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"Grow your own" leaders: On-the-job mentoring for aspiring assistant principals

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This sequential explanatory design mixed-method study of assistant principals in New York State focuses on the duties assistant principals perceive they should be performing to qualify themselves for becoming principals, along with a focus on the potential for being mentored by their principals. Findings indicate that assistant principals consider their daily work as insufficient for preparing them to become effective school leaders. Findings suggest that they are eager to develop mentoring relationships with their principals, arguing that under the intensified, test-oriented education environment, there is a definite need for schools to grow their own qualified leaders, utilizing on-the-job mentoring and coaching by principals as a viable approach for the professional development of assistant principals.
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Journal of Behavioral and Social Sciences
2018, Vol. 5, 107–117 ISSN: 2375-8899
Grow Your own Leaders: on-the-Job MentorinG for
aspirinG assistant principaLs
I used a sequential, mixed-method, explanatory design to explore the per-
ceived and actual roles and duties of assistant principals in New York
State, with a focus on respondents’ potential for being mentored by their
principals to advance to a principalship in the future. Findings indicated
that assistant principals considered their daily work insufficient to prepare
them to become effective school leaders. Assistant principals reported that
they were eager to develop mentoring relationships with their principals.
The results suggested that in the intensified, test-oriented, education envi-
ronment, there is a definite need for schools to “grow their own” qualified
leaders. This may be best achieved by utilizing on-the-job mentoring and
coaching by current principals.
skills to improve student learning and academic
achievements effectively (Sciarappa & Mason,
2014; Versland, 2013).
Sciarappa and Mason (2014) highlighted
the difficulties in finding and keeping qualified
principals in schools where a large number of
students are economically disadvantaged, of
color, or do not have English as their first lan-
guage. Such schools experience high rates of
principal attrition as principals move to other
professions or to more affluent schools or dis-
tricts. Furthermore, Daresh (2004) indicated
that many qualified teachers show little or no
interest in pursuing leadership roles.
The demonstrated inability of certain
schools to find or keep qualified principals in-
dicates the need to produce qualified school
leaders by providing assistant principals with
on-the-job mentoring as an alternative to oth-
er programs. Though some may wish to re-
main career assistant principals, many aspire
to become principals (Wong, 2009). Howev-
er, although assistant principals may have par-
ticipated in leadership programs, “There has
Anna Sun, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Educational
Leadership at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.
Correspondence regarding this article should be sent
to sunq@rowan.edu.
Anna Sun
Rowan University
While it is widely agreed that leadership has
a positive influence on student learning (Eno-
moto, 2012; Fink, 2011; Gurley, Anast-May &
Lee, 2015; Huber, 2004; Leithwood & Reihl,
2005), little is known about one of the key ad-
ministrative positions in most schools — the as-
sistant principal. Statistics show that there is a
shortage of school principals. For instance, in
2013 the U.S. Department of Education Nation-
al Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report-
ed that about one-fifth of the nation’s 114,330
principals either left the profession or moved
to other schools, and, of these, two-thirds re-
tired that year. Interestingly, many researchers
have argued that the evolving shortage of prin-
cipals is caused not by a lack of applicants for
principal positions, but by a lack of qualified
individuals who possess the knowledge and
their working hours, which leaves little time for
them to learn from their principals. This situ-
ation demonstrates the need to develop profes-
sional development mechanisms for assistant
principals.
Mentoring
While many have viewed the position of as-
sistant principal as a stepping-stone to the role
of principal, there is much to be said for schools
growing their own qualified school leaders by
coaching and mentoring their assistant princi-
pals on the job. Mentoring programs were ini-
tially conceived and developed in industry and
business, where employees at different career
stages needed mentoring relationships (Kram,
1985). Later, the mentoring process was adopt-
ed in education as a means of helping non-ten-
ured teachers to become more effective in their
teaching. Within the realm of educational ad-
ministration, the mentoring process has long
been an instrument for the development of
principals (Daresh, 2004).
