Monday, July 1, 2019

The Assistant Principalship: The Most Misunderstood and Underutilized Position in Education

“Young man, I’ve tolerated enough….it’s time for you to see the assistant principal!”

Sound familiar? Variations of these words are expressed to students exhibiting undesirable behaviors all too often in classrooms across North America daily. In turn, the assistant principals sit in their offices awaiting this youngster to arrive while simultaneously disciplining other students who were sent down ahead of him. In my conversations with countless assistant principals across the country, this is their day-to-day reality which in my estimation is just wrong, wrong, wrong! This is the reality of schools where it has become the culture of the building to utilize the assistant principal in this regard…as a full time disciplinarian. I might add that during my year as an assistant principal, this too was my daily reality. I was grossly underutilized. There was always work to do and never downtime because at any given moment, a teacher was sending a student to my office for me to discipline.

I feel strongly that with the exception of those assistant principals who have made the decision that they are content with being assistant principals…career assistant principals if you will, the assistant principalship is a stepping stone to the principalship. Yes, the principal (and the school) need this individual to assist the principal, but unless the assistant principal has no interest in one day assuming the principalship, it is not a permanent position. Instead, it is a “training ground” for that one day principalship. The problem is when assistant principals are in schools where they have been relegated to being school disciplinarians. In no way are these individuals being prepared for the principalship in this regard. At best, they may evolve into great disciplinarians but will be grossly lacking in real school leadership preparation. This was certainly my reality as an assistant principal and it is the reality of countless assistant principals in our schools. These individuals are not being adequately trained and prepared to lead their own schools one day. Both, children and staff consequently suffer because upon the assistant principal’s promotion to the principalship, all he / she will really be prepared to do well is discipline students as opposed to being trained to lead while simultaneously being exposed to all aspects of principal leadership toward a seamless transition into school leader.

The core responsibility and most significant role of a principal is instructional leadership. I once had a mentor many years ago who convinced me that the primary purpose of my supervision of teachers was the continual improvement of their instruction. In other words, it is instructional leadership that moves the “student academic needle.” Yes, teachers can seek out their own professional development independent of the leadership of the school, but it is the instructional leadership that is provided by the leadership over the duration of the school year that matters most. This is the professional development that is the most directly associated with instruction in the classroom. To that end, imagine that school where there are one or two assistant principals and the bulk of their day is spent engaging in student discipline and cafeteria supervision. Although both responsibilities are important, they are a gross misuse of the assistant principals time, energy and human capital. Let’s say for example, in this same school, the assistant principals supervise and evaluate a percentage of staff. If the assistant principals spend the bulk of their time in the non-instructional aspects school leadership, what will be the basis of their evaluation of teachers? The truth is that in this regard, the assistant principal doesn’t know the specificity of what the teacher does in the classroom and therefore doesn’t know the teacher’s classroom. The assistant principal has no “voice” in any given classroom and no academic connection to any given classroom. How does the teacher grow in this regard? How are the teacher’s deficiencies identified? How is time devoted to correction of these deficiencies? How does the assistant principal grow? How is the assistant principal in position to play a role toward helping the teacher to become extraordinary in the classroom? In this regard, the teacher loses but the teacher doesn’t lose alone….the children lose exponentially; the school loses; the parents lose and the community loses. It’s a lose – lose situation.

What can be done? Particular attention must be given to the overall climate and culture of the school and how assistant principals can be utilized optimally. Administration and staff must collectively ask the question, “What is it about the climate and culture of our school that lends itself to our disciplinary reality? Discipline is micro while climate and culture are macro. Typically in schools where discipline is a macro issue, the climate and the culture of the school are problematic if not toxic. Immediate attention must be given to the school’s climate and culture toward bringing about transformation in how assistant principals are utilized. Assistant principals are far too important to the success of every student in the building to be relegated to school disciplinarians. Their talents, abilities, skillsets and potential must be intentionally maximized always.

For further information on this topic, pick up Principal Kafele’s newest book, The ASPIRING Principal 50: Critical Questions for New and Future School Leaders (ASCD, 2019) at

Wednesday, June 19, 2019


This word “equity” in education is a rather interesting word for me. I hear it used in a variety of different ways…some correct and some downright confusingly. Some see equity as some sort of new and hot topic while others have engaged in equitable practices for decades without affixing the word, equity to their work. For them, equity was just plain common sense (I like to put myself in that category). I even hear some use this word with a great deal of zeal, emotion and passion which is justifiable given the need for equity in all of our schools and classrooms for all students, but particularly for students of historically underserved populations such as African American and Latino students. I have also witnessed the word equity make some feel uncomfortable and uneasy as it forces all of us as educators to have to come to grips with who we are as equitable practitioners in our classrooms and schools. In classrooms across North America, equitable practices must evolve into a complete way of life.

As it relates to the aforementioned, in a post-graduate course I took, I had a professor who grouped the different generations of the 20th and 21st Centuries by categories and labels. As I listened to the lecture, my equity eyes and ears were in full effect as equity is simply the way that I have been wired over the past four decades. My professor made reference to an era in U.S. history which were the years beginning with the stock market crash of 1929 through the early 40’s.  He referred to the people of that era as the “be happy you have a job” generation. In the context of the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, I get it fully. Here’s the problem though as it relates to equity. I was one of only a handful of African Americans in the classroom. My life experience, history and culture is that of an African American in urban North America. Because of that experience, I view the world through THAT lens and found the lecture to be insensitive toward African Americans. Consequently, I received the professor’s message (who happened to be white) as “unconscious bias.” “Unconscious” because I was convinced that he meant no harm at all. He was presenting this information through his own cultural lens without considering the entire class. 

