The AP’s To-Do List

What should APs do to build their skills before moving up? The report offers the following recommendations:

1. Prioritize professional growth. Actively seek out opportunities for learning and development in areas such as leadership skills, instructional strategies, and equity-centered practices. Engage in workshops, conferences, and networking to enhance your expertise. “I was part of a program that created a WhatsApp,” said Geraldine Peltier, AP at Dunseith Day School in Dunseith, North Dakota. “You could go and text questions or problems, and others in the community could immediately text back to give me feedback. That gave me a whole support system, and I didn’t have to wait for a meetup.”

2. Cultivate a leadership mindset. Approach the AP role with a strategic vision. Focus on the broader goals of the school and district and how your contributions align with those objectives. Think critically and proactively about innovative solutions.

3. Build strong relationships. Forge positive connections with colleagues, teachers, students, parents, and community members. Effective leadership is built through communication and collaboration, so engage in active listening and consider diverse feedback. “We are all coming from different perspectives,” said Willie Burrel, AP at Mona Shores Middle School in Grand Haven, Michigan. “We need to work on strengthening relationships. A good leader must always focus their attention on what the other person might be going through. I step outside myself and ‘love on’ other people.”

4. Seek mentorship and coaching. Connect with experienced principals and administrators for mentorship and coaching. Learn from their insights, challenges, and successes. Ask for guidance to refine your leadership style and navigate difficult situations. “My principal and I have worked together for four years, and our vision is very much aligned,” said Donielle Jones, AP at Deer Run Elementary School in Indianapolis, Indiana. “It really works when there is true mentorship and no hidden agendas. I believe our school culture is good because of our teamwork, and if my district approves, I may move into a principalship soon.”

5. Embrace continuous improvement. Adopt a growth-oriented mindset by reflecting on your experiences and seeking feedback regularly. Identify areas in which you may be able to enhance your skills. Reassess your goals and adapt your strategies accordingly.

By following these recommendations, assistant principals can prepare themselves for success within their roles and position themselves for advancement—while continually contributing to the enhancement of student outcomes and school success. The AP role may be a stepping stone to the principalship, but it takes dedication to develop into a leader who’s ready to take the reins on Day One.

Kaylen Tucker is NAESP associate executive director, Communications, and editor-in-chief of Principal magazine.

Gracie Branch is associate executive director, Professional Learning, at NAESP.