Author: laronstein


I have been coaching school leaders and aspiring leaders in preparation for their interviews for ten years. My clients frequently ask me how to answer questions that they struggle with. Here’s a sampling of a few of those questions, my strategies as to how to answer, and my answers:

1. “What would your direct supervisor say about you if I called her?” (You think you might not get a positive recommendation from her; what can you do?)

Analysis: You can’t criticize your supervisor, and you can’t say that she might say something negative about you. What you can do is to speak to your supervisor; let her know that she might be getting a reference call; and ask her for a positive recommendation that emphasizes the positive things that you’ve done. Most supervisors are not out to destroy your career. Who knows; she might see this as an opportunity to get rid of you, and give you a positive recommendation?

Answer: “I think she will say that I have great relationships with my students and their parents, that I’m always well prepared, and that I’m always willing to give my time and attention to assist my students.”

2. “If you get this position, how long do you plan on staying in it?”

Analysis: You probably don’t know how long you’ll stay or how things will work out. Your new supervisors probably don’t want to go through additional transitions in the short run. However, you won’t be credible if you say you’ll stay for the remainder of your career. Employers seek leaders who are honest. Your answer needs to offer a logical rationale that supports your response.

Answer: “Assuming that things will work out well, I think five to seven years would make sense. The literature says that it takes at least five years to implement and sustain structural improvements. I’m committed to see my work through to positive outcomes.”

3. “You’re a certified school leader with very little leadership experience, why should we hire you over more experienced candidates?”

Analysis: Your aim is to present yourself as a self-confident, “can do” person who will grow on the job. Your selling points are your accomplishments as a teacher, your potential and willingness to embrace being mentored and molded into the culture of your new school and district, and your raw undeveloped talent and energy.

Answer: “I may not be your most experienced candidate, but I can assure you that no one will be more eager to grow and learn, and work harder than I. I believe my colleagues will tell you that I’m a teacher leader who has played leading roles in some of our most important school improvements. My resume outlines some of these projects. Let me add that as a high school and college athlete I was often chosen as team captain. I’ve been told that I’m a “natural born leader.”

4. “I see on your resume that you live more than an hour away. Is that going to be a problem?”

Analysis: Never hesitate to “shoot down” any obstacle that might diminish your value. You should provide evidence that any of their concerns have been overcome or resolved in the past. Employers want to be assured.

Answer: “I take full responsibility for my attendance and timeliness. Although my present place of work is 15 miles less of a commute, my time in traffic commuting here would be about the same. It is fair to say that I’m never late and usually one of the first people to arrive. It’s not a problem.”

5. “As an experienced school leader, tell us about a failure you experienced, and more importantly, what lesson did you learn from it?”

Analysis: This is similar to the often-asked question, “What is your greatest weakness?” The worst answer is, “I really can’t think of one”. Being humble and self-reflective are very desirable characteristics. The example you provide should be designed to resonate with the interviewers’ experiences and evoke their empathy.

Answer: “As an inexperienced leader years ago, I made decisions based on gut feelings or intuition. What I’ve learned over the years was to put more trust in my ability take time… listen to people I trust even when they have divergent opinions and gather credible information and data. I’ve learned what I call, “watch the movie”. In other words, listen, suspend judgement, slow down the inquiry, and ultimately decide on what is in the best interests of my students. The example that comes to mind was when I was serving as a superintendent, I had a strong desire to initiate an International Bachelorette Program. As we debated the merits of the program, I became more inclined to start the program. However, I encountered some strong opposition from a segment in the community and from the teachers’ union. My gut told me that it would be divisive, and I backed away from moving ahead. I regret not listening to my leadership team.”