As an African American, the aforementioned period means something very different for me from “be happy you have a job.” In other words, in addition to the Great Depression, there was another “Great” happening simultaneously – The Great Migrations of African Americans migrating from the southern states to the northern and western states for different and better opportunities. A better word for “migrations” in this context though would be “escape.” African Americans were escaping the brutal socioeconomic oppression of living in the south post-slavery and the wrath of the KKK, angry white mobs and militias, etc which created a reality of lynchings of thousands of African Americans (men and women) throughout the south from 1882 – 1968.

As an African American listening to this lecture, I concluded that it was not speaking to me at all…it did not consider me…it did not address me and it ignored my historical reality. I began to think about children in classrooms – particularly underserved students of historically oppressed populations and how when subjected to inequitable teaching practices and unconscious biases, find themselves in situations that are comparable to the one I found myself enduring that day. I felt simultaneously invisible and angry….not for myself, but for the countless children across the country who are subjected to the same but may lack the wherewithal to address it and express it. Of course, I spoke up and the professor was better for it. But what about the child who lacks a context to speak up? This youngster invariably suffers in this environment which may have lifelong implications. Equitable classroom practices are therefore a must. No child can afford to be ignored and left out. As a society, we must ensure that all children are met right where they are which requires solid relationship building, student-centeredness, cultural-responsiveness, cultural-relevance, differentiation, personalized instruction and professional learning for staff that address each of the aforementioned toward giving all children an equitable opportunity for classroom success.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Brother and Sisterhood of the Principalship

I recently attended my daughter’s probate which was the culminating ceremony for her induction into a sorority which she worked really hard to become a member of.  She is now a part of a national / international sisterhood of sorors. As I watched the probate, I couldn’t help but think about the principalship. Yes, I drew a connection between the broad sisterhood of sororities and the broad brotherhood of fraternities to the “fraternity” of the principalship. Sororities and fraternities are the embodiment of vast lifelong bonds rooted in a commonality of membership, belongingness, commitment, sisterhood / brotherhood and purpose. As I stood there and watched the ceremony, I thought the exact same thoughts for the principalship.

I served as a principal for fourteen years. I remember vividly and dearly the “blood, sweat and tears” of principal leadership. As much as I loved it and as rewarding (and enjoyable) as it was, I will never conclude that it was easy work. It was quite challenging to say the least. The principalship is constant “heavy-lifting.” So when I see other principals in action, I instantaneously relate to them, identify with them, “feel their pain,” “feel their successes,” and in many cases, feel a kinship to them. We as principals are also a “fraternity” of sorts. There’s a bond there that the non-principal may never really understand.

I will be the first to admit that the principalship is not for everyone (just as being a member of a sorority or fraternity is not for everyone). It is a special position that not everyone is built for. It requires so, so much of an individual on so, so many levels. Following are a hand full of examples (that by no means are meant to be exhaustive).

The principal wears countless hats in the span of any given 30-minute block of time throughout the course of a school day…and the principal is expected to “wear each of those hats” quite well simultaneously.

The principal is expected to have immediate answers and solutions for every issue that arises in a school. And although this expectation isn’t realistic, there are staff, students, parents, central office personnel and community members who expect immediate answers and solutions nevertheless.

Everything that could possibly happen or go wrong at any given moment in a school falls directly on the shoulders of the principal. As the leader of the school, the buck stops with the principal. Regardless of whether or not the principal is directly responsible for an occurrence that took place in the school for example, the principal is held accountable.

On top of all of the principal's numerous responsibilities, the principal is expected to be the instructional leader of the building. Student achievement is a direct reflection of the principal. Instructional leadership is therefore the principal’s primary responsibility and must therefore be made his / her number one priority (outside of school safety) and given maximum attention.

The principal is expected to be an expert in school law, school finance and the school curriculum. The principal cannot lead optimally if he / she lacks an expertise in each of the aforementioned.

The existing school climate and culture are a reflection of the principal too. What you “see, hear, feel and experience” in a school are a direct reflection of the principal’s leadership,

The principal must also be able to effectively navigate the politics of the school, the district, and the city / town in which the school is located....which is not always an easy endeavor….and definitely not taught in grad school, but another area that the principal must be truly adept.

Theoretically, the principal would like to please everyone but in all actuality, cannot. Someone somewhere will always be displeased. In fact, the principal will probably not be “loved” by EVERYONE. If the principal has a need to be loved by everyone, he / she is probably in the wrong business. The principal must therefore have and maintain “tough skin.”

Principals have families too but they devote so much of their time and energy to their schools that they sometimes (and for some often time) neglect their own families for the betterment of their students. They are constantly striving to strike a balance between school and life outside of school.

I could actually write forever about the role and challenges of the principal but I will stop here...(more coming soon in my next book, The ASPIRING Principal 50: Critical Questions for New and Future School Leaders – May, 2019) but I will end it with mentioned above, the principalship isn’t only a job, profession, career or even a mission…it’s a “fraternity of school leadership”…a brotherhood…a sisterhood. In that vein, I promise you that as principals continue to seek ways to maximize their “membership” in this powerful “fraternity” of school leaders, the translation is a “win-win” for the students, staff, parents and communities that they lead.

For further Principal Kafele resources, visit

The Assistant Principalship: The Most Misunderstood and Underutilized Position in Education

“Young man, I’ve tolerated enough….it’s time for you to see the assistant principal!” Sound familiar? Variations of these...