Authors: Lesley Corner, Hamilton Parks, and LaQuana Aldridge
Often times assistant principals/administrators feel they are not fully invested in all aspects of their school environments because the majority of their time is spent on the “the 3 B’s..books, butts, and buses.” While yes, these are certainly vital elements to helping a school run effectively, when and how does one utilize their full level of talents and capabilities in order to contribute to the school culture? Here are a few tidbits of advice from one administrator to another:
Advice from LaQuana Aldridge, Assistant Principal at Midway Elementary in Lexington, SC
Be Pleasantly Visible
Simply being pleasantly visible in the hallways and common areas (library, cafeteria, arrival/dismissal) goes a long way. This gives students the opportunity to see and interact with you in a positive setting. Find opportunities to build relationships with students whenever/wherever possible.
Help Brand Your School
Take a vested interest in how your school is branded within the community. This could include volunteering to take over moderating your school’s social media accounts and/or websites. Knowing what information is going out about your school helps you feel more connected. Being responsible for updating the community with articles/photos of happenings within the building also gives you a reason to be more visible, attend events, and take pictures with students or of work inside classrooms.
Advice from Lesley Corner, Assistant Principal at Camden High School in Camden, SC
Finding a way to utilize your passion and strengths as a leader is of utmost importance. Don’t be afraid to find a solution to a problem or area of weakness in your building. As the ninth grade assistant principal, it is my professional goal to help each student be successful from the start and begin to connect with our school. Leading this process allows me to continue my journey as an instructional leader and grow capacity in my teacher leaders as we develop and revise our strategic plan and its included courses. This process pushes me beyond the stereotypical demands of an assistant principal.
Like most high schools, our data showed a need for intensive ninth-grade support. In conjunction with a team of teacher leaders and community members, I redesigned our ninth-grade experience. After we developed a vision statement, mission statement, and motto reflecting our overall beliefs, we developed a three-tier Freshman Transition Program.
Tier 1: All Freshmen
Tier 1 includes the experience of all ninth graders. This experience begins for our rising ninth graders in the spring of their eighth-grade year. Our principal, ninth-grade school counselors, JROTC instructors, band director, and I meet with all rising ninth graders at our feeder middle school to talk about moving on to Camden High School (CHS). We follow up with our April Parent University on the ABC’s of ninth grade. These workshops lead into the full-day freshmen orientation provided by our student council on their first day of high school. Additionally, we developed a Leadership CHS course required for all incoming freshmen. This course includes four domains: Being a Bulldog: Introduction to the Bulldog Family; Strategies for Success: Academic and Social; Career and College Exploration: Incorporating School Counselors; and Leadership: Laws and Qualities.
Tier 2: Rising Freshmen Not Meeting Standards
Tier 2 includes students who did not meet standards in eighth-grade reading and/or math courses or who did not meet standards on eighth-grade standardized testing. In addition to our Tier 1 experience, these students are enrolled in Secondary Literacy and/or Algebra 1 Mastery class in the fall of their ninth-grade year. These courses explicitly teach reading, writing, numeracy, and study strategies using Mathematics Design Collaborative (MDC) and Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC), so our students can meet and exceed grade-level standards.
Tier 3: Freshmen Not Meeting Standards
Tier 3 includes our most extensive interventions. For approximately 50 selected students, we developed a learning community led by a strong team of enthusiastic, expert teachers to provide data-driven, student-centered instruction. We meet the academic needs of Tier 3 students by offering additional academic support using research-based practices including flexible grouping, community mentoring, individualized instruction, and interdisciplinary curriculum. Using the concepts of High Schools That Work and other extensive educational research, we give all students clearly defined standards for quality work, adequate support to achieve these standards, and an understanding of the relevance of curricular content and skills for their future.
