Jessica Rehberg, an assistant principal of Winder-Barrow High School in Winder, GA, is the first to admit that the principalship isn’t the most romantic calling—at least at first. “Whether you’re a child or college kid dreaming of being a teacher, school leadership isn’t something you necessarily aspire to,” she says. “Rather, the desire to lead comes with experience, not just seeing the great things that happen under a good leader but also the ways you can contribute. As you get a sense of the bigger picture of how schools run, you can’t help but get ideas.”
Rehberg’s vision for her place in school isn’t static, and it didn’t develop overnight. First, she lived out her dream of working with kids and building a strong foundation in classroom leadership. It was only after taking on different challenges in her classroom, school, and beyond that she began to ask herself if she should pursue school leadership.
“Halfway through my 11 years of teaching English I started to really connect with my leaders and take on some additional roles,” she says. “I was the student council advisor, the yearbook advisor, and I ran some large events. Eventually, you start to see how your small role or your small group of kids fits into the bigger picture and can have a big, positive influence.” After exploring administration and building her skills through a master’s program, specialist degree, and leadership academy, Rehberg decided to take an administrator position in a neighboring district.
In the end, it took years not just to develop the skills for administration but also the understanding of the difference she could make as an assistant principal. Because of this, Rehberg strongly believes prospective school leaders must make sure they are really ready to take the leap to the principalship with its myriad responsibilities and constant juggling. “I made a list one day of how many hats I could wear in a given day, and it’s truly dozens,” she says. “So, if you’re not ready to have constant costume changes, then stay in the classroom where you have an amazing impact on students.”
As for the possibility of becoming a principal, Rehberg, who is now an administrator at her second school, follows her own advice. “I know I am making a huge difference as an assistant principal,” she says. “I will wait till the right opportunity comes at the right time. I’m not going to apply for any principal vacancy I see just because I want to sit in that seat. I want to sit in the seat at the school I want to be in.”
Whether an educator is just starting out on their leadership journey or well on their way, NASSP is here to help. For Rehberg, two of the organization’s numerous resources for school leaders stand out: Principal’s Update and Leadership Networks. “Principal’s Update is the professional self-care I start my day with,” she says. “I look for the articles that are relevant to my work, what’s happening in education across the country, and resources that can help me work more effectively. I send articles to people in my building and beyond, so it also helps me stay in touch with others.”
Leadership Networks, collaborative spaces run by and for school leaders to share similar experiences, passions, and interests, keep her connected with peers. “The networks are just so empowering and supportive,” she says. “No matter where we are in the country, we all have the exact same battles and issues we’re facing. As a team we have talked out some really big issues and found support, guidance, and fresh ideas with each other. Joining the [assistant principals] network has been a game changer.”
Have an assistant principal you’d like to celebrate during Assistant Principals Week, April 3-7? Send them an e-card.