Trust and Accountability: Twin Pillars of Delegation

Just because you can do it all, doesn’t mean you have to. One assistant principal explains strategies to delegate—and how it boosts growth, leadership, and trust among staff.

Topics: Assistant Principals, Teacher Effectiveness

An African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This sentiment applies very much to the school community.

From the bustling corridors of a school to the hushed conversations in administrative offices, the echoes of a decade’s worth of experiences as an assistant principal (AP) resonate with me. These echoes speak not just of challenges and victories but also of countless lessons learned and wisdom gathered. Perhaps the most transformative realization in this journey has been this: Leadership isn’t about doing it all; it’s about empowering all.

Igniting Potential

The AP role is multifaceted. From discipline and curriculum to stakeholder engagement and staff development, the spectrum of responsibilities is vast. Over the years, I have come to realize that while the role might seem daunting, its success hinges on the very community we are a part of. It takes a village. Every teacher, every staff member, every parent, and every student brings a unique strength, perspective, and talent to the table. Recognizing and leveraging these strengths is the essence of delegation.

One of my personal mantras has been to look for strengths in people, even those they might not see in themselves. When we genuinely invest in building relationships and understanding those we work with, we uncover a treasure trove of capabilities. Capacity building is about developing skills and igniting the latent potential within.

In my role as an assistant principal, the art of delegation is a strategic endeavor, pivotal to the effective management of our school. When considering which tasks to delegate, I categorize them into two primary types: operational and strategic.

Operational Tasks: Empowering through Delegation

Operational tasks are those that involve routine processes and specific skills, readily manageable by our capable team. These tasks are prime candidates for delegation. Examples include coordinating schedules, such as organizing picture day or arranging guest speaker visits, and overseeing extracurricular activities like afterschool enrichment programs or planning monthly cultural celebrations.

A particularly successful initiative has been the Teacher Success Sessions, originally my brainchild but now wholly owned by a dedicated team of teacher leaders. They plan, organize, and conduct these sessions to provide an additional layer of support to our first- and second-year teachers. Witnessing this initiative evolve into a “for teachers, by teachers” program has been extraordinary. Such initiatives epitomize the power of delegation and underscore the importance of creating opportunities that are driven by and for teachers.

Furthermore, the delegation extends to leveraging the expertise of an instructional assistant who now spearheads our schoolwide mentoring program. This project, which I initiated years ago, has thrived under their management, including tasks like recruitment, orientation, and activity planning. This allows me to focus on other critical areas of responsibility.

The rationale for delegating these operational tasks is twofold. First, while these tasks are essential, they do not necessitate the direct involvement of the AP. Second, and more important, delegating these responsibilities empowers our staff, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility essential for their professional growth.

Strategic Tasks: Retained for Leadership Oversight

On the other hand, tasks that involve strategic decision-making, especially those with far-reaching consequences or those requiring a nuanced understanding of the educational landscape and the school’s unique challenges, are retained at the leadership level. Such tasks ensure consistency in decision-making and uphold the strategic direction of the school.

While operational and strategic considerations are paramount in delegation decisions, the interests and strengths of our staff members also play a significant role. If a team member exhibits a strong interest or aptitude in an area, even if it is typically a strategic task, involving them in a supervised or limited capacity can be beneficial. This not only supports their professional development, but it also cultivates a robust leadership pipeline within our school.

Accountability: Trust’s Twin Pillar

Trust is the cornerstone of effective delegation. It requires us to relinquish the reins and believe that the individual can take the task to completion. While trust is a given in delegation, accountability is its twin pillar.

“Inspect what you expect” is a mantra I’ve come to appreciate. Once a task is delegated, it’s crucial to ensure it’s on track, but there’s a fine line between inspecting and micromanaging. Inspection is about assessing progress and providing necessary guidance; it is constructive. Micromanaging, conversely, is invasive, constantly looking over the shoulder. As leaders, our aim should be to inspect progress and celebrate achievements, not to oversee every minute detail.

Assessing progress in the realm of delegated tasks involves a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures. The key is to establish clear, achievable goals and expectations. This makes it easier to evaluate whether the task is being completed effectively.

  1. Completion of Tasks: This is the most straightforward measure. It involves checking if the delegated task has been completed within the set timeframe. However, it’s not just about checking a box; it’s about ensuring the quality of the outcome matches the expected standard.
  2. Achievement of Goals: Beyond just task completion, it’s essential to assess whether the delegated responsibility is contributing to the broader goals. For example, if a teacher was tasked with improving student participation in a program, it’s not just about whether the program was executed but also about whether there was an actual increase in student participation or achievement.
  3. Feedback Sessions: Implementing regular check-ins or feedback sessions helps in understanding the progress of tasks. This can be in the form of informal checkpoints or structured reviews. Feedback from students, staff, and other stakeholders can also provide insights into the effectiveness of the delegated task.

Lighten the Collective Load

Effective delegation has a ripple effect. When tasks are distributed based on strengths and aptitude, not only does it lighten the load for the leader, but it also ensures a smoother, more efficient workflow for the entire team. It creates an environment where everyone is invested, engaged, and working at their optimal capacity.

As I reflect on my decade as an AP, the landscape of memories is dotted with faces—those who stepped up, took charge, and shone brilliantly when entrusted with responsibilities. To them and to the countless others in our educational communities, our role is clear: to recognize, to trust, and to empower.

Tia S. Jones is assistant principal of Catawba Trail Elementary School in Elgin, South Carolina, and a 2022 National Outstanding Assistant Principal.