A principal delegating to her Assistant Principal
Leadership Insights

Principal as Instructional Coach: Shared Tasks Vs. Delegation to Develop AP Leadership

By Terry Wilhelm September 30, 2014

A key concept in this continuing series on developing assistant principal leadership is differentiating between shared leadership and delegation. Earlier columns discuss the value of shadowing and debriefing and the advantages of outlining a schedule of topics in leadership development, then carving out the time to address them together.

As you begin to assign specific responsibilities to your assistant principal, it is wise to pause and consider whether the new task can simply be delegated, or whether a gradual development of shared leadership is more likely to bring success for both the AP and the initiative.

Delegating a responsibility presumes that the AP has the background skills and knowledge to fulfill it. But sometimes principals assume too much.

What to consider before delegating to your AP

Is the AP new to the site? If so, she may unaware of its history, which can lead to unexpected results when she encounters pushback from staff because her expectations are not congruent with policies and precedent they are accustomed to.

Inexperience can lead to technical or interpersonal missteps

Has your assistant principal done this task, or similar ones, before? A first-time AP — although she may have been an instructional coach or other type of teacher-on-special-assignment — has never had certain experiences before as an administrator.

For example, she has never evaluated teachers or other staff members. It can be very easy to make a technical misstep, which can have contractual ramifications, or an interpersonal misstep, which, at best, will not enable the teacher or staff member to learn and grow.

Operational responsibilities assigned to APs

Unfortunately, since principals are so overloaded with non-instructional tasks, these are sometimes simply delegated to APs without sufficient preparation. Assistant principals are typically assigned operational responsibilities that include:

  • Managing mandated testing program logistics
  • Overseeing textbook orders
  • Completing and updating district-mandated plans such as Safe Schools Plans
  • Submitting accountability reports

It can be a mistake to assume the AP will be able to figure out what to do by simply referring to the files or binders of past documents. Taking the time to sit down together and discuss the task — including review of any available past documentation — is a worthwhile investment.

Growing an assistant principal’s role over time

Sharing leadership requires even more time, up front and throughout the process, than delegation. Sharing implies that the principal will keep her hand in the leadership, although the AP’s role will grow over time. Sadly, some assistant principals never have the opportunity to participate in instructional leadership until they become principals themselves, leaving them underprepared for the most critical aspect of their future role.

A principal can begin by identifying one important area of instructional leadership, such as developing and fulfilling her own action plans for instructional improvement at her school — which may or may not be an accountability item for the district office — to begin the process of sharing leadership with the AP. The AP does not have to participate in every aspect of the initiative, but giving her an overall understanding of it and offering her a supporting role enhances its chance of success.

Sharing leadership can strengthen schools and districts

Principals are sometimes reluctant to share or even delegate responsibilities because of their belief that “the buck stops here.” Anything an assistant principal does poorly can boomerang right back to the principal.

However, trying to control and do almost everything personally is a grave mistake that I have observed too many principals make. Shared leadership is simply stronger, more effective, and wiser than solo leadership. The AP is there to assist — and also to grow.

Assistant principals are the future of the district. Principals owe it to themselves, their schools, and their districts to develop their APs in leadership to the greatest extent possible.

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