Before I became a school administrator, I had a fantastic vision (due to my great preparation in my graduate program) that all the administrators of the school would toil away at all the important improvement work over the summer, getting everything ready for the school year, with the entire administrative team present and ready for “opening day” and everyday thereafter. As I’m hearing of administrative openings that still haven’t been filled and schools that had to start the school year one or two administrators short, I’m reminded of my first assistant principal position and the deep learning that occured when an administrator unexpectedly left in the middle of the year.
Our building principal, who was a veteran educator in the district, having taught and worked his way through various administrative positions, had asked a couple years prior to my arrival to take over as principal of this building (having held a district level position, just about ready to retire). It was wonderful learning from him my first year. He was very meticulous (I don’t think he ever slept), good with data, maintained excellent relations with union leadership, and always operated on the principle of “what’s best for the child” in cases of discipline, class scheduling, etc. In November of my 2nd year as an A.P. at the school, he announced that he would be retiring at the end of January. It was a large high school that employed 4 assistant principals, and the four of us undertook the task of learning the ins and outs of everything that he did. When it came down to it, we realized as the spring wore on a couple key lessons.
1) It’s important to have reminders long before a yearly event happens for planning purposes. I can’t remember how many times the 4 of us (plus the “dean” we were allowed to have with us as well while one of the senior A.P.’s was “acting principal”) were reminded in one way or another of an event that was coming up that our former principal just seemed to know and would already have been planning. I called those the “Oh No!” moments (well, maybe I called it something else 😉 ) when we realized that something needed to be planned for the next day that required collaboration and coordination with many members of the school community, like the spring testing as one example.
2) Senior school building administrators, if proven good leaders (by community, school board, and district level administrators) were given much more freedom to be creative and integrative with their solutions to different problems that came up. I didn’t expect that with two assistant principals in our building that the districy office would require us to communicate with them about practically EVERYTHING we did.
Both of these lessons were learning that I got on the job as an administrator, because it’s hard to learn these particular lessons in coursework.