The AP’s Guide to Learning on the Job

Trying something new is never easy—especially as a first-year assistant principal. But by building confidence, developing credibility, listening to learn, and finding calm during challenges, you will set yourself up for success as a school leader.

Topics: Assistant Principals, Professional Learning

The first time you tried something new, how did you know what to do? To begin, you probably started with what you already knew—or at least thought you knew—to be able to take your first steps forward. Then, you likely learned along the way.

Trying something new is never easy—especially as a first-year assistant principal (AP). When I took this step into administration, I had to use the insights and understanding I had gained from my previous positions in education, as well as the knowledge acquired through my leadership classes to best support my teachers. While I knew enough to get started, learning on the job was essential to my growth and success throughout the year would require continuous learning for me to have a positive impact on my teachers.

Building Confidence

I knew I needed and that I wanted to have confidence as I took on this new role. Jumping right in is one strategy. But I preferred a different approach: I wanted to be knowledgeable and prepared, ensuring that I was capable of best supporting my teachers. Building the necessary confidence began by using my knowledge and experiences from previous roles in schools. I was aware of the importance of taking careful and considered steps, as everything I said and did would have an impact on the teachers and the students.

As I moved into the year filled with many unknowns, to build my confidence, I realized that I needed direction for moving forward in this new leadership opportunity. To achieve this, I began to reflect on my passions within the field of education and began developing a personal mission statement. This time for reflection was essential to consider what truly matters to me. Being firmly grounded in these values served as a constant reminder that my ultimate goal in life was to make a difference in the lives of others and this significantly helped me throughout my first year as an administrator.

Developing Credibility

Developing credibility was another important aspect to focus on. Establishing credibility would influence my potential to make progress with my teachers as I moved forward as a new administrator.

Throughout my career, I was fortunate to have several exceptional role models in leadership positions. One key lesson I learned from them was the importance of demonstrating care and concern for staff members. Teaching is an incredibly rewarding yet demanding profession, and knowing that you are valued as a staff member can make a world of difference.

Part of expressing care and concern involves being present, reliable, and supportive. Inspired by the example and encouragement of one of my role models, I made it a point to express gratitude for the little things. Small gestures like handwritten notes, small treats, and kind words of appreciation were powerful ways to show my gratitude and support to the staff members who contributed to our school community.

Listening to Learn

To enhance my credibility with my staff, it was essential for me to begin with listening and learning. I needed to make time for meaningful conversations and quick check-ins that demonstrated my genuine care for them and the work they were doing.

Teaching is a profession where it’s invaluable to have someone with whom to celebrate successes with, brainstorm ideas, and troubleshoot challenges—and with whom to occasionally cry. Reflecting on my own experiences as a teacher, I recognized that the administrators I felt safest to talk to, no matter the circumstance, were the ones who had the greatest impact on my growth and inspired me to go above and beyond. Now as an administrator, I strive to be that same kind of person for my teachers. I want them to know that I am there for them and to help them thrive as educators. By developing this supportive environment, I hope to create a work environment that allows them to make a positive difference in the lives of their students.

Finding Calm During Challenges

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned throughout this experience is the importance of finding calm during challenges and enjoying the journey along the way so I am able to better support the teachers I work with. My first year as an AP was filled with lots of ups and downs and incredibly busy and intense days. However, relying on my existing knowledge of being a good administrator served as a great starting point, and continuous learning was essential for my growth in the role.

As I look ahead, I will continue to use my current knowledge while continuously learning and expanding my understanding of being an administrator. This ongoing process of growth will help me move into the second year and beyond with greater confidence. Knowing that each year brings the promise of increased knowledge and support for my teachers, I am excited to continue to use what I know and learn more to grow.

Kathy Patton is assistant principal of the International School of Panama in El Dorado, Panama.