Mentors are essential for the success of
their mentees. Wasden (1988), in his handbook
written specifically to guide educational admin-
istrators, defined a mentor as “a master at pro-
viding opportunities for the growth of others by
identifying situations and events which contrib-
ute knowledge and experience to the life of the
steward” (p. 498). A mentor needs to be inter-
ested in another person’s career development
and committed to guiding, supporting, and
providing opportunities for mentees (Daresh,
2004). These criteria have all underscored the
crucial role of the school principal as mentor.
It is worth noting that the most effective men-
tors are those who clearly understand how to
coach their mentees to become fully equipped
leaders (Daresh, 2007). Mentees in this process
must be willing to take initiatives, maintain in-
terests, and make efforts to develop collabora-
tive relationships with their immediate superi-
ors. Given the challenges facing schools today,
it is more urgent than ever that principals and
school districts establish mentoring programs
for assistant principals.
Conceptual Framework
I used three propositions (Daresh, 2004) to
provide the conceptual framework for my study:
(1) There is considerable need for both practi-
tioners and researchers to turn their attention
been little research to demonstrate the effec-
tiveness of program models and features” (Orr,
2011, p. 115). There are few university prepa-
ration programs designed specifically for train-
ing assistant principals. Instead, most have
largely focused on principals, which may have
excluded assistant principals from gaining ade-
quate and meaningful training and professional
development.
In the present study, I sought to explore
how this gap might best be filled. I posed the
following three research questions: (1) What
job responsibilities do assistant principals per-
form at school? (2) What job responsibilities do
assistant principals perceive they should per-
form to prepare them for a principalship? (3)
Is there a mentoring relationship between as-
sistant principals and principals in their work-
place? If yes, to what extent? If no, why not?
This article begins with an overview of as-
sistant principals. I then provide an analysis of
relevant literature on mentoring in school lead-
ership development. Lastly, I present Daresh’s
three propositions that provide the conceptual
framework for this study (Daresh, 2004).
Assistant Principals
The position of assistant principal was orig-
inally created to relieve principals from some of
their burdens (Glanz, 1994) by “providing ad-
ministrative support for teachers” and “attend-
ing to the welfare of students” (Barnett, Shoho,
& Oleszewski, 2012, p. 93). The position of as-
sistant principal has been defined as “Niche As-
sistant Headship” (Barnett et al., 2012; Watson,
2005) with roles ranging from “arbiter, discipli-
narian, counselor” (Garawski, 1990) to “care-
taker, policeman” (Koru, 1993) and “daily op-
erations manager” (Porter, 1996). In general,
assistant principals’ responsibilities include
overseeing student discipline, supervising sub-
stitute teachers, monitoring lunch and bus du-
ties, and organizing school scheduling (Barnett
et al., 2012; Gurley et al., 2015; Kwan, 2013; Ka-
plan & Owings, 1999). These practices remain
the same, even in today’s intensified, test-ori-
ented education environment. Most assistant
principals have tried to learn what an effective
school principal should do by seeking opportu-
nities to learn from their principals. As Daresh
(2004) indicated, the real dilemma is that as-
sistant principals are required to fulfill mana-
gerial responsibilities that consume most of
Sun
108
toward the improvement of leadership develop-
ment and support; (2) Mentoring may be an ef-
fective practice to enhance career development
in many settings; and (3) There have been nu-
merous efforts to weave the importance of men-
toring and peer support efforts into the field of
educational administration (Daresh, 2004, p.
496). Daresh argued that mentoring is a ma-
jor contributing factor in the development of
school leadership. Although Daresh suggest-
ed his propositions in 2004, they are still appli-
cable and can provide a useful framework on
which to base the mentorship of today’s assis-
tant principals. Mentorship is worthy of further
investigation, particularly with regard to wheth-
er and how mentoring may impact the job of as-
sistant principals.
Method
Research Design
This research employed a sequential, ex-
planatory design by which “the collection and
analysis of quantitative data in a first phase
of research [is] followed by the collection and
analysis of qualitative data in a second phase
that builds on the results of the initial quantita-
tive results” (Creswell, 2009, p. 211). It includ-
ed both surveys and in-depth interviews con-
ducted from 2010 to 2011. These were collected
separately and then connected (Creswell, 2009).
