So You Want to Be an AP

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

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

April 2019, Volume 42, Issue 8

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.

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