So You Want to Be an AP

An assistant principal from Georgia offers tips for finding success in the position.

By Catana Harris

Reflecting over the past few years as a novice assistant principal, I remember the time before this new role, this new chapter of my life in education. I recall being inspired, motivated, determined, and full of excitement about how I was going to make a difference in the lives of students on a larger scale. I remember specifically writing this in the goal statement on my resume and repeating it to anyone who would listen.

If only, I had a crystal ball that would predict the pitfalls that I would encounter along my journey toward finding my leadership voice and style. Honestly, I could not even imagine what it took for school leaders to grow into their leadership style while meeting the needs of students, teachers, parents, and community members without breaking a nail or a sweat. How did they become leaders that others followed and admired?

And My Journey Begins

“Hello, Ms. Harris, I would like to extend the offer to join our administrative team. We believe that you will add value to our school community.” Those words, I had imagined; my reaction to those words, I had envisioned. My response to those words, “Really?” Little did I know that life as I knew it as a teacher was about to abruptly change and the only movement now was forward.

I accepted the position with great enthusiasm—and without knowing what I did not know. I thought I would step into the role and hit the ground running because I had been blessed with leaders who made leading a school look easy.

But I soon discovered that as an elementary school assistant principal, my days are filled with duties and responsibilities that I never imagined I would encounter. Was this truly the role in education that I had dreamed about for years? Through my rose-colored glasses, I envisioned how my days as an assistant principal would look. In my naïve state of leadership, I could only see a school day of students ready to learn, teachers providing high quality instruction in every classroom throughout the building, and hard-working supportive parents sending their absolute best to us each day.

Manager of Stuff

Shockingly, I was introduced to a form of isolation I never saw coming—a newfound never-ending balance of managing “stuff” that took me away from the teaching and learning that I thrived on as a teacher. I had been removed from the collaborative interactions that had become so familiar to this new role of “manager of stuff.”

Unlike the leaders I had admired, I have broken many nails—and broken into many sweats. There were tears, too. They were unexpected. I never saw the tears from these leaders I had admired.

Now what?

Now, that the initial shock of the transition from teacher to assistant principal has begun to subside, I am now able to assess the damage to identify needs and develop a plan to address those needs. As I reflect upon my entrance into the role by fire, as some say, I am now in a place of quiet reflection similar to the center of a tornado and still I have a front row seat and full view of all of the “stuff” that comes along with my roles and responsibilities as an assistant principal.

It is my hope that I have not deterred anyone reading this article from entering into the realm of school leadership because now that I am on the other side of the storm, I can definitely identify steps I could have taken to make my transition smoother.

Believe it or not, I still aspire to make a difference in the lives of students on a larger scale as an assistant principal, but instead of going it alone as I did in the beginning, there are some strategic moves that I have taken to assist me in jumping over hurdles and handling pitfalls that have presented themselves along the way. My rose-colored glasses have long since been removed, and, in their place, I have a new toolkit of go-to strategies:

  • I surround myself with a team of mentors with varying leadership strengths. We are who we surround ourselves with.
  • I pursue and commit to professional learning for myself consistently without excuse or hesitation. I am a learning leader.
  • I collaborate with other assistant principals and learn from their experience as they will learn from mine. Teamwork makes the dream work.
  • I build relationships and nurture them from the lowest station to the highest. It takes a village.
  • I think about and collect all pertinent information before responding or making a decision. I am never in the boat alone.

In reality, there are still moments that I fail and fall, but now without hesitation, I pull myself up, remind myself why I chose this path in education, and repeat a familiar mantra: I want to make a difference in the lives of students on a larger scale.

Catana Harris is an assistant principal at Minor Elementary School in Lilburn, Georgia.