Moving On and Moving Up to the Principalship

Fine tune your resume, craft the perfect cover letter, prepare for that interview, and distinguish yourself among the other candidates this hiring season as you pursue the principalship.

Topics: Assistant Principals, Principal Pipeline

For many educators, teaching or leading a school as an assistant principal are stepping stones to the principalship. But how do you know when you’re ready to take the next step? And once you’ve decided you’re ready, how do you prepare to ensure you stand out among the other candidates? In a recent NAESP webinar, “Moving On and Moving Up,” leaders in the education community answered those questions and more to help you take the next step on your leadership journey.

During the webinar, presenters Gracie Branch, associate executive director of Professional Learning at NAESP; Michael Chirichello, a lifelong learner and educator; and Jessica Grant, assistant principal of Brandywine Elementary School in Brandywine, Maryland, shared their experiences and expertise in school leadership to help you fine tune your resume, prepare for that interview, and distinguish yourself among the other candidates. Here are top takeaways to help you move on and move up to the principalship.

Fine Tune Your Resume

Your resume should showcase leadership growth, your educational background, and interpersonal skills. This process starts long before you decide you’re ready to take the leap to administrator. Keep your resume on your desktop for quick access to update it as you grow your leadership or find new ways to highlight your interpersonal skills. That way, when you’re ready to make the move, some of the heavy lifting is done. During the webinar, Branch highlighted trends in resume-writing: using a resume summary in place of an objective, formatting in reverse-chronological order, listing job responsibilities using bullets, and matching your skill set to what the school is looking for in a principal.

But it isn’t just about experience: Keep your resume to two pages; make sure it’s grammatically correct (take advantage of that PLN to have them proof read!); use a readable font and size; include references, with permission; and link to your LinkedIn profile.

Craft the Perfect Cover Letter

What’s in a cover letter? This is your opportunity to be creative: Get the reader’s attention, clearly and quickly identify the job or position you’re applying for, and make the reader want to read your resume. Use details from the job posting to craft your cover letter.

Format your cover letter like a business letter, with the opening paragraph focusing on the position, the middle paragraph highlighting two skills that match the position description, and a closing paragraph that is compelling and makes it clear how they can reach you for an interview. Branch offers more tips for writing your cover letter and resume, along with a sample cover letter for inspiration.

Prepare for the Interview

You got the interview! Now what? Grant recommends aspiring administrators consider the following aspects of school leadership, and find an example or two of each that to use to show your expertise in these areas.

  • How will you display your knowledge of systemic big rocks, initiatives, and core values?
  • How will you articulate your readiness during the interview with high-leverage experiences?
  • How will you support teachers and teacher leaders?
  • What will set yourself apart from other candidates?
  • What processes have you supported regarding student culture?
  • How do you engage student families?

Then practice, practice, practice. Here’s a sampling of questions you might be asked during an interview.

  • Describe your leadership journey. How have those experiences prepared you for the role?
  • What systems and structures are necessary to support student and staff growth?
  • How have you used data to solve a specific problem? Please describe the problem, the data sources you used, and the outcome.
  • How do you differentiate among highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective teachers? Tell me how you conduct an effective teacher observation and provide meaningful actionable feedback.

Preparing for an interview is an opportunity to connect with your professional learning network and find someone who’s been through this process that you trust to give you honest feedback. Have them conduct a mock interview with you. The questions above are just a sampling; they can use their experience in the role you’re seeking to ask other relevant questions to ensure you can articulately and confidently handle any question that comes your way.

Distinguish Yourself

During the webinar, participants were asked to enter into the chat a word that defines an outstanding leader they’ve worked with. Topping the list: caring, warm, kind, positive, energetic, enthusiastic, fun, understanding, and the list goes on. You’ll notice that none of these is about knowledge and skills. When hiring, districts often look beyond knowledge and skills to your disposition, or how your attitude, value, and beliefs are reflected in your behavior.

Chirichello offers these principles for principals:

  • The human elements—dispositions—are key for achieving transformational change. Leading is all about establishing and nurturing human relationships.
  • The most effective leader is first and foremost an effective person. You improve your effectiveness as a leader by improving yourself as a person.

What’s this look like in an interview? Be prepared for questions like “How would your coworkers describe you?” “How do you maintain balance in your life?” or “When have you been most satisfied in your life?”

For more tips and strategies—including example scenarios that might come up in an interview—to help you stand out this hiring season, watch the full “Moving On and Moving Up” webinar in the NAESP archive or download the presentation.