Saturday, March 21, 2020

First Year ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL LEADERSHIP in the Age of the Coronavirus

As we are in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak, I have thought about educating children even more so than I typically do…if that is humanly possible.  Specifically, I have been obsessed with how our educational systems will be able to sustain education for our children throughout this crisis upon which we find ourselves. As with most areas of education, I do have a few strong opinions about how to get through it so last Wednesday (3/18/20), I took to FB and Twitter Live and spent an hour and a half offering strategies and suggestions toward maximizing distance learning with an emphasis on the usage of webcam platforms such as ZOOM meetings. On Thursday, I decided I wanted to speak specifically to first year teachers toward addressing their unique challenges so I wrote a blog post specifically for them. On Friday, I decided I wanted to speak specifically to first year principals toward addressing their unique challenges so I wrote a blog post specifically for them. As I type, it is Saturday morning and I have the first year assistant principals on my mind, and I know they have unique challenges, so I decided I would devote my morning to writing specifically to them. From this point on, I will be writing in the second person as I share my thoughts specifically to first year assistant principals (veterans too).

As a first year assistant principal, once you entered the ranks of administration, you essentially entered an entirely new world relative to your previous work; presumably you were a teacher or a counselor. You are now a leader of men, women and children. You are a supervisor of a portion of your school’s staff. You are an instructional leader in addition to all of your other responsibilities including student discipline, cafeteria duty and bus duty. And then came COVID 19 and your world as a new assistant principal took on a change that graduate school could have never prepared you for. In other words, as comprehensive as your graduate school program may have been, chances are good that you didn’t have a course on “Leading Through a Global Pandemic.” Like all of the leaders out here, leading students and staff in the midst of a global pandemic has to be learned “on the job” and in real time. Yes, there are experts providing guidance but at the “end of the day,” this is something very different. To that end, I offer you the following five suggestions as you fight through this global crisis as a first year assistant principal.

1.  Your role is to assist
First and foremost, your title is Assistant Principal. You are there to assist. Although it is admirable and commendable when you take the initiative in areas that you see require your assistance, your first course of action in so many cases is to consult with your principal. I cannot overstate the significance of you and your principal being on the same page; particularly during this Coronavirus pandemic. Be sure to stay in constant contact with your principal who is obviously working out of his / her home. In other words, your principal’s home is now your school’s main office.  Keep your principal abreast of your thinking and initiatives that you want to take before you take them because remember, your principal is trying to figure this thing out too. This is new and different for everyone.
2.  You know your staff
As a supervisor of a portion of your school’s staff, chances are that you know these particular staff members, including teachers, a little better than your principal does. These staff members report directly to you. You are their leader. They too are trying to figure out how to maximize distance learning while keeping their students engaged. The reality that you can never lose sight of however is that teaching is only a portion of their lives. They are also individuals with lives outside of their career. In the midst of a global pandemic, they too are dealing with the emotions that accompany the uncertainty of the time we find ourselves. This is where your leadership is so crucial. As an assistant principal and in your case, a first year assistant principal, you must maintain contact with your staff beyond your supervisory role. It would be great if you could just check in on them. Strengthen those relationships that you have with them and assure them that you are there for them. Beyond their school lives, they have their own individual lives. They have their own emotions to contend with. And they have family responsibilities as well. Be therefore sure to compliment, encourage, praise and support your staff as often as possible. This can be done through email, ZOOM meetings (dept. or grade level) or however you deem most appropriate to maintain contact with staff. Some of your staff may be taking the pandemic in stride while others may be really struggling with it. As best you can, you want to be a support for these staff members as we fight through it daily.

3.  You are a resource
As a former classroom teacher and current instructional leader, you are an academic resource. Although there is a plethora of distance learning resources that can be obtained online, you know your students and staff. Theoretically, you know what resources will work well with your students and staff. Therefore, although there’s a ton of great stuff on line, don’t hesitate to offer your own suggestions and resources as well.

4. You know your students’ parents
In your capacity of assistant principal, chances are excellent that you communicate with more parents than anyone else in your school. The parents know you and you know the parents. They too are dealing with their own anxieties and emotions in the midst of the Coronavirus. Many of them just want an ear to talk to. It would be ideal if you could be one of those “ears” and they can continue to reach out to you via email or ZOOM. You could also assist your staff where necessary toward them engaging the parents in ZOOM parent meetings. Additionally, in your assistant principal capacity, you work with a number of students. You have helped a number of students. And quite frankly, you have turned around a number of students. With the amount of time that your students may be away from school, much of what you established could potentially unravel. I therefore encourage you to utilize this time away from school to communicate with several of the parents of the students you have worked with and possibly the parent and the child simultaneous on ZOOM for example toward increasing the probability that what you established can sustain itself.

5.  You’ve got to maintain personal balance
As a first year assistant principal and therefore a first year school administrator, I can only imagine how overwhelming this experience may be. You are in this job you worked so hard to attain, and then out of nowhere, you are leading through a global pandemic. Despite the pressures and demands of your new position, it is absolutely imperative that you maintain a sense of balance. Your physical and emotion health is crucial. Self-care must always be a priority. Yes, work hard toward making education work for your students and staff, but balance out your work life with your personal life. In a pandemic, you have a family that needs a large portion of your attention as well. Attend to their needs, but don’t ever leave out yourself. Take time out for your own peace as well. And never lose sight of the fact that you are not alone. There are first year assistant principals all over the world in this fight with you. In the age of social media and particularly Twitter, you actually have access to many of them. Communicate with as many of them as feasible, including the ones in your own district and geographical area. And at the end of the day, remember, this too shall pass.

Even during a pandemic, your responsibilities can be potentially endless. Many children rely on the school for breakfast and lunch for example. A part of your duties might include distribution of meals at your school. Many children may be having difficulty coping with the realities of a pandemic; particularly students in graduating grades - 5th, 8th and 12th. That is a blog post in and of itself. You along with the other administrators and staff may have to grapple with these emotions until more information is made available. The bottom line is that the work is endless....even during a pandemic and as I said above, the communication between you and your principal is absolutely crucial.

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. I literally came to your page looking for inspiration. Please continue writing.

  2. I am about to start my first day as an Assistant Principal in a week. You have great insight and advice and I look forward to this new opportunity.


Reflecting on 4 Years of the AP & New Principals Academy

  It’s practically surreal that a project I started on May 2, 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic is still going strong 4 years later and...