Results and Extensions:
This three-tier Freshman Transition Program resulted in a 40 percent drop in ninth-grade retention, a 64 percent drop in ninth-grade discipline, and the highest standardized scores in the history of our school with all subgroups showing significant gains. Furthermore, our freshmen became proud, productive members of our Camden Bulldog Family quickly because they were acclimated to our “Commitment to Excellence” before and throughout their ninth-grade year. Additionally, each of the teacher leaders who began this process with me are now assistant principals or instructional coaches. After seeing the results of building capacity in my staff at Camden High School, I agreed to co-pilot the inaugural year of the KCSD Leadership Academy. The focus of the KCSD Leadership Academy is to "Lead from Where You Are" as a positive leader in our district. Our culminating activity is a 'Passion Project" where a group of participants will look for a solution to an area of growth in our district to preset to our district. The chosen participants represent all areas of our district and a wide range of positions including food service providers, paraprofessionals, secretarial staff, transportation staff, psychologists, and teachers. Out of 60+ applicants for our inaugural year, the Leadership Planning Committee selected 25 participants based on an application process including supervisor recommendations. We are using a blended model of face-to-face and eLearning sessions to grow as leaders and positively impact our district.
Advice from Hamilton Parks, Assistant Principal at Mauldin Elementary in Greenville, SC
When I agreed to contribute to this blog post, it was summertime. The birds were frolicking in the hot, Carolina sunshine, my biggest concern was just how late I was going to sleep in, and like many other educators, my school clothes were hung nicely in my closet. Now it’s late October, the week before Halloween; there’s a full moon out, we just finished the first quarter, and Halloween looms only a few days in the distance.
It has taken me everything to schedule the time to write this post. The only reason I am writing it now is because our second graders are in the middle of testing, and I, as school test coordinator, am locked down in the second grade hallway, on call for any issues that may arise.
Being an assistant principal is every bit of the hustle and bustle people think it is. It’s dealing with accountability for assets and assessments, ensuring safety and discipline, and making sure that all the precious lives that enter the school make it home in one piece: books, butts, and buses. It is inevitable. Answering the call to be an assistant administrator means making time for these quintessential duties. However, being and effective one requires so much more.
I am actually composing this blog post from the comfort, not of my desk in my office, but my mobile desk, like I said, in the middle of the second grade hall. Having a mobile desk allows me to literally be in multiple places at one time! I am not only productively at my desk answering emails, completing forms, and shuffling papers, but I am simultaneously in classrooms observing lessons, sharing a friendly smile in hallways, and encouraging students in the cafeteria during meals. Our entire administrative team has these carts, and using this year has really helped us “roll up” on all the amazing things going on around the school. What’s even better is the accoutrement we use to jazz our mobile desks up: lights, jewels, magnets, a dry-erase picture frame with fun facts. Fridays are the best though, because it’s #DancePartyFriday, and I roll around the school with dance tunes on my Bluetooth speaker. Our carts not only help us be present, but they allow us to be personable.
If you think about any vice principal in pop culture, movies or television, your mind probably quickly fills with images of a stuffy, rigid character taxed with the job of handing down harsh punishments and delivering scathing sermons to kids. It happens. This, however, is not how most of us like to be viewed. It’s important for us to be purveyors of engagement with not only students, but staff as well. One of my favorite things to do is join in Kahoots or Quizlet Live games that are going on in classes where I am observing. The kids are supercharged to beat me, and they love thinking they’re smarter than me.
I also love being a class incentive when I can. If a class is trying to reach a goal, sometimes I offer myself up as a reward: toilet papering my office, having a 5 minute dance party with me, having a special lunch with the class. Doing this costs nothing, and it helps kids (and teachers) see I’m rooting for them and on their side.
After my first year as an assistant administrator, my principal, Dr. Jamie Spinks, asked me a question that I remind myself every day: “When you leave here, what do you want to be able to say that you contributed to this place?” In other words, what is my purpose at my school, Mauldin Elementary? I’m going to tell you right now, it’s not books, butts, and buses. I have a laser-focused purpose in being an administrator at my school. It is posted on the corkboard at the doorway of my office, and I often share it with parents and teachers when they come to me for help or encouragement: “My mission is to make school a safe and fun place where everyone is respected, all students can learn, and all teachers can teach.” Having a personal mission statement and clearly defined purpose will place you exactly where you need to be for your school community. It allows the important things to remain important, minimizes the insignificant, and identifies a benchmark for success.