so on.
Some assistant principals receive little or no mentoring or guidance. As one teacher leader who is completing his administrative credential confided, “I think I will be given my keys, my radio, and expected to know what to do.”
This parallels the experience of new teachers, many of whom leave the profession after their first year in the absence of mentoring, or student teachers, who hope and expect to work under a master teacher, but instead find their senior colleagues delightedly leaving them in charge with next to no guidance.
Start with shadowing
Given the frenetic life of a principal, how can you develop your fledgling AP, given that what you really need is an immediate expert, full-time partner to help share the huge administrative load of running a school?
In my experience, principals who do the best job mentoring their APs often start off with shadowing. This means that rather than dividing the load, in the beginning, they work in tandem; the principal takes the lead while the assistant principal sits in, observing, with frequent debriefing about the things the principal is doing.
Principal perfection is not required, but interpersonal skills are
Do not feel that you have to be perfect as a model for shadowing to benefit your AP. Be honest about the areas where you are still working on your own practice. Begin to solicit his or her ideas about various aspects of school operations and instructional initiatives. On the fly, you can share your philosophy, what has worked and not worked for you in the past, and tips about both operational and instructional leadership tasks.
If you hired or had input into the selection of your AP, you probably already know some of your new assistant’s strengths. You can build on those, and she or he can quickly begin to complement you in your leadership. If your assistant principal was simply assigned to you, be sure to take time to get to know him or her, both as a person and a professional. A new AP can bring new energy and enthusiasm to a school, so don’t miss the opportunity to capitalize on that and encourage this leader’s advancement.