The sequential, explanatory design is a popular,
mixed-research strategy “used to explain and
interpret quantitative results by collecting and
analyzing follow-up qualitative data” (Creswell,
2009, p. 211). This type of design allows the re-
searcher to understand the complexity of the is-
sues being studied.
Quantitative. The survey questionnaire
was structured using the instrument designed
by Glanz (1994) and served to obtain assistant
principals’ perceptions of their roles and respon-
sibilities in their daily workplace. With Glanz’s
permission, twenty-five duties from his ques-
tionnaire were rearranged. To these were added
two open-ended questions which were tailored
for this study. The questionnaire consisted of
(1) ranking the duties that assistant principals
actually perform and (2) ranking the duties that
assistant principals think they should perform.
The alpha (α) of the updated questionnaire was
calculated to ensure internal consistency. The
internal consistency of the alpha for the “actual-
ly do” duties was .83 (α = .83) and the “should
do” duties was .85 (α = .85).
With assistant principals in public schools
in New York State as its target population, the
survey produced 175 returns. Forty-two returns
did not meet criteria, as duties were either not
ranked by numbering 1 to 25 or were missing
ranks. The net yield was therefore N = 133.
The survey returns were then processed in Ex-
cel, which produced the ranking tables. The
Spearman’s Rank Order Correlation Coefficient
(Rho; Creswell, 2009) was calculated to test
whether the “actually do” and the “should do”
duties of assistant principals were significant-
ly different.
Qualitative. Semi-structured, face-to-face
interviews were conducted. The qualitative
data is extremely useful in the sequential, ex-
planatory research model to examine and ex-
plain, in detail, the unexpected results that are
found in the quantitative domain (Creswell,
2009). Semi-structured interviews were used
in this study in order to “[elicit] in-depth un-
derstandings of a phenomenon of interest” and
to allow “unexpected understanding to emerge”
(Lochmiller & Lester, 2017, p. 151). To deter-
mine its validity, a pilot study was conducted
by interviewing three assistant principals who
did not participate in the later interviews. The
pilot study was used to determine the clarity
of the interview questions and the proper in-
terview time. I then revised the questions that
were unclear and adjusted the interview time as
suggested by the interviewees in the pilot study.
Based on survey results, 10 open-ended in-
terview questions were developed to gauge as-
sistant principals’ perceptions of their roles and
responsibilities and to determine their relation-
ships with their principals. To begin the inter-
view process, a cover letter was sent to district
superintendents stating the purpose and impor-
tance of the study and asking for permission to
interview assistant principals in their districts.
However, writing to assistant principals in those
districts elicited a couple of responses only, so I
switched to convenience sampling by network-
ing (Fraenkel & Wallen, 1996) and eventually
recruited 15 assistant principals who agreed to
be interviewed. In order to achieve the goal
of being representative, 10 interviewees from el-
ementary and middle schools in western New
Grow Your own Leaders 109
York State were finalized on the basis of acces-
sibility and the following criteria: diversity of
gender, location of rural, urban, and suburban
districts, and years of experience. Table 1 pro-
vides the background of the 10 assistant princi-
pals who were interviewed.
Data Analysis
According to the research model of the se-
quential, explanatory design (Creswell, 2009),
quantitative results are analyzed before the
qualitative data is collected. In the event that
the quantitative results show statistical signifi-
cance, then a qualitative analysis can be useful
to “examine these surprising results in more de-
tail” (Creswell, 2009, p. 211). In order to ana-
lyze the transcripts, I employed domain, taxo-
nomic, and componential analysis methodology
to discover patterns, themes, and issues (Sprad-
ley, 1980).
Results
I used the survey to answer the following
two research questions: (1) What responsibili-
ties do assistant principals perform at school?
and (2) What responsibilities do assistant prin-
cipals perceive they should perform to pre-
pare them for a principalship? I used the inter-
view to address the third research question: (3)
Is there a mentoring relationship between as-
sistant principals and principals in their work-
place? If yes, to what extent? If no, why not?
Findings from the Survey
The demographic variables collected in
the survey represented the background char-
acteristics of the assistant principals who par-
ticipated in the present study. In order to test
whether what assistant principals actually do
differs from what assistant principals think they
should do, I employed Spearman’s Rank Order
Correlation Coefficient (Rho).
