Reflect on the Past to Pay Things Forward

At every step in the leadership journey, share your knowledge and continue to learn.

Topics: Assistant Principals

At some point along your educational journey, you likely made the decision to become a teacher. It’s a noble profession—some might say a calling or vocation. You took the courses, sought guidance from people who could help, and did your fieldwork and exams.

Administrators often refer to themselves as educators or educational leaders, but not all teachers are quick to call themselves the same. There are many teachers who feel fulfilled once they have actualized their dream of teaching. Some explore a transition to school administration, and some need encouragement to explore whether the path to educational leadership is right for them. As educational leaders, we need to identify those with leadership potential and show them the way.

Teachers looking to enter administration usually consult with their principals. Mentees shadow the principal and get guidance along the way. However, an aspiring administrator will often first land a job as an assistant principal (AP)—a very different role from the one they shadowed in the internship.

Sharing Your Knowledge

Sharing your knowledge and experience can be helpful to a person in a leadership program or enlighten someone who’s pondering a move into educational leadership. What did you wish you had learned during your mentorship that you had to learn on the job?

More schools are hiring APs than ever before, and as the role of principal has changed, APs and teacher leaders have become an integral part of the distributive leadership model at many schools. As dedicated educators, we can pave the way for others by guiding them and sharing our knowledge. Chances are that you had several mentors and colleagues who helped you become the educational leader you are today.

The mentee should seek advice and guidance from more than one person. He or she should find a mentor with whom they are comfortable and who is willing to share resources and ideas that might help them in their leadership journey.
If the mentorship is not completely fulfilling, the mentor and mentee should discuss what’s lacking openly and without judgment. A mentor can’t always be aware of the areas in which the mentee wants to learn more. Take notes and develop a project that gets to those goals, or suggest another educator who might be of assistance.

In the AP Role

While you serve in the AP role, here’s some advice.

  • Keep connected to the folks who supported you along the way. This is the base of your professional network. Continue to find friends and colleagues who can help you grow, with whom you can share experiences, and in whom you can confide. Professional AP and administrator groups offer a wealth of resources.
  • Establish your role’s scope of work with the principal and the steps needed to accomplish it. Check in daily, weekly, and monthly with your principal and with yourself by establishing professional goals every year and revisiting them frequently.
  • Candid conversations will keep the lines of communication open. If something is nagging at you and your own principal doesn’t have the answer, seek advice from other administrators; find out how they would handle the situation.
  • Some situations might not have a satisfactory resolution. Keep your cool, be professional, and keep any disappointment confidential. When you do experience a win or a breakthrough—and you will—celebrate it.

Some APs choose the role as a gateway to the principalship and other administrative positions, while others find it to be the perfect career fit. Regardless of your ideal role and ambitions, it’s essential to access the mentorship that helps you execute it.

Educators should never stop learning. Embrace the concept of lifelong learning and glean knowledge from other educators. And continue to foster educational leadership by reflecting on your own experience and paying
it forward.

Donna McGuire is an assistant principal at PS/IS 18 – The Park Terrace School in New York City and facilitator of NAESP’s Assistant Principal Community of Practice.