Administration & Leadership

A Principal’s Tips for Effective Collaboration With Assistant Principals

A strong working relationship between principal and assistant principal can start with both seeking to understand the other’s strengths.

July 11, 2023
Hero Images Inc. / Alamy

As the new school year approaches, the formation of principal–assistant principal partnerships takes center stage. Within the complex ecosystem of schools, these partnerships have a profound impact on shaping school culture, climate, and overall success. Establishing a strong bond between leaders characterized by trust, respect, and collaboration serves as the foundation for a thriving educational community.

In this article I share my personal journey with my assistant principal, highlighting the early stages of our working relationship. By understanding each other's strengths and establishing effective communication practices, we were able to foster a successful partnership that positively impacted our school community.

Two years ago, I assumed the role of principal at a new school, coinciding with the hiring of a new assistant principal. Our primary task was to quickly acquaint ourselves with each other and develop a shared vision for the school while planning for the upcoming year. Luckily, our institution recognized the importance of continuous growth and development for its leaders and provided executive coaching as a valuable resource.

As soon as we were paired, we began working with our executive coach to identify our individual strengths and determine how we could best collaborate in the years ahead. This intentional early communication laid the groundwork for our effective teamwork in supporting our school community.

Recognizing that not everyone has access to an external leadership coach, here are some insights from our journey to help new principal–assistant principal partnerships start off on the right track. While the beginning of the school year can be filled with responsibilities like schedules, hiring, and preparing professional development cycles, investing time in building a strong partnership will yield immense benefits during more challenging times in the future.

Understanding each other’s strengths

At the core of our partnership was the exploration of our individual strengths and talents. I highly recommend starting this process by creating a “user manual” and sharing it with each other. The user manual provides valuable insights into the unique qualities each partner brings to the team and offers guidance on how to collaborate effectively.

In our case, my assistant principal discovered that I’m logical, action-oriented, and optimistic. I shared that I work best through collaborative efforts after considering all perspectives but struggle with expressing emotions and making commitments. She, in turn, revealed that she’s a natural problem solver, thrives on systems and structures, and can handle multiple projects and responsibilities simultaneously. She acknowledged, however, that she can sometimes be impatient and persistent.

By openly learning about each other, we were able to determine how to leverage our strengths in support of the school community. Understanding each other's perspectives fostered a strong sense of empathy and understanding. Additionally, exploring what each person needs to feel valued and successful encourages a sense of belonging and trust. 

With our strengths in mind, we moved on to consider how we wanted to operate as a partnership. By addressing the following points early on, we greatly enhanced our ability to navigate challenges throughout the year.

Establish clear communication: Open and transparent communication is vital. We engaged in discussions about how best to communicate with each other. We identified the importance of scheduling regular meetings to discuss goals, challenges, and tasks. Additionally, we maintained an open-door policy to encourage ongoing dialogue and problem-solving. Determining the most effective communication methods and frequency for both of us ensured efficient collaboration.

Define roles and responsibilities: To avoid confusion or duplication of efforts, we clearly defined each person’s roles and responsibilities. We discussed who would handle specific tasks, such as curriculum development, staff evaluations, and student discipline. This clarity streamlined our work and eliminated potential conflicts.

Build mutual trust and respect: Trust and respect served as the foundation of our successful partnership. We fostered a positive and supportive working relationship by actively valuing each other’s expertise, listening to ideas, and acknowledging contributions. Creating an environment of trust encouraged open feedback and collaboration.

Share information and resources: We recognized the importance of equal access to important information, resources, and professional development opportunities. By sharing relevant documents, policies, and procedures, we ensured consistency in decision-making and implementation. This collaborative approach promoted a sense of unity and cohesion within our school community.

Collaborate on decision-making: We firmly believed in involving both the principal and assistant principal in the decision-making process. We discussed how decisions would be made, how feedback would be given, and how to approach topics where disagreement may arise. By leveraging each other’s perspectives and expertise, we arrived at well-informed decisions that considered the best interests of our school and our students.

The journey as a principal and assistant principal toward a successful partnership begins with understanding each other’s strengths and establishing effective communication practices. By investing time in building trust, respecting each other’s expertise, and collaboratively working toward shared goals, principals and assistant principals can create a positive impact on the school community. 

Our own journey serves as a testament to the power of such a partnership. As the new school year approaches, I encourage all new leadership partnerships to embark on this journey, laying the groundwork for a fruitful and transformative experience.

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