Descriptive Survey Findings. The gender dis-
tribution in this study was nearly equal, with 70
male (52.6%) and 63 (47.4%) female assistant
principals participating in the survey. This was
contrary to the assumption that assistant prin-
cipals’ positions are dominated by a single gen-
der. About 84% of assistant principals worked
in schools with a student population of above
500 (see table 2).
The mean number of years of teaching ex-
perience among respondents was 5.74 years
(SD = 4.67). However, their tenure as assistant
principals varied widely, ranging from 2 months
to 23 years. Thirty-nine percent may be cate-
gorized as “novice” assistant principals, having
held the position for three years or less; 17.3%
Table 1
Demographics of Interviewed Assistant Principals
Participant
Pseudonym
School Context
Gender
School Level
(Grades)
Years as AP
Brian
Urban
M
PreK-8
10
Christine
Urban
F
PreK-4
9
Tom
Urban
M
PreK-8
3
Michael
Urban
M
PreK-8
2
Melinda
Suburban
F
5-8
12
John
Suburban
M
7-8
3
Peggy
Suburban
F
K-5
2
Alex
Rural
M
6-8
2
Harold
Rural
M
4-8
5
Henry
Rural
M
6-8
2
Sun
110
may be categorized as “veteran” assistant prin-
cipals, having been in the position for 10 years
or more; and 43.6% had been assistant princi-
pals for 4 to 9 years. In sum, about 60% of the
assistant principals surveyed had been in the
position for more than three years. On average,
the assistant-principal respondents had spent
about 12 years in teaching (SD = 5.33).
Actually Do” Vs. “Should Do” Duties. Using
the survey instrument (Glanz, 1994), the sur-
vey provided two identical lists of 25 duties to
be ranked according to (1) what assistant prin-
cipals actually do daily, based on how much
time they spent on each duty, and (2) what as-
sistant principals think they should do, based
on the perception of importance of the duty, as
shown in Table 3. Spearman’s Rank Order Cor-
relation Coefficient (Rho) was then calculated.
A positive correlation, Rho = .71 (p < .01) was
found.
Ordering Textbooks, Instructional Media
Services, and Articulation are among the five
lowest-ranked duties on both the “actually do”
and “should do” lists, which showed that as-
sistant principals never, or seldom, performed
these duties and, moreover, did not think they
should. Similarly, Evaluation of Teachers was
among the top five duties of both lists. Oth-
er tasks topping on both ranking lists were Stu-
dent Discipline and Administrative Duties (i.e.,
paperwork).
The data show that more than 70% of the
respondents thought that Lunch Duty was not
particularly important as, while it ranked 7th on
the “actually do” list, it was 20th on the “should
do” list. School Scheduling (Coverage) was an-
other duty that assistant principals thought they
should not perform as it ranked 8th on the “ac-
tually do” list, but 18th on the “should do” list.
However, participants felt that they should be
involved in Curriculum Development, which
was ranked 15th on the “actually do” list, but
6th on the “should do” list; and Innovations and
Research, which was ranked 21st on the “actu-
ally do” list, but 12th on the “should do” list.
The various disparities in the rankings of the
two duty lists suggested that assistant princi-
pals were not satisfied with the tasks they were
actually performing in the role. Assistant prin-
cipals did not feel that they should be spending
Table 2
Demographic Characteristics of Assistant Principals by Selected Category
Characteristic
Category
N
Number of Participants
Urban
51
Suburban
63
Rural
19
Gender
Male
70
Female
63
Level of School
Elementary
37
Middle
76
Grades K-8
7
Grades 7-12
11
Grades K-12
2
Student Enrollment
>1,000
28
500–1,000
83
<500
22
Years as Assistant Principal
10 or more
23
4-9
58
3 or less
52
Grow Your own Leaders 111
principals faced when trying to learn “on-the-
job.” Finally, assistant principals’ desire for a
collaborative leadership approach appeared as
a third theme.
Theme 1: The Desire for Mentoring Relation-
ships. A desire for mentoring relationships with
their principals emerged during the interviews.
