Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Dysfunctional Principal-Assistant Principal Relationship Can Sabotage an Entire School!

“It is apparent that the leadership isn’t on the same page in our school.”

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, The Assistant Principalship: The Most Misunderstood and Underutilized Position is Education. I hadn’t anticipated the wide-scale interest it was going to generate but I am pleased that it did. Resultantly, I felt compelled to write this follow up.

I cannot overstate the significance of the relationship between a principal and his / her assistant principal(s). This relationship is absolutely vital to the health of a school. I would dare say that this relationship epitomizes the pulse of a school. After all, these individuals are the administrative leadership of an entire building…the leadership team. A school goes as the leadership goes. That leadership relationship must therefore be supremely healthy because everything about any given school emanates out of the leadership. When the leadership team is “healthy,” there is a higher probability that the school’s climate and culture will be “healthy.” But on the other hand, when the leadership team is “ill” or dysfunctional, there is a higher probability that the school’s climate and culture will be ill or dysfunctional as well. Just imagine the implications for a school when staff members are having side conversations based on their perceptions and observations that assert, “It is apparent that the leadership isn’t on the same page in our school.” No school can afford for this perception to exist amongst staff.

Obviously, due to student enrollment numbers, all elementary schools do not require an assistant principal. This means that if the principal nevertheless requires administrative support, he /she must be adept at empowering others in areas of need. All others (elementary and secondary) have at least one assistant principal. The principal must be able to maximize the talent, skill and potential of his / her assistant principal(s) toward moving the school forward. The principal must feel extremely comfortable with exposing the assistant principal(s) to all aspects of school leadership while avoiding at all costs relegating the assistant principal(s) to school disciplinarians and cafeteria supervisors. Whether or not this occurs boils down to a few factors which include the relationship between the principal and his / her team; the trust the principal has in his / her team and the confidence the principal has in oneself toward developing his / her leadership team.

As stated above, this relationship must be solid. There’s got to be a bond there. There’s got to be mutual respect there. There’s got to be trust there. Anything less and this relationship becomes not only unhealthy for the team but potentially detrimental for the entire school. The leadership team must be on the same page with a common purpose, mission, vision and goals. When the leadership team is moving in divergent directions, everyone loses. When the leadership team is moving in divergent directions, there are probably serious issues with the overall relationship between the leadership team members that must be given maximum attention, starting with the principal. When this relationship goes sour, it is evident to everyone on staff and may even be detected by students.

Some principals inherit their assistant principal(s) while others have the ideal opportunity to hire their own. Obviously, when the principal has input into who the assistant principal(s) will be, the probability for a healthy relationship increases exponentially. When the principal inherits the assistant principal(s), the relationship still has the potential to be ideal but it becomes incumbent upon the principal to be intentional toward making it work. The principal’s people skills are key; particularly in a situation where for example, one of the assistant principals was vying for the same principalship and was not selected. Now you have the potential for a disgruntled assistant principal who wanted to be principal but instead must assist the new principal. Toward making this relationship work, the new principal must use a high degree of tact and finesse toward making this relationship work. Anything less and the consequence could be dysfunctionality at the highest level which always has the potential of trickling down to staff. When dysfunction sets in within the school’s leadership, it becomes that much more of a challenge for this school to become the school that is has the potential of becoming because of the obvious dysfunction at the top.

As stated in the title, a dysfunctional principal – assistant principal relationship can sabotage an entire school! Given the myriad of challenges that accompany school leadership, the principal – assistant principal relationship is a big one. Be sure then to give this relationship maximum attention toward maintaining an overall healthy school climate and culture.

For further reading on school leadership, pick up Principal Kafele’s four school leadership books, The Assistant Principal 50: Critical Questions for Meaningful Leadership and Professional Growth, The Principal 50: Critical Leadership Questions for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence, Is My School a Better School Because I Lead It? and The Aspiring Principal 50: Critical Questions for New and Future School Leaders – all published by ASCD and can be ordered through


  1. Even when the A.P. has lost their core value trying to put up a united front, it is telling. Great leaders should never lose sight of their core beliefs and values!

  2. Hello Principal Kafele,

    I could not agree more with your post. I think that relationship is key.

    What do you do when you do not have the same vision or agree in the approach the principal is taking? When the AP and P have inherited each other.

    Approach on improving culture and climate, student achievement, interventions, and family and community engagement.

    Thank you.


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