A principal developing her Assistant Principal's leadership skills
Leadership Insights

Principal as Instructional Coach: Strategies for Developing Your AP in Leadership

By Terry Wilhelm September 2, 2014

Principals often begin the mentoring process for their assistant principals through shadowing. Shadowing requires virtually no planning, although frequent debriefs are needed to maximize its value. These can be both on-the-fly and “after action reviews” of what has recently transpired. Either way, it is up to the principal to initiate the debriefs.

Why principals should prioritize leadership development for APs

To strategically and intentionally develop your AP to become a future principal in your district, some formalized, planned mentoring should be built in to your mutual schedules. If this sounds like pie-in-the-sky thinking as you read the words, consider this: the investment of time that you make in your AP will save you time in the long run.

Why? At the very least, you will save time mopping up her or his mistakes, since fewer will be made if you begin your relationship with regular, formalized discussions about topics you introduce, coupled with shadowing and debriefing as described above. This is the most effective kind of on-the-job training.

As your AP begins to spread her wings and take on tasks and responsibilities you assign to her, she will not only avoid the most obvious blunders, but will be immediately more effective than she would have been using trial and error to begin her leadership practice.

I am not advocating that principals develop a formal curriculum for their APs. But more states are launching upgraded credentialing programs for new administrators that include formal coaching, such curricula. There’s also much more of a focus on high quality MEd and EdD administrative leadership programs.

Skilled APs are built from both graduate studies and practical experience

Your AP already took university coursework at the graduate level to become an administrator in your state. These courses, however, taken while the candidates are still classroom teachers, do not enable learning in context. Now your AP has a context.

Therefore, I suggest that you think through a very simple outline of topics to cover during mentoring sessions over the academic year. This could be based on the domains of your district’s administrative evaluation instrument or state leadership standards (if your state has them). Here are a few ideas:

Student discipline

Student discipline is a logical place to start. As your AP begins to shadow you, be explicit about your philosophy of student discipline. This is an area where consistency within the administrative team is essential.

Teacher supervision

Another area is teacher supervision. Your assistant principal will doubtless be responsible in her very first year for supervising teachers generally, and formally evaluating specific teachers and support staff members, but she has never done these things. Her experience is limited to being evaluated herself, as a teacher.

Budgeting

Another area where many APs bemoan their lack of knowledge and experience is budgeting. They lack not only the bare-bones technical knowledge about budgeting, but more importantly, an understanding of how to maximize fiscal resources to support the instructional program.

Finding the time for regular meetings with your assistant principal

Consider taking a quiet moment somewhere and roughing out an outline of topics you might introduce and discuss this academic year. Then figure out a way to carve out the time with your AP for these discussions. Is there room for a biweekly lunch? Hiding out for an hour before some specific, evening supervision (dance, athletic event) that you both have to stay at school for anyway?

Develop a simple calendar that will work for both of you. Your assistant principal will not only feel affirmed by the investment of time in her development, she will become an even stronger leadership ally for all of your endeavors. And you will be accelerating the development of a leader for your school and your district.

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