However, only two assistant principals reported
having good mentoring relationships with their
principals. Henry (a pseudonym), a technolo-
gy teacher for six years before becoming an as-
sistant principal, praised the mentorship of his
principal in his new role as an assistant princi-
pal. His principal gave him responsibilities that
enabled him to develop leadership skills, such
as facilitating faculty meetings. He stated his
position as follows:
time on managerial duties, such as Lunch Duty
and School Scheduling, but rather wished to
be more involved in principals’ responsibilities
such as Curriculum Development and Innova-
tions and Research.
Theme Findings from the Interviews
The interviews were conducted to address
the third research question, (3) Is there a men-
toring relationship between assistant princi-
pals and principals in their workplace? If yes,
to what extent? If no, why not? Three main
themes emerged from the interviews that were
not captured by the survey. The first theme was
the desire for mentoring relationships between
assistant principals and principals. The second
emergent theme was the challenges assistant
Table 3
Duties Assistant Principals Actually Do vs. Duties They Think They Should Do
Duties
Actually Do
Should Do
Difference
Rank
Percent
Rank
Percent
Student Discipline
1
97.0
3
82.0
-2
Administrative Duties (paperwork)
2
91.7
4
79.7
-2
Counseling Pupils
3
90.2
9
73.9
-5
Evaluation of Teachers
4
87.2
2
91.7
+2
Parental Conference
5
83.5
11
69.2
-6
Instructional Leadership
6
78.2
1
92.5
+5
Lunch Duty
7
71.4
20
18.8
-14
School Scheduling (coverage)
8
65.4
18
30.1
-10
Formulating Goals
9
62.4
5
78.2
+4
Emergency Arrangement
10
59.4
16
31.6
-6
Faculty Meetings
11
57.9
13
45.9
-2
Staff Development (inservice)
12
57.9
8
74.4
+3
Student Attendance
13
45.7
14
35.3
-1
Teacher Training
14
44.4
7
75.9
+7
Curriculum Development
15
42.1
6
76.7
+9
Teacher Selection
16
41.4
10
72.2
+6
Public Relations
17
40.6
15
32.3
+2
Assemblies
18
40.6
17
30.8
0
Assisting PTA
19
20.1
23
12.8
-4
School Clubs
20
18.8
21
18.1
-1
Innovations and Research
21
15.0
12
56.4
+9
Instructional Media Services
22
15.0
24
10.5
-3
Articulation**
23
10.5
22
14.3
+1
School Budgeting
24
9.0
19
27.8
+5
Ordering Textbooks
25
9.0
25
8.3
-1
Note:
*Coverages refers to scheduling teachers to cover for absent, regular classroom teachers.
**Articulation refers to the administrative and logistical duties required to prepare for graduation (e.g. preparing and
sending cumulative records to receiving schools).
Sun
11 2
small chats, providing feedback after classroom
observations and walk-throughs, and facilitat-
ing in-service professional development pro-
grams. Principals may wish to develop such
approaches with their assistant principals.
Theme 2: Challenges in Practice. Another
theme that emerged during the interviews was
that assistant principals felt they were “pigeon-
holed” and that their daily activities were most-
ly involved with student discipline, supervis-
ing substitute teachers, monitoring lunch and
bus duties, and undertaking school scheduling.
Eight of the ten assistant principals clearly stat-
ed that they did what their principals told them
to do. Brain, who had been an assistant princi-
pal for 10 years, described that he had to prior-
itize the principal’s needs and relieve the prin-
cipal from daily administrative tasks, which, he
felt, were generally “dumped” on him:
I do scheduling, and there is a compli-
cated system, which is a huge thing. I
have done the lockers, which is a big
deal, because you have to know where
every student is in school, what the
number locker he or she has. If there is
any problem, you have the access to the
locker. Dismissal is another part of the
day that I have to be visible to super-
vise the whole school. And you have
to understand your role, which is to as-
sist. You can be a partner, but you are
always going to be subordinate partner.
That’s the nature of [the] beast.
Christine, who echoed Brain’s comments
in her interview, had worked in a junior high
school as assistant principