Skip to content

Building Capacity in Assistant Principals: Is on the job training enough? (Part 3)

Developing Instructional LeadersLeadership_web

In Part 1 of “Building Capacity in Assistant Principals” we looked at why it is important to work with your current assistant principals to develop their instructional leadership skills. In Part 2 we focussed on how to assess the readiness of your current APs and identify which will be ready to move up if the need arises. In Part 3 we look at how to build that capacity.

6 Key strategies to build your assistant principal benchThree-key-strategies-for-MLM-domination1

  1. Differentiate your approach: Assess the readiness of each of your assistant principals based on the questions mentioned in Part 2. We developed a list of “Ready to roll”, “Emerging leaders”, and “Future hopefuls”. Our “Ready to roll” APs were ones who we believed that, with a little support, could step into the role of principal in their building or another in the district on a moment’s notice. “Emerging leaders” were lacking strength in one or two areas, needed mentoring and could, in two or three years, assume the role of instructional leader. “Future hopefuls” needed quite a bit more talent development in several areas. DoDEA21’s “Self-Assessment and Reflection Continuum”  can be used as a good starting place to identify key traits of instructional leaders.
  2. Identify your strongest sitting principals: If your district has a cadre of principals that are visionaries and strong instructional leaders that communicate well, use their talents: ask them what leadership development they would have liked when they started out; enlist them to be mentors; have them participate in collaborative walk-through observations; let them be the capacity builders and champions of your future administrators.
  3. Develop a mentor program: Never assume that a building principal will have the time, inclination or ability to mentor their AP.  Enlist your current principals to work with your “Ready to roll” and “Emerging leaders” and strongest assistant principals for your “Future hopefuls”. Set aside dedicated time during principals’ meetings or district leadership academies for mentors to work with your APs. Be purposeful in your pairings: relationship building is key in a mentorship program.
  4. Create a Leadership Academy: We have monthly leadership meetings in which the focus is professional learning for our administrators. Principals attend a morning session on a variety of topics: student engagement; crucial conversations, providing feedback, crisis management etc.. In the afternoon the assistant principals attend the same sessions, but they are geared toward developing these skills rather than reviewing/reinforcing them.
  5. Create Professional Learning Groups (PLGs) for your assistant principals: Make sure your APs meet as a group regularly to discuss the role of the assistant principal; have them present on professional learning topics to district administrators and principals; give them an opportunity to practice being on center stage and provide leadership opportunities on district committees. Offer seminars on timely topics that target their various levels of readiness.
  6. When hiring a new AP assume your are hiring a future principal: The one factor that has enabled us to build capacity from within and not continually be scrambling for good principals to fill openings has been strategic hiring of assistant principals. When we have an opening for an AP position we screen candidates on the assumption that we are hiring future principals. It is through this lens that we craft interview questions, writing tasks and panel discussions.

Have a succession plan

Don’t spend time, energy and resources on talent development if you don’t plan on hiring from within. Nothing discourages an excellent assistant principal more than being overlooked for position after position. Provide feedback to APs that interview unsuccessfully for openings in your district and offer support for their improvement. Assess the future needs of each building and future building construction and create a timeline of your assistant principals’ readiness to assume the role of instructional leader.

Forward momentum towards academic excellence requires continuity and planning. Look inward for your future leaders and take an active role in developing them by building capacity of your assistant principals.