Month: March 2022

Assistant Principal Job: What Does the Principal Really Need?

Oftentimes, the entry-level job into school leadership is the assistant principalship. There are more assistant principal jobs than any other leadership roles. At this moment there are nine positions being posted on Long Island. During the selection process, the principal is usually the key person in deciding who will get the job. The fact is that the assistant will be the principal’s right arm. What does the principal really need?

In my experience, despite what the job description says, principals need an assistant who can do six things. They are: (1) STUDENT DISCIPLINE; (2) OBSERVATIONS AND EVALUATIONS; (3) LARGE GROUP SUPERVISION (bus duty, cafeteria duty, corridors); (4) PARENT COMPLAINTS; (5) TEACHER SUPERVISION; (6) SCHEDULING. These responsibilities may not be very glamorous, but they are essential in assuring that the school is well organized, safe and orderly.

Of the six responsibilities, STUDENT DISCIPLINE by far is the highest priority. Realistically, the assistant principal’s school day is dominated by dealing with time consuming disciplinary cases, mostly small but sometimes more serious. Therefore, the principal is looking for an assistant principal who exercises good judgement, is thorough, is effective with kids, and knows how to speak with parents in a tactful and respectful manner.

The ability to command respect by just being a presence is vital; some call it “gravitas”. That is the ability to project self-confidence, influence, credibility, and command respect. When you speak, others listen. In order to be an effective supervisor in large group settings, and in dealing with staff or parents, it is a requirement to project gravitas.

You should assume that the reviewer of your resume and your interviewers, and particularly the principal, will be looking for evidence that you have some experience, knowledge and skills in fulfilling most of these six responsibilities. Be aware that these “top six” needs do not include such wants as professional development, curriculum development, personnel or budget management among others, even though these functions might be included in the job description. The principal is going to choose a candidate based on what he/she needs and not what’s wanted.

Your resume should prominently include evidence of performing these six functions, and you should prepare answers to interviewers’ questions pertaining to these areas. Expect “what would you do” scenarios that are aimed at assessing your judgement and practical knowledge of how these various processes work. A few sample questions might be:

  1. Walk us through step-by-step how you would deal with a fight in the corridor?
  2. Role playing the assistant principal who receives a phone call from an irate parent complaining that his child is being treated unfairly by a teacher.
  3. How would you deal with a veteran teacher who is not addressing recommendations you made on his/her observation report?
  4. How would you go about doing a formal teacher observation?

The key to be a successful candidate is preparation. Focus your preparation on the real priorities of the person to whom you’ll be assisting.



Starting a new job is an opportunity to re-invent yourself. It can be a chance to leave whatever baggage you might have had behind you and get a fresh start. Aside from doing the obvious like making a good first impression by introducing yourself to the various stakeholder groups, coming up to speed on what is going on, and doing a “listening tour”, which all are certainly good things to do, you need to consider the following:

  • Be visible and accessible – attend school-community events, but most importantly create opportunities to interact with small groups and one-on-one with community members. Don’t just be a speaker or an attendee.
  •  “Pick low lying fruit”—this means find out what immediate non-controversial tasks must be accomplished, choose the fastest, most popular and easiest priority, and get it done. Word will spread quickly that you are a doer and not a “talker”.
  • Be humble—don’t brag about you’ve done. Give credit to your team members. They will appreciate the recognition and in return speak well of you. No one likes a braggart.
  • Keep your own counsel—Avoid sharing your personal opinions about anyone or anything. Keep your personal life private. Do not speak negatively about neither your prior work experiences nor work associates. School communities are rife with gossip. Never create opportunities for gossip to spread about yourself.
  • Never over-promise or under-deliver—do not make promises that you might not be able to achieve. When you set a goal, make it measurable so that there is a standard that’s modest enough so that it will be readily achieved. It’s always better to exceed the standard so it’s perceived that you over-achieved.
  • Do not criticize your predecessor— whoever your predecessor might have been or done, or whatever you’ve heard about him or her, be aware that he or she had admirers who would resent hearing that you are critical and will hold it against you.
  • Don’t pick unnecessary fights—your early cheerleaders’ support is newborn and therefore tentative. It takes time to achieve solid support that you can depend upon should you run into a problem. If you do encounter a potentially divisive issue, then find middle ground and attempt a compromise. You can’t afford to go to war without strong allies.
  • Seek out assistance and advice—most influencers are flattered when asked for their input. They feel respected, validated and appreciated. This is an effective way of building supportive constituencies.
  • Build loyal relationships with your supervisors— effective leaders need to rely upon the loyalty of their direct reports. Leaking confidential information, criticizing and undermining decisions, and personality assassination are all examples of destructive actions that leaders can suffer from disloyal subordinates. Your boss needs your loyalty. Demonstrate your loyalty by never publicly contradicting them, speaking positively about them, and acting in concert with their priorities. Hopefully they will in return be loyal to you, however, too often loyalty is a one-way street.