Larry Aronstein provides career coaching to school leaders and aspiring leaders. Learn more at


  1. Tell us about yourself. Make your resume come alive.
  2. Why do you want to become a leader?
  3. What do you know about our school/district? Why do you want to work here?
  4. How would you deal with a veteran teacher who is not receptive to your recommendations?
  5. What role and what aspects should remote learning play once the pandemic is over?
  6. What are most important things you look for when doing a classroom visit?
  7. What expertise do you bring to your staff in enhancing student learning through the use of technology?
  8. How do you know (what evidence do you seek) that students are learning the concepts and skills that are being taught?
  9. How would you go about assisting a teacher who is having difficulty with classroom management/student discipline?
  10. What are the most productive ways of doing staff development so that teachers can enhance their teaching repertoire?
  11. How would you go about determining what your priorities should be in your new position?
  12. Assuming that your primary assigned duties as an assistant principal are:  bus, corridor and cafeteria duty; scheduling of assessments; student discipline; ordering textbooks and other supplies and materials—how will you learn to become an effective instructional leader?
  13. How would you go about leading a committee or a professional learning community?
  14. Assume that there is a fight in the corridor, how would you deal with this?
  15. What would you do if one of your teachers refers 40% of your total discipline cases?
  16. Assume that an unpopular policy has been made and many parents are unhappy about its implementation. How would you deal with a room full of angry parents at a PTA meeting?
  17. What would you do if your supervisor was making a decision that you believed to be illegal and/or immoral, and you felt would be harmful to others?
  18. If you interviewed candidates for a teacher vacancy, what three questions would you ask them?
  19. Tell me about a student who you helped that might have changed that child’s life.
  20. How would you deal with a parent who is dissatisfied with how a teacher is treating his/her child? Assume that the parent has already spoken to the teacher.


Are you facing a potentially career ending set of circumstances? (1) Were you denied tenure, or are you facing being denied tenure? (2) Were you or have you been forced to resign? (3) Have you ever been terminated? (4) Are you suspended (re-assigned to stay home)? (5) Have you been demoted or are you facing being demoted? (6) Are you facing serious charges that may result in termination or loss of license? (7) Do you have a bad reputation and are you being black balled? (8) Do you face getting poor references? (9) Has your job been eliminated or are you facing job elimination?

Although all of these situations are serious, confusing and anxiety provoking, you must deal with them in a measured and rational way; no not panic, do not be distracted or motivated by your pain and anger and make things even worse. In most of these cases you will probably need help from your union, a personal attorney, highly informed and well-intentioned colleagues and friends. You must act strategically and in your own best interests. And you must also pay attention to your health, including your mental health. Here are some strategies you to consider:

(1) Denied/being denied tenure—If you are informed that you will not be getting tenure, you must jump start a search for a new job. (If you even had an inkling of being denied, your resume should be ready to go.) Find out from HR the last possible time that you can resign. Always resign rather than being formally denied tenure or terminated by action of the Board. Every job application has a question, “Have you ever been terminated or denied tenure.” If the answer is “yes”, your career in education is most probably over. Therefore, resign. If you are asked during an interview, “Are you being denied tenure?”, or “Have you resigned?”, your truthful answer at that moment is “No”; not until the effective date that your resignation is accepted by the Board.

(2) Forced to resign—If you are non-tenured and the administration has fulfilled their contractual and legal obligations, you will probably have to resign if asked. However, always check with your union and have them review your case with legal counsel. On the other hand, if you are accused of a serious wrong-doing and are asked to resign or be brought up on charges which might lead to termination and the loss of your license, then you should consider getting your own attorney. Your state association’s attorneys are usually over-committed, working on a multitude of cases, and cannot spend sufficient time on cases; some of their attorneys are inexperienced and can be outgunned by the district’s legal counsel. If you hire your own lawyer, make sure he or she is highly reputable and experienced in school law and labor law. Do not be surprised if you’ll be required to pay a substantial up-front retainer. Legally pursuing a serious case is usually a long and costly process for both sides. Most of these cases wind up being negotiated.

(3) Terminated—Being terminated will end your career. Avoid termination at all costs. The best way to avoid termination is through negotiation. Expect that resignation usually will be a non-negotiable part of the deal. What you might get in return can be extended salary and health insurance, a neutral letter of recommendation, and a sealed case file. Union lawyers are usually pretty effective at this kind of negotiation.  

(4) Suspension—The term “suspended” is usually called “re-assigned or assigned”. It means that you will be relieved of the duties of your position. Oftentimes, you can be directed to stay home and are not permitted on school property or events; or the district may assign you to report to an isolated space to perform some busy work—some call that a “padded room”. If the suspension occurs in connection to a termination process, you can find yourself in this state for many months or even years. In most cases you will receive a “suspension with pay” and regular benefits until the case is resolved. Other suspensions can be part of a penalty for a less significant charge. This is usually part of a negotiated agreement and can be without pay or even with a fine. Usually there’s a specific duration for the suspension. Suspensions are also given to provide time while a more complete investigation is taking place.

