Guest post by William D. Parker

Each year, I partner with other school leaders through our state principal association to work with aspiring principals or new principals as they begin their journeys in school administration. After one workshop, a participant asked, “What kinds of questions can I expect in an interview for assistant principal or principal?”

I gave a few examples, but as I thought about the question later, I began to write down the questions I remember answering in my own interviews. The following is a quick narrative of my own history as an assistant principal and site principal, and links to some other resources that may help if you’re looking for answers to what questions to expect in a principal interview.

First, a little history … or the story of six interviews.

Although I have participated in over a hundred interviews to hire teachers and staff over the past 10 years, I have been interviewed for administrator openings only six times. Three of those resulted in offers I filled—two as assistant principal (two different sites) and one as principal (current position). So, the best examples I have for aspiring principals are the 30 questions I will share below.

Interview 1

When I interviewed for my first assistant principal position in 2004, it was for a high school with 1,400 students. I would be joining a team of two other assistants to work with a site principal. A committee did my interview for that position. The committee consisted of two assistant superintendents, a director, a principal from another site, and the principal of the site with the opening.

I do not remember the specifics of the interview, but the questions were generally as follows:

  • Give us some background information and take a moment to introduce yourself.
  • How would you describe your leadership style?
  • What are some ways you have dealt with challenges, and how did you find solutions?
  • How would you describe your classroom management style?
  • What advice would you give to a new teacher on his or her first year?
  • What advice would you give to a veteran teacher in need of improvement?
  • What steps would you take to deal with a student discipline incident?
  • Give some examples of how you have communicated with parents of challenging students.
  • What would be your ideal school environment, and how would you encourage that kind of culture?
  • What questions do you have for us about this position?

This committee interview was followed by a one-on-one interview with the district superintendent. She reviewed the feedback from the committee and asked follow-up questions. They were mostly about my vision for school leadership and specifics about the school where I would be serving.

Interview 2
In 2006, I was recruited for a similar position at another school. Even though the move was “lateral” in terms of title, I was eager to be joining a leadership team led by the site principal, who I had taught under years before when she had been an assistant principal. My interview for that position was informal. In fact, I took a day off from work to tour the school and decide if it was a good fit for where I wanted to move. I accepted the offer and was assistant principal there for the next seven years.

In 2011, after I was named Oklahoma Assistant Principal of the Year, I continued serving as an assistant principal but also began looking for opportunities to move into a site principal position. During the next two years, I interviewed for three different openings at schools—none of them resulted in offers. The experience, however, was good practice for the opportunity that would open up for me in 2013.

Interviews 3 and 4
Two of the interviews I had for principal openings (neither resulted in offers) were again done by committee. This committee was large: It included a superintendent, personnel director, two assistant superintendents, a site principal, two teachers, and one parent. After making it through round one with the large committee, I had a follow-up with just the admin team.

Here are examples of the questions I was asked during those interviews (with each person posing at least one question).

  • Please introduce yourself; tell us about your background in education and what interested you in applying for this opening.
  • Data is a large part of determining student and teacher success. Explain your involvement in professional learning communities and how you have used data to promote student achievement.
  • We are a community growing in diversity. Explain how you would reach out to people from various demographics to ensure all students and community members are included in learning.
  • What is your philosophy of teaching? What advice would you offer teachers whom you are supervising?
  • Principal positions require intense time management. Please give examples of how you organize your day to meet the various demands and commitments required as a school principal.
  • Conflict resolution and communication are important parts of school leadership. Can you give examples of how you have successfully managed difficult situations at school?
  • What is your philosophy of leadership? How would you lead a schoolwide initiative expected for an entire district?
  • What questions, clarifications, or concerns do you have for us?

Interview 5
The third principal opening I interviewed for, but did not receive, was in a smaller district where only two individuals met with me. Their questions included many of the ones above with others more specific to the school site:

  • How would you implement a one-to-one technology initiative at the high school level?
  • Describe a time you began a new program at your school. What steps did you follow to make this successful?
  • How do you build a positive school culture or climate? Give examples of how you would do that here.
  • Describe the way you interact with stakeholders in the community?
  • How do you handle relationships with direct supervisors even when you may not always agree?
  • How do you recruit and maintain quality teachers and staff members?

Interview 6
In 2012–2013, my site principal announced her retirement. When I interviewed for what would become my current position, I had two separate committee interviews. The questions were much more specific since I had been at my site as assistant principal for the past seven years.

I don’t want to share any questions that would be more confidential about my site; however, some examples of general questions included:

  • Please share priorities for a three-year site improvement. What specific goals, actions, and outcomes would you propose?
  • Give examples of your supervision, evaluation, and accountability standards in managing highly effective teachers and staff members.
  • How would you transition from assistant principal to principal in your present site while establishing new goals that match your own personality and priorities?
  • Why do you want this position? What motivates you to want to be a site principal?
  • Explain how you would build positive relationships with leaders across sites while working together on district-wide goals.

I could add more, but the above 30 questions are a good snapshot of the kinds of questions I have been asked.

More Resources
Probably the best exhaustive resource for dozens more examples of questions for principal openings can be found on the blog Michael Smith’s Principal’s Page. The original link to the document with the questions is hard to find, so I have made an easy download link here.

Just knowing questions ahead of time won’t necessarily prepare you for every scenario. As I explain in 10 Tips for Interviewing for an Education Opening, if you don’t know an answer, be honest and say so. Pause and think before answering. Don’t rush. It is much easier to have a meaningful conversation when you stay true to what you believe and practice. Be honest about where you need more understanding or growth.

Now It’s Your Turn
What other questions have you encountered in interviews or asked when interviewing for school leader openings? Share with the rest of us!

William D. Parker is principal of Skiatook High School, Skiatook, OK. He was the 2012 NASSP Oklahoma Assistant Principal of the Year, and currently serves as the NASSP State Coordinator for Oklahoma. This blog post originally appeared on his website, Follow him on Twitter @williamdp.

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