Month: June 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 thirteen 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.

Dr. Aronstein coaches school leaders thru their interview process and in developing their resumes…



Over the last 10 years, I have coached more than 500 candidates seeking school leadership jobs. Most of my work has focused on revising resumes and preparing for job interviews. Once my clients get their new positions, they sometimes reach out to me to get advice on the next step in their careers or how to deal with problems they might be facing in their new job. Looking back and reflecting on my experiences as a coach, I decided to share my “takeaways”, lessons learned, that might help candidates be more effective.

  1. GET INPUT ON YOUR RESUME AND INTERVIEWING STRATEGIES—your resume is a work in progress. Advice you get will be well-intentioned, however, the field of public education is unique. You need to get guidance from an experienced educator who has reviewed countless resumes and interviewed 1,000’s of candidates. Don’t waste years of job searching trying to figure it out by yourself.
  2. CRAFT YOUR NARRATIVE—the first question you will probably be asked is: “Tell us about yourself”. In response, most all candidates review their work and educational experiences. After listening to a series of 15 to 20 candidates, interviewers grow weary –begins to sound the same. They’ve already reviewed your resume. So, craft and tell your story. They are dying to find a compelling candidate.
  3. BE AUTHENTIC—your story must be coherent, credible, and relatable. Be real. Present yourself as someone who shares their school-community’s values, and will easily fit in. Tell a short story about a success you had. Mention your own experiences growing up. Talk about your family.
  4. STICK TO 2 MINUTE RULE—most candidates talk too much. They repeat themselves. They go off on tangents and don’t answer the question. Discipline yourself to limit your responses to two minutes. If the interviewers want to hear more, they will ask you to elaborate.
  5. QUANTIFY ACCOMPLISHMENTS—speak to your accomplishments, not your job description. Wherever possible, quantify the accomplishment. “The result of switching to the new approach to literacy, our school-wide achievement went up by 12% over three years”.
  6. BE INFORMED BY PREVIOUS QUESTIONS—take note of the topics of questioning as you go to the next rounds of interviewing. It is reasonable to anticipate that you will be asked similar questions in future rounds. It’s an opportunity to fine tune your answers.
  7. OFFER INSIGHTS INTO THEIR PROBLEMS—do your homework in researching what’s going on in the school and the district. Find out what kind of problems they are facing. Prepare answers that will address their problems.
  8. BE AWARE OF STEREOTYPING—unfortunately, we in education tend to stereotype educational work experiences. There is a strong tendency on the part of decision makers to take a negative view of school settings that are different from their own. For instance, leaders in affluent suburban districts are dismissive of candidates from big cities, parochial and private schools, charter schools, vocational and special needs schools. This practice is not limited to suburban schools; the opposite is valid as well.
  9. STEER CLEAR OF CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES & DISAGREEMENTS—interviewers can be confrontational, and questions concerning controversial social issues can be asked. Avoid taking the bait. Try to remain neutral.
  10. GET OBJECTIVE FEEDBACK—the need to get objective and candid feedback from an experienced coach cannot be over-stated. Every interview is a learning experience. You don’t have to be in it alone.

Interviewed by a Board of Education

Over the last several years boards of education have become more actively involved in interviewing and selecting candidates for leadership positions. State laws dictate that only the Board can make personnel appointments. Of course, board members are elected officials and as such they have their own priorities and can be influenced by their constituents. Consequently, if a candidate is going to be interviewed by the Board, you need to find out who they are and what their priorities might be.

Find out the occupation of board members. The kind of questions that a professional educator might ask are different from those of an accountant, or a techie, or a real estate agent. Does the trustee have a child in the special education program, or is he or she involved in youth athletics, the music boosters, or the performing arts? Board Members for the most part are parents and will ask the kind of questions that parents ask. Be prepared to answer questions like these:

  1. What expertise do you bring to your staff in enhancing student learning through the use of technology?
  2. How would you go about assisting a teacher who is having difficulty with disruptive kids?
  3. How would you go about determining what your priorities should be in your new position?
  4. How would you deal with a veteran teacher who is burned out?
  5. What characteristics do you look for in an excellent teacher?
  6. What would you do if your supervisor made a decision that you disagreed with and you felt would harm children?
  7. How would you deal with a parent who is dissatisfied with how a teacher is conducting his/her class? Assume that the parent has already spoken to the teacher.
  8. If you interviewed candidates for a teacher vacancy, what three questions would you ask them?
  9. What would you do to attract more students into the music and arts programs?
  10. What would you do to support the philosophy of inclusion in our special education program?
  11. Do you have any ideas about saving money?
  12. What’s your approach to student discipine?

Beware that some Board Members can be aggressive and/or argumentative in how they ask questions and may challenge you. Do not fight back. Keep your cool, remain professional, and if you don’t agree, just say: “That’s an interesting point. I would have to think about that”.

A final reminder. Remember that the two most important factors in getting a job is being likeable and being a good fit for the school-community. Be pleasant, smile, and try to resonate with the cultural norms and values of the Board.