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Five Tips for New AP’s to Hit Their Stride

It snuck up on me pretty quickly. My first year as an assistant principal and within weeks I felt like I was really struggling. It is one thing to come out of the gate strong, after all the early days of the year are quite a honeymoon period. Once the honeymoon ends, the struggle can begin. I was working in a high school with a very experience principal and two other assistant principals (APs). Our roles and responsibilities were well outlined, in what our principal referred to as ‘sandboxes’. My sandbox was all things discipline and attendance related. Another AP oversaw curriculum, instruction, and special programs (a role I would assume two years later), while the third was our activities and athletics director, facilities, and maintenance go-to. I was fortunate to be in such a great structure, yet I was still struggling. I read recently a couple posts in principal groups from APs and principals who self-identify as ‘struggling’. Hey, it’s normal. Anytime you take on a new role, whether it’s your first time as an administrator or you are more ‘seasoned’, change and transition can be difficult.

Here are five tips to help you through the post-kickoff transition and to feel empowered in your new role:

  1. Get out of the office – don’t allow yourself to become chained to the desk. Time and time again, I hear staff in schools all over the country wishing their administrator(s) were more visible. Start the day in the hallways, schedule time on the calendar to be in the classrooms, in common areas with students, and allow yourself to start building trust and relationships. You cannot do that at all from your office. Don’t worry, the emails and phone calls will still be there once you get back.
  2. Bring ideas forward – if you’re an AP and feeling like you don’t have enough responsibilities, go find something that needs improvement. In my first year as an AP, we had a big issue with our school culture. I brought a few ideas forward to our principal and curriculum director. Before I knew it, I was leading the charge to build positive culture and climate at our school. It changed who I was as a leader. It also boosted my credibility and trust within the staff due to those efforts.
  3. Lean into at-risk students – the most challenging group of students for most staff are the ones given the ‘at-risk’ label. First off, I really dislike labeling students, but that is for another post. Your at-risk population may be difficult to connect with but usually they are the students in most need of an ally, an advocate, someone to see them, hear them, and love them. Lean into those students by letting them get to know you as a person. Odds are, you’ll be visiting with them in your office at some point, so get out and build the relationship in advance. It will more than pay off in the long run.
  4. Kick the imposter to the curb – look, you earned this job. I was working with one of the principals I coach recently. During that conversation, she mentioned how she’d like to have her staff see her as more of an instructional leader. She was a PE teacher for 7 years prior to becoming a principal. Her imposter tells her often (self-talk) that she won’t be taken seriously by core subject teachers due to her teaching background. If you find yourself fighting an imposter for any reason in your principal or AP role, meet it head-on. Don’t make excuses. If you feel the need to be a better instructional leader, then get in classrooms and into conversations with your teachers about instruction. You will find that, regardless the subject you taught in the classroom, good teaching is good teaching. You may also have the revelation I once had, just because I don’t know their subject doesn’t mean I can’t give good feedback and support their efforts in the classroom.
  5.  Give yourself some grace – if this is, in fact, your first year in the role, RELAX. It’s September. Nobody expects you to be perfect. You will grow, you will find your footing, your head will come above water. The best principals and assistant principals would tell you the same thing. They struggled early in their careers, it’s normal. Heck, my first year as a principal, I don’t think my head came above water until the year was over!! Remember, they chose you, you’ve earned this role, and you will keep growing. In the meantime, breathe and just keep swimming.

Have a #RoadToAwesome week


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Tune into our podcast “Leaning into Leadership” available everywhere you get your podcast fix. This week’s guest is Doug Kaplicky, Principal of Adams Elementary in Yakima, WA.

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