The Lead Learner is the Learning Leader
Assistant principals are difference makers. When it comes to getting things done on a day-to-day basis in a middle or high school, assistant principals play a key leadership role.
Educators are great at generating plans and ideas, but we are not as good at implementing them. From my experience, both as a long-time assistant principal and principal, the head implementer is the assistant principal. Because assistant principals are in constant contact with students, teachers, and parents, they play a key role in shaping the culture of the school. They get things done on a daily basis.
Assistant principals are an integral part of raising student performance. If schools are going to raise the performance of each and every student we are going to need to effectively implement a wide-variety of instructional programs and initiatives. Schools need multiple leaders, not just a leader. Most importantly, schools need instructional leaders who are lead learners. Raising the performance of each student demands the involvement of a wide variety of individuals. We must draw on the knowledge and expertise of every member of the staff.
My decision to leave teaching and go into administration was driven by my desire to go beyond my classroom to make a difference for more students. Early in my tenure as an assistant principal I arrived at what I now know was a crossroads. Like every assistant principal I have ever known, I was getting bogged down in the usual "administrivia." I would regularly lament to my colleagues that attendance, discipline, the cafeteria, and buses were all keeping me from doing what "I should be doing," which was working with teachers to improve classroom instruction.
I would still be on that same path had it not been for the sage advice of a seasoned veteran who told me, "Everything you do impacts instruction in a negative or positive way. Your actions are either helping or hurting. Everything you do helps create an environment in which teachers can teach and students can learn. Teaching and learning cannot take place unless you ensure a clean, safe, and orderly environment. The buses have to arrive and the bells ring on time. Lunch needs to be served. Your problem is that you are majoring in the minors. You have hundreds of opportunities every day to role up your sleeves and get involved with teachers, but you are waiting for someone to tell you what to do. My advice to you is to find something that can benefit teachers and improve instruction and at the same time. Find something that interests you, and run with it. Don't wait. Take the initiative."
Based on that advice, I became much more proactive. One year I taught a course for teachers on learning styles and instructional strategies. For two years, I co-taught a college-level course on cooperative learning. On another occasion, I worked with several core departments teaching mind-mapping strategies to our students. I headed up our business partnership, which organized our annual senior seminar. My most rewarding experience as an assistant principal was leading our school-wide technology initiative, which included teaching a technology integration course for our teachers. This role got me invited into classrooms and afforded me numerous opportunities to work in partnership with teachers helping them integrate technology into their classrooms. In addition, in this role, I helped establish two writing and reading labs, which directly contributed to our improving test scores.
Over my years as an assistant principal, I learned that there were numerous opportunities for me to take on the role of an instructional leader, but it was up to me to take advantage of those opportunities. Instead of whining about what I didn't like about my job, I had to start winning and creating my own reality. Our teachers began to see me as a learning leader because I was willing to be a lead learner.