(5) Demotion and Layoff–A common issue is reduction in force (RIF); that is the need to eliminate positions based upon budget cuts, job consolidations and school closings. Administrative contracts and school laws have language that covers the processes that are used. The processes usually come down to areas of certification and longevity in a position. Frankly, some districts exploit RIF’s as a strategy to get rid of what they consider to be personnel who are undesirable. Unions usually review these RIF plans very closely. If you are demoted or laid off due to a RIF, be certain to get a letter from your district detailing the situation. Demotion can also stem from being promoted within the district and that new position not working out. When you agree to a promotion, try to avoid resigning from your tenured position until you earn tenure in your new position. This is sometimes included in your contract.   

(6) Loss of license –When a serious charge is filed, the district has a legal obligation to file the complaint with the State Education Department (SED). They will then monitor the progress of the case. Potentially, the State could exercise its prerogative to file charges and hold hearings which could lead to loss of license. The SED provides public information that names persons and their status. The duration of this process and the potential appeals can take years to resolve.

(7) Bad reputation (black balled) –Alleged wrongdoing, complaints, and/or disciplinary charges should all be handled confidentially. However, gossip, rumors, and leaks do occur and can become exaggerated in their re-telling. Unfortunately, the public relishes juicy gossip. The educational community is actually small, and word will get around and can ruin reputations. This can lead to being black balled within the job market. It is difficult to rehabilitate a reputation. A bad reputation can persist for decades. Perhaps the best antidote to neutralize unfair and unfounded allegations is for highly respected colleagues and friends to publicly defend you as soon as possible. I refer to these good people as “angels”.  If all else fails, sometimes the last alternative is to re-locate.

(8) Poor references—Experienced HR people do checks beyond letters of reference. So, it’s not enough to get good letters. If supervisors feel they can’t write you a positive letter. Problems can occur when the potential employer calls your supervisors. It is time consuming to place calls and make contact at a mutually convenient time. Therefore, calls for references generally are not made until the end of the search process when it seriously gets down to one to three candidates. Most likely you will be asked to provide a short list of references. You should provide the names of all of your supervisors who know you and the quality of your work. If you omit key people, it will be recognized and there’s a good chance that they will be contacted anyway. Always give your references a heads up that they might be called. Most supervisors will give you a positive or at least a neutral recommendation unless they feel that they’ve been aggrieved by you. If asked a direct question, they will not lie on your behalf. If your potential new employer really likes you, they may choose to select you anyway, assuming that you’ve done nothing terribly wrong. You should be prepared to answer “uncomfortable” questions as they follow up to a criticism that a reference may make about you. You should never lie. Just respond in a manner that mitigates or clarifies the criticism without attacking the source.


I am not an attorney. My advice is solely based on my years of experience in dealing with these situations as a supervisor and coach. My best advice is to get good advice from an objective well-informed professional who will confidentially guide you. These are difficult situations which have neither easy nor always successful outcomes.

Superintendent of Schools Interview Questions

Below are the kind of questions you will be asked as part of the interview process for the position of Superintendent of Schools. Do you need help in effectively responding to these and other challenging questions? Consider being coached.

