I was an assistant principal for 10 years. Those were some of the hardest but most rewarding years of my career. It seems fitting that April is the month that has been designated to recognize assistant principals. It can often be the craziest month with standardized testing, extracurricular activities, and elevated energy levels in the school building that often accompany the arrival of warmer weather. And assistant principals are invaluable at helping schools navigate the most challenging times.
Teachers have constant and direct contact with students. They get to experience those lightbulb moments which serve not just as professional validation, but as a reminder of the rewarding career they have chosen. Principals don’t usually get to teach students, but they are often in the spotlight. They get the photo ops. They get to meet with the student leaders. They get recognized when the school is succeeding.
Assistant principals, on the other hand, are often behind the scenes. They are usually tasked with the jobs that nobody really wants. They handle all those discipline referrals. They maintain the inventory of textbooks and fixed assets. They coordinate the logistics for the field trips and the school assemblies. They meet with the parent whose child is being bullied. They figure out how to split rosters or cover classes when the sub doesn’t show up. They listen to teacher complaints with a patient and empathetic ear, even when they may not have the authority to solve the problem. Assistant principals are in the trenches, and they do the hard work that allows schools to run smoothly. The work is not glorious; it is often unnoticed, and it is often taken for granted.
But I notice it. And I appreciate it. I hope they know they make a difference. When they support their teachers who are struggling with challenging student behavior, intervene on behalf of a student who is bullied, and collect assignments for the student who is in the hospital. When they help the teacher find the resources they need for their lesson, make a special trip to the lunchroom to ensure the child that forgot lunch money still gets to eat, or stay with that student who missed the bus. When they cover a teacher’s class because that teacher’s own child got sick, and when they have their teacher’s back in those tense parent conferences. When they walk the halls—their presence being a symbol of support and stability. They make a difference when they work with the teacher who didn’t fill out their paperwork correctly or on time. And they make a difference when they demonstrate solidarity with the principal—even on those times they may not have agreed with the decision. There are times when the principal may feel like their AP is their only friend in the building. As a principal myself, I have experienced what a difference assistant principals make. They are game changers in the building!
The work that assistant principals do is not easy, and it is often a thankless job. But it is an important job. Their work is foundational to the mission of education. They do whatever it takes to ensure that teachers can teach and students can learn. They do whatever it takes to ensure schools run smoothly. They are unsung heroes. I am grateful for their dedication. I respect their commitment to the profession. And I honor their legacy of making a difference.
Danny Steele serves as the principal of Thompson Sixth Grade Center in Alabaster, AL, where his passion is building a school culture that values connections with kids, fosters collaboration among teachers, and focuses on raising student achievement. In 2005 Steele was recognized as Alabama’s Assistant Principal of the Year, and in 2016 he was named Alabama’s Secondary Principal of the Year. He has written two books with Todd Whitaker: Essential Truths for Teachers and Essential Truths for Principals. Follow him on Twitter @SteeleThoughts and check out his blog Steele Thoughts.
Thank you! I have been an AP for almost 20 years in multiple schools and you nailed it! I have been keeping a running list of titles that parents and students have “assigned” to me: Vice-Principal, Step-Principal, Co-Principal, Principal’s Aide, and Principal’s Helper. My current assignment is in a 3-6 building, hence the last four:)