Serving as the assistant principal in a high performing and fast-paced high school creates a unique perspective. Here my five takeaways...a combination strategies I employ, or strive to master in the future.
1. Tuning out the noise
The Four Agreements cautions confusing others’ issues with our own; advice easier said than done. Intensity within a high-performing school produces proportionally intense interactions. Assistant principals often face adversarial and outrageous personal comments in lieu of pragmatic dialogue. Taking these verbal jabs with a grain of salt helps, and while the sting is inevitable, how long it stings, if at all, is a choice. And why the comments? Assistant principals spend significant energy managing the emotions of adults; they are the front lines of discipline, parent complaints, family crises, and frustrated teachers or community members. So, tension becomes steadfast marker in their professional landscape as it is impossible to collectively please all stakeholders. Decisions inherently favor certain parties, and poorly communicated decisions falsely imply a sense of disregard and risk alienation from that stakeholder. It’s imperative for assistant principals to utilize intentional dialogue when revealing outcomes. And above all else, listen more than speak. In listening, they learn to differentiate between jabs and relevant feedback. Self-aware assistant principals utilize self-reflection to sort through criticism and make correct decisions.
2. Ego, grit, & collaboration
Being an assistant principal is not a sexy job; it’s messy; it’s real; it’s not for the ego-sensitive. Making top-level decisions can lead to an inflated ego; and projecting humility is vital. Accomplishing this feat is a combination of conscious effort and life simply reminding them that they’re not that important. It’s common for parents and staff to reject decisions rendered by assistant principals, or to circumvent them altogether. Not everyone is a fan...and that’s okay. A title in many ways is just that; it is an assistant principal’s integrity and work ethic that affirms or diminishes their reputation. They are the bridge between stakeholders and the school, and must actively, openly and consistently attempt to collaborate with all stakeholders. When done, a cohesive and collaborative team is formed. In turn, collaboration builds relationships, and relationships are invaluable to the vibrancy of a school culture.
3. Separation of professional & personal narratives
A school office is a frenetic environment where emotions run simultaneously high and low. The compounding stream of emotions can impede the mental clarity of an assistant principal. While holding onto wins seems practical, it’s actually distracting; it takes intent to resist grasping onto any emotion for too long. Similarly, negative toxicity sabotages positive energy. The ability to quickly shake off negativity is a game changer, as working from a positive perspective is better for all involved. In short, assistant principals perform with more clarity when emotionally balanced. Finding balance stems from the ability to separate personal and professional narratives and the ability to compartmentalize the two separate worlds. Work-related negativity should be encapsulated and absent from the personal narrative; however, positive and productive work-related information can be quickly accessed as needed. It's as if they have two separate realities. This skill takes intention, time and effort to master. It requires resilience. And in many cases, when one can’t make it, they fake it. With enough focus and practice, the separation becomes more natural and the switch is easily flipped.
4. Giving it your all, but acknowledging your limits
Watching teenagers make poor choices is painful and unavoidable. From hoping teens will remain kind, or steadfast despite temptation, it is hard to accept but important to remember that even the strongest inventions can prove futile. Effective assistant principals remind students that high school is both significant and insignificant. Teens’ actions affect their future...but in that future, high school will prove a distant memory. Forging inroads in the teenage schema is exhausting. Quite often messages from assistant principals contradict that of overly protective parents. These parents attempt to avoid accountability and actively insulate teens. Not all families will accept help or responsibility; conversely, they adopt a pattern of enablement and entitlement. And again, that’s okay.
5. Harnessing the power of social media
Doors are better left open; virtual doors included. This is critically important when fostering strong communication. Social media platforms are impactful in maintaining communication. They create a hub where administrators can strategically inform, celebrate, validate, caution, advise and guide stakeholders. Messaging features establish an avenue of approachability for students, while varying posts humanize assistant principals. Tapping into the virtual community establishes in-roads into the school’s micro-culture, and allow assistant principals to be part of it. Like all forums, virtual ones are susceptible to turmoil, tension and miscommunication, so all involved must operate with caution.
Deeply invested assistant principals embrace their role beyond the school day. They engage on weekends, and continually celebrate their community and dialogue with families...and social media makes those actions possible. These strategies create opportunity to collaborate within the micro-culture and improve its norms. They maximize capacity and engage those who wouldn’t normally engage. Social media invests in human capital by allowing assistant principals to be transformative leaders in the 21st century model.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.