A principal mentoring his AP in teamwork
Leadership Insights

Principal as Instructional Coach: Mentoring Your AP in Leadership and Teamwork

By Terry Wilhelm February 24, 2015

As a principal of a midsize elementary school, I did not have an assistant principal, and envied my colleagues at larger schools who did. Having another administrator to confide in, bounce around ideas with, and to simply share the load seemed like a wonderful leadership advantage.

Maximizing opportunities for AP leadership

My aim in this series on mentoring your AP is to help principals maximize that opportunity — not only for themselves, but also for their APs, who are the future principals of your district. Principals want their APs to complement their own leadership and present a united front to teachers, parents, and students.

How can you discover your AP’s hidden strengths, especially those that you may not share? How do you begin to allow your AP to apply them in ways that will help your school grow without feeling threatened in your own role as the top leader, upon whom all responsibility for staff and student safety, and student learning, ultimately falls?

How (not) to share leadership with your AP

A principal I’ll call Ann was selected to open a brand new middle school — a position many of her colleagues envied. Although Ann was able to select most of her teachers, Melanie, her assistant principal, had already been hired. Ann was an experienced middle school principal; Melanie had one successful year of AP experience under her belt, and had been a member of the district staff development team.

While there were no apparent conflicts between Ann and Melanie, I found it odd that Ann was always dismissive of her AP’s capabilities, and went out of her way to prevent Melanie from having any sort of visibility at the district level — even in situations where her own school and others would have benefited from Melanie’s professional development expertise.

Entirely by coincidence, I discovered that Ann had a close friend in a neighboring district who was desperate to move to another position, and Ann was planning to retire within two years. She had mentally handpicked her successor, and obviously did not want district leaders to become too enamored of Melanie.

Principals who mentor their APs form an effective team

Sadly, in my observation, this mindset prevented Ann from forming a functional, coherent team with her AP. Although Melanie frequently offered to take on a variety of roles and responsibilities that would have alleviated Ann’s workload, only those tasks that kept Melanie behind the scenes and off the district radar were assigned to her by Ann.

Ann did not have a strong background in several areas that were Melanie’s forte. Ultimately, it was Ann’s loss — and her school’s and her students’ — that she was unable to capitalize on them.

Questions principals should ask themselves

Your relationship with your AP is doubtless much healthier than this one. However, I would still invite you to consider these questions:

  • What are my areas of strength in leadership in curriculum, instruction, and
  • Which are my weaker areas?
  • Which of these areas are my AP’s relative strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do I allow my AP to only work in operational areas, such as discipline? If so, is
    this mainly because I dislike being involved in those areas?
  • Am I willing to share leadership in curriculum, instruction, and assessment?
  • Am I doing everything possible to allow my AP’s leadership to complement my own? If not, what is the barrier?

Sharing the load of responsibility is one of the personal benefits of having an assistant principal. Thinking beyond personal benefits, your school can benefit greatly from tapping into your AP’s natural strengths. Students and your school’s culture can improve in a variety of ways.

Related: Principal as Instructional Coach: AP Leadership and Teacher Evaluations

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