Screening Interviews: How Does It Work?

How is my resume screened? How long is the interview? What is its purpose? What can you expect during the interview? If I apply for a job and don’t hear back should I call? Although each district customizes their process, the variations are usually minor. So, how does it really work?

When you apply for a position, be prepared to wait. Don’t be a pest and call the office of human resources to inquire about your status. They are busy people who are filling many different positions. A few directors of human resources continuously screen resumes as they come on-line. HR offices send them to the direct supervisor for further screening. Let’s assume there are 200 qualified candidates who apply. The goal is to have a small screening committee interview about 15 to 18 candidates. How do they get from 200 to 15? If it takes just two minutes to review each candidate’s resume, that’s 400 minutes. I’m sorry to say that each resume will get much less than two minutes. The reviewer is a busy person. Consequently, the reviewer will speed read the resumes. Typos and grammatical errors often get tossed out. These kinds of errors connote that you are sloppy and make mistakes. The screener’s first goal is to sort the total pile into three piles. Pile A will contain the “must see”, B “maybe”, and C are of “no further interest”. Those in the A group are: (1) seeking a “good” parallel move; (2) people who hold degrees from outstanding universities; (3) holding a doctorate; (4) qualified internal candidates and/or courtesy interviews; and (5) people with exceptional accomplishments. The B pile is created in case they can’t get at least 12 to15 into the A pile and then get a second look. The C pile is composed of inexperienced people with little in the way of accomplishments, folks with poor reputations, the “perennial” candidate, and those who have unexplained and suspicious gaps on their resumes.

Outstanding universities, in my opinion, are Ivy League schools or fine schools with which we are familiar. In the New York area, graduate degrees from Columbia Teachers’ College, NYU and Fordham are the most coveted. Under-graduate degrees from fine colleges are also appealing on resumes.

Exceptional and/or interesting candidates are people who have been successful in the business and corporate world; the non-profit sector; the world of entrepreneurs; and the military. When qualified, these candidates, depending on their accomplishments, are often worthy of a good look. Finally, courtesy interviews are given to those who “have friends in high places” (Board members, and/or recommendations from friends of upper level administrators). A courtesy interviewee is generally only guaranteed a screening interview. Then they are on their own.

The screening interview usually takes 10 to 15 minutes. If it lasts longer, then that’s a good sign—it shows interest. The screening committee will likely consist of two or three people. If you’re interviewing for an assistant principal position, you will probably meet the principal, an assistant principal, perhaps the director of human resources, and/or a teacher. Be aware that the screening interview is essentially a “meet and greet”. It’s designed to see if you’re a “regular person” (not quirky, odd in some way, or inappropriate), well spoken, professional, intelligent, easy to engage, likeable, respectful, and seemingly a good fit for the community. They almost always start by asking: “Tell us about yourself”.

Be prepared to answer what I call resume questions. “You’ve been an assistant principal at the ABC School for four years, why do you want to leave now?” “I understand that your school recently hired a new principal, were you a candidate for that position?” “I see you were a dean for two years and then you went back to the classroom. Can you explain this?” They may also ask, what I call, process or “how would you” questions: “Given the teacher evaluation process, walk us through how you would observe a teacher who is not in your area of teacher certification?” Limit your answers to no more than two to three minutes. If they want to hear more, they’ll ask.

They will wrap up the interview with the moderator saying, “We’re speaking to a number of folks. We’ll get back to you within the next couple of weeks. Do you have any questions for us at this time?” Now remember, they are under strict time constraints. They are being polite. They really don’t want to answer a lot of questions. It’s time to thank them for the opportunity, indicate that you look forward to seeing them again, and leave. Then drop the interviewers “thank you” emails. The committee’s goal is usually to reduce the number of candidates to 6 to 8. The next step is going on to the larger committee for a 30-minute interview.

It’s time to wait it out again and hope for the best. If you’re rejected and the moderator appeared to be sincerely approachable, you might want to write a short email thanking them for their efforts and asking if it would be okay to schedule a brief telephone conversation to get constructive feedback.

Good news travels by phone and text messages, and bad news comes in the form of a letter or an email. Let’s hope your phone always rings!