APs as Teacher Mentors

In an era when grow-your-own programs are so important in schools, assistant principals are uniquely positioned to mentor teachers so they can reach beyond their potential as teachers and move up in the educator pipeline.

Topics: Assistant Principals, Mentoring and Coaching

Throughout my teaching years, I have reported to several assistant principals (APs). I am fortunate to have had strong assistant principalship modeled to me when I was a teacher. They led with a willingness to teach and guide me. And because of their mentorship and support, I am now an assistant principal—and it’s my turn to pay it forward.

Build Relationships and Trust

The key to successful mentoring is a trusting relationship. Relationship-building—and relationship-maintaining—must not be left to chance. It is far too important to not be prioritized. Depending on whether the AP is an extrovert or introvert, relationship-building might come easily, or it may be more challenging. Either way, there are techniques to get more comfortable and set the teacher at ease as well.

  • Be genuine. When conversing with staff, greet them by name, smile with your eyes, and don’t look at your phone. This conveys you do have a personal interest in who they are and their
  • Find a connection—not related to school. Rather than every conversation being school talk, be sure to ask teachers questions about their interests and personal lives. If you struggle to start conversations, take a tip from Jerry Seinfeld. His famous advice is to ask a numbers-based question. Ask how many pets or children they have or how long they’ve lived in the area. Then, watch for a spark—or the eyebrow raise. When they engage with you, show interest and encourage reciprocity by asking them “How about you?”
  • Remember the conversation. Being present helps you remember the conversation to build on next time. It’s important for relationship-building and to build trust when you get to know teachers on a deeper level. With the fast pace of a typical school day, a conversation might be interrupted by a bell, the radio calling, or another urgent matter. Remember where you left off; this will be your jumping off point the next time you talk.
  • Be intentional. There might be a teacher you just haven’t been able to develop a closeness with yet. Try the 2×10 strategy (it’s not just for students). Take just 2 minutes to talk with them about a topic they like and do this for 10 days in a Be intentional, and seek them out. After 10 days, you might just find you have developed a relationship of trust with that teacher.

Mentoring Begins

Once you have a trusted, authentic relationship with the teacher, mentoring begins. This occurs through many coaching conversations over a long-term period. If you are prepared and looking for mentoring moments, you will find them. Every conversation is an opportunity to mentor.

  1. Set goals. Have a goal or purpose based on what you’ve observed about the teacher and where they need to develop. Have stories at the ready to illustrate your claims. Know what type of conversation you’re in—coaching, collaborative, consulting, relationship-building, or evaluative—and let teachers know which type it is, if you sense it’s needed.
  2. Make mentor moments. When a positive relationship exists between and AP and a teacher, brief but meaningful conversations can happen throughout the day. I call these mentor moments. Being knowledgeable about teachers, prepared, and intentional will enable you mentor in the moment, at any
  3. Use walkthroughs. Opportunities can be found in APs’ daily When observing teachers’ instruction and pedagogy, their management of classrooms, and their relationship-building with students, you can provide specific and powerful feedback. This can be in written form or verbally, often sparking a future, lengthier conversation.
  4. Embed meaningful messages. Be intentional about embedding meaningful and memorable experiences in staff meetings. These messages should communicate the school’s vision and values, as well as provide modeling of best practices. Share insights that are relevant to the challenges facing teachers at that time by facilitating rich inquiry (Bonus: This might deflect some of the “This could have been an email” comments.)
  5. Open your door—and mind. Communicate that your door—and your mind—is open. Teachers will feel comfortable stopping by the office when you’ve made yourself approachable and have established relationships of trust.
  6. Stay focused. Your time should be highly focused and intentional so every action accomplishes multiple goals. Considering the many occasions APs and teachers cross paths throughout the day, mentor moments can be found.

When APs mentor teachers, benefits to the entire school community emerge. The experiences, knowledge, skills, and perspective provided by the APs strengthens teachers. And you grow as an AP because it’s an opportunity to hone and refine your skills. These combined efforts are magnified through the mentorship relationship. The school community is strengthened because a culture of trust and learning is cultivated.

Randi Fielding is assistant principal of Magma Ranch K–8 in Florence, Arizona.