  1. What do you anticipate being the most difficult types of problems that you will face in our district?
  2. What process will you use to build an effective leadership team?
  3. What strategies would you use when responding to a crisis?
  4. What steps do you go through in developing a District Budget?
  5. Assume that there is a serious need to improve buildings and grounds, how would you go about Capital Improvement Planning?
  6. What is your approach to effectively evaluate teachers and principals resulting in their professional growth and development?
  7. Outline your Entry Plan for your 1st hundred days
  8. What qualities do you look for in teaching and administrative candidates?
  9. How do you go about making visits to schools?
  10. Describe the process you use in communicating with school leaders and Central Office
  11. How do you teach and mentor school leaders?
  12. What functions or problems should the Superintendent personally take on?
  13. What process do you use in developing annual district goals?
  14. What role do you play in negotiations with various unions?
  15. How do you determine when it is necessary to communicate with school legal counsel?
  16. How do you handle Superintendent Hearings?
  17. How do you prefer to develop agendas for Board Meetings?
  18. What should be the role of the Board President?
  19. What is your role in dealing with grievances?
  20. How do you deal with conducting investigations of wrong doing?
  21. How do you prefer that the Board do your Superintendent Evaluation?
  22. Walk through the steps of developing and putting up a Bond Issue
  23. How do you go about deciding on a Snow Day?
  24. What is your approach to dealing with the Union Leaders?
  25. How transparent is your approach to “transparency”?
  26. How do you go about building morale?
  27. Taking a long-term view, how do you go about sustaining positive change?
  28. Describe your Decision-Making Process
  29. Tell us about an unpopular decision you made? What did you learn from it?
  30. Tell us about any innovations you brought about in the area of School Security and Public Safety
  31. How do you develop positive relations with Police and Fire Officials?
  32. What creative ideas do you have about maintaining positive public image for the district?
  33. How will you make yourself more accessible to your publics?
  34. How will you deal with “special requests and favors” from “entitled” constituents?
  35. How do you deal with disloyal school leaders who speak ill of your leadership?
  36. What would you do if you strongly disagreed with a decision of the Board?
  37. How long do you expect to remain in the district?
  38. What are professional or personal issues that are non-negotiable?
  39. How do you deal with free speech and student publications?
  40. What is your vision of the role of technology in remote learning?
  41. How do you deal with the ever-rising costs of special education?
  42. What do you consider to be your three great professional accomplishments?
  43. Do you have ideas about cost savings?

Dr. Larry Aronstein is a retired Superintendent of Schools who has confidentially coached scores of central office administrators land their jobs. He can help you.

Can You Be Over-Prepared for an Interview?

Can you be over-prepared for an interview? The answer is NO. Being carefully and thoroughly prepared is an important key to successfully giving an outstanding interview. Being well prepared includes: (1) building self-confidence; (2) demonstrating to the interviewers that you’ve done your homework; (3) and providing well-constructed evidence that you have mastered the knowledge, attitudes and skills that they are seeking in a top candidate. What can you do so that you do not come off as sounding rehearsed? How can you prepare yourself? How do you know if you’re well prepared?

  • Practice how not to come off as sounding rehearsed—Your tone should be conversational. Slow down your speaking pace. Speak directly to the question; do not go off on tangents. Eliminate using excessive verbiage and jargon. Listen to the entire question and do not start answering before the questioner has stopped talking. Briefly pause before you speak. Thoughtful people think before they speak. If you manage to do all of these things, you will come off sounding more natural.
  • Be prepared– Preparation has to do with taking a deep dive into all of the information you can gather about the town, district, school, school leadership, and school priorities and issues from a wide variety of sources. Try to anticipate areas or themes of questioning derived from the job posting and your research. Craft thoughtful answers and rehearse your responses. Time the length of your responses; keep your answers down to two minutes. Get high quality feedback from knowledgeable and a trusted mentor and coach. Based on feedback, carefully fine tuning your answers.
  • Am I fully prepared—Do you remember the saying, “The proof is in the pudding”? If you have a pattern of getting interviews but are failing to move more deeply into the process, then you probably are not adequately prepared. You can waste years in your job search trying to figure out what went wrong and attempting to make adjustments by self-diagnosing and “self-modifying” your answers based on shreds of incomplete feedback, and well -intended advice.  In other words, using “trial and error”. Be careful about getting too many opinions. Opinions are often contradictory, and it will be confusing. The answer is to find yourself an experienced coach. A good coach can evaluate your answers, help give you clarity, and remediate your approach to interviewing.

An interviewer once challenged me during an interview that I had anticipated his questions and that my answers appeared to be well rehearsed. Somehow I found the presence of mind to respond this way: “Assuming that you’re right, I would think you’d conclude that my ability to anticipate your questions were impressive pieces of research and thinking, and I assume you want well-prepared  and smart leaders working for you.” The result was that I was moved on to the next stage of the process. There is no downside in being “over-prepared”.

Dr. Larry Aronstein coaches school leaders and aspiring leaders in preparing for interviews and in the preparation of resumes. Learn more about him by visiting

The Politics of Inside Candidates

“Should I even bother to apply for a job when I know that there are inside candidates? Can I ever beat out an insider? Are the cards already stacked against me?” The short answer is “yes”. You should apply. Like your mother would say, “There’s nothing to lose.” Be aware that the actual status of the insider or insiders is unknown. The “powers that be”, meaning the superintendent, board members, other administrators, may not favor the insider. The insider may be on the wrong side of some internal issue, some political alignment, or is just not highly respected. Oftentimes, the screening committee will reject the insider’s candidacy, which results in a wide-open process.

Even if there you wind up competing with an insider, it remains a possibility that you may prevail. You have no control over the status of other candidates, but you do have control over the quality of your own performance. All you can do is to do your very best and then hope for the best.

However, before you take a job be on the lookout for nepotism and xenophobia; these conditions flourish in too many of our schools. Just knowing someone on the inside to get a job may not even be enough. Sometimes you must be someone on the inside. Under some circumstances you must even grow up, live and work in the district.

Be aware that you might not even want to work in a place in which nepotism is the rule. Organizations that regularly practice nepotism are often resistant to any significant change and neither seek nor honor diverse perspectives which might come from outside sources.  Leaders in these schools might argue, “If it ain’t broken why fix it”. They assert the need for continuity and consistency. They preach that outsiders often don’t relate to their community. They take pride in being a “close knit community”. Conventional wisdom seems to be that the only way to land a job in some school districts is to be an inside candidate. If this is the case, then you might be better off not working in a place like this. Be careful what you wish for because you may get it.

Aside from being unfair, nepotism often results in mediocrity in that the best qualified candidates are passed up, and the same practices are perpetuated, as the torch is passed to yet another insider who was weaned in a closed system. The justification for rejecting outside candidates is often that “they’re not a good fit”which ironically is oftentrue! Unfortunately, sometimes “outsiders” are chosen and then not listened to, sometimes even shunned. Ideally, schools are organizations that should be open, and must continue to grow and learn.

Ten Rules on How to Not Mess Up Your Interview

Don’t talk too much. Answer each question within two to two and one-half minutes. Give one good example. The panel is working within a tight schedule. Nobody likes a chatter box. If they want to hear more, they will ask you to elaborate.

Answer the question. Stick to the interviewers’ questions. Stay on topic. Panelists commonly ask the same questions to every candidate in order to compare answers. Be careful about getting on a roll and going off on tangents which might result in not answering the question. Not answering the question will be noticed.

Never fake an answer. If you’re asked about something that you don’t know, simply admit that you don’t know. Nobody likes a faker. You should add, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I am a quick learner, and will learn whatever I need to know in order to get the job done.” If you don’t understand the question, it’s acceptable to say that you don’t understand the question and ask if they can repeat or rephrase it.

Don’t overdo It. Laughing too long and too loudly at a joke that’s not all that funny, becoming overly enthusiastic about one of your own answers, being argumentative and emphatic about a minor issue, are all examples of “over doing it.” Professionals maintain an even keel. Act like an adult. Being over-the-top just raises eye brows and generates side glances.

Direct yourself to the whole table. In a group interview, you have to try to please everyone who’s sitting around the table. You can’t afford to please administrators but alienate the teachers. Seek out the middle ground and demonstrate your diplomatic skills. As you speak, slowly look at all of the panelists.

Don’t misrepresent yourself. With the availability of Google, Facebook, and on-line newspapers, it is pretty easy to check out your background. Stretching the truth or misrepresenting yourself and being found out is fatal. The regional educational community is a small circle. You will be checked out.

Say calm. Don’t expect that every answer will be a homerun. Try not to get rattled if you think your answer to a question is weak. As the song says, “Just keep on keepin’ on!”  Interviewers are people too. They know that you’re nervous, and they are forgiving. They will recognize it if you redeem yourself by giving a strong response to the next question.

Act like a guest. I’ve witnessed candidates come into the room and move their table and chair to be closer to the panel. I’ve encountered several candidates who became insistent about setting up a PowerPoint presentation, even after they were told not to do so. Most commonly, there are candidates who drone on and on, despite being told, “Thank you. Now, let’s go on to the next question.” You’re not throwing the party. Act like a guest.

Be respectful. No matter how disrespected or provoked you might feel, always remain respectful. As a candidate, I have sat out in a waiting room for up to an hour and a half. I have been asked to do a writing sample, even though I’ve been published dozens of times and written a doctoral dissertation. A questioner has even criticized my current employer. Through it all, hold your tongue, smile, and be polite. Don’t be combative.

Leave your baggage home. Question: “What do you expect from us in order for you to be successful?” The best response would be to say, “I work best as a member of a mutually supportive team.” Unfortunately, I’ve actually had candidates say, “My last boss was verbally abusive, I could not work under those conditions.” Another response was, “I need to have flexibility. As a parent, I must be home by 4:30, and I can’t attend evening functions.” Don’t put up obstacles, and don’t present yourself as someone who may be difficult to deal with.

The best advice that anyone can give you is to just be yourself, let them know who you are and what you stand for, speak from the heart, and be appropriate.

Dr. Aronstein provides one-on-one coaching which prepares you for interviews, and helps you prepare your resume. Find out more– www.


The Cover Letter

A cover letter is always required, however cover letters are seldom carefully read and there’s a good chance that it might never be read. Yet, you might as well develop the best one that you can.

General Guidelines:

  1. Keep the letter to one page.
  2. Carefully proofread for any mechanical errors—spelling, punctuation, grammar, word choice, capitalization, complete sentences. Have a colleague who has excellent writing skills proofread.
  3. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. Avoid flowery language (“It is with great pleasure that you kindly accept this humble letter of application for your recently posted position on OLAS for elementary school assistant principal.”) This should read: “I am applying for your assistant principal position.”
  4. Emphasize your accomplishments. Avoid presenting your job description.
  5. Address your letter to the person identified in the job posting. If a name is not identified, then address it: “To Whom It May Concern:”
  6. Make certain that you address it to the right district. You will usually send the same form of the letter to various districts, so be careful to change the name when addressing the new letter.
  7. Use a four-paragraph format.

Paragraph 1:

  1. “I am applying for the position of______________.”
  2. “For the last five years I have been serving as ____________ in the ____________School District.
  3. Previous to this I was ______________.
  4. “I earned my _____________________________. “(list your academic degrees, major areas of study, and the universities)
  5. Specifically indicate why you are interested in applying for this position. Why are you attracted to this job and this school-community? Be positive.

Paragraph 2:

  1. Briefly describe two or three of your significant accomplishments that relate to this new position and/or school-community.

Paragraph 3:

        Identify three professional qualities and/or guiding principles that colleagues would use to describe you and define you, and briefly provide an example for each quality.

Paragraph 4:

     Briefly conclude with two sentences: “I look forward to meeting with you in the near future in order that I might provide you with more information regarding my candidacy. Thank you in advance for your serious consideration.”

Sign off: “Sincerely,”


Your resume is your first introduction to your new potential employer. As the saying goes, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”. As a career coach, I rarely see a resume that can’t be significantly improved upon. If you are a well-qualified candidate and are not getting interviews to at least 30% of the jobs to which you are applying, then your problem your resume is probably your problem. The function of your resume is to get you to the next step, namely an interview. Here are my guidelines for preparing a resume that works for you.

1. Less Is More—do not overwhelm the reader with superfluous verbiage

2. Focus on Accomplishments; Not a Job Description

3. Lead with Your Strengths (list first—catch attention)

4. Ignore Most Rules (omit objective; determine your own sequence of categories and timeline; keep format simple)

5. Start Bullet Statements with Action Verb (past tense)

6. Emphasize Accomplishments that Match Job Posting (strengths)

7. De-emphasize or Omit Irrelevant Jobs, Activities and/or Accomplishments unrelated to the position

8. Interests & Activities Can Capture Attention– acting, fitness enthusiast, interesting hobbies (visits to Presidents’ birth sites), cultural travel experiences, speak foreign languages

9. Feng Shui Your Resume—the order and placement of the content counts

10. Adapt Resume for Different Positions (elementary, middle or high school; affluent or blue-collar community; urban, urban-suburban, small town, rural)

11. Set Maximum Number of Bullets—current position 7-8 bullets; prior positions 3-5 bullets

12. Sweat the Mechanics– spelling, subject-verb agreement, capitalization and punctuation; grammar; word selection; consistent format; readable font size

13. Cover Letter– 3-4 paragraphs always required but seldom read

14. References upon Request– do not list

15. Get Constructive Feedback from school leaders who review resume

16. Never Confuse or Mislead the Reader– clear timeline; short and simple sentences; avoid professional jargon

17. Never Lie


Larry Aronstein is a career coach who assists educational leaders, aspiring leaders, and teachers in preparing their resumes and prepping for interviews. Visit to find out about Dr. Aronstein’s services and ebooks.


Here is a typical message I get from new school leaders every year:

I wanted to touch base with you. I have a few questions and value your insight.  I had a successful year.  Being a leader is certainly a challenge, but I have learned a lot. Do you have any advice for year two or three?

 (1) How, in your experiences, do years two, three and four differ from year one?  

(2) I’ve been receiving a lot of different advice about future steps in my career.  In my district, I’m interested in ultimately moving into a principal position. I’d also be interested in K-12 coordinator position in other districts. Should I just wait and see how things play out here? There will likely be openings sooner rather than later, and then express my interest in being a building principal in the event an opening occurs, or should I look outside the district if the right opening comes along?

(3) I’ve been advised that you should always wait until gaining tenure before looking for a new position. Do you agree? I don’t want to be perceived as being ungrateful for being given the opportunity to work here.

I am happy in my position for now, but given the administrative and political structures here, I don’t know how long I might want to stay in my current role. Thanks for your insight!”

My response:

“It’s great to hear from you. I’m not surprised you had a successful year. Year one is a “getting to know you year”—first impressions—can we trust one another—are you the real deal. Year two is “let’s get down to business and start doing some substantive stuff. The challenge, as you know, is that a lot of folks would rather “make nice” than “make improvements”. It’s tricky because you can’t alienate your constituents, even a minority of them, who could resist and/or undermine you and your efforts. My experience taught me that most teachers prefer to be comfortable with the status quo. They certainly don’t like changes being made without their input and involvement.

The degree to which you can push teachers and in what direction depends on the support of your principal and district leaders. Even if your leaders assert that they are aggressive and want change, you still need to be cautious.

I understand the “rule” to get your tenure first and then seek a new position. However, if you are confidential in how you search for a new job, you will probably be okay. That means, confide in no one—not even your closest allies—everybody gossips. Most districts to which you apply will maintain confidentiality until the very end of the process when they need to check your references.

The most accessible career path forward is usually within your own district; especially a larger district where there is a greater likelihood for movement. Personally speaking, in most schools an assistant principal is an important but a thankless job—student discipline, scheduling, cafeteria and bus supervision. The most redeeming aspect is that it’s the most viable path to the principalship. In my opinion, a k-12 subject area coordinator job does little for your career unless it’s in an innovative place that does great work with a well-earned reputation.

One last thought about asserting your leadership. Do not lead by advocating for a specific “pet program”, even if you think it’s a good thing. Lead by having your constituents look at a problem, especially if there is data that clearly demonstrates a problem. Then the group has the shared responsibility to define the real problem and search for possible solutions. Leading by advocating for a specific program, technology, or method is like starting with a pre-determined solution and then matching it to a perceived problem; it’s a solution in search of a problem. That approach is usually doomed for failure. You will be perceived as trying to enhance your career by making changes for the sake of change.

Let me offer an analogy to further clarify what I mean by not leading by pushing for your favorite approach. Let’s say you are concerned that your family members have unhealthy diets. Assume that you do most of the cooking in your family; that includes doing the shopping and preparing the menu. Assume you love vegetarian Indian food, particularly the taste of curry. You believe vegetarian Indian food is healthy and delicious, however, your family members prefer other kinds of meals. Nevertheless, you persist in trying to convince them to eat your Indian food. As they say in the movies, “Houston, you’ve got a problem.”

Hope this helps. Please call me if you need to discuss this further. Keep in touch.”

Dr. Aronstein coaches school leaders and aspiring leaders in how to get their dream job. For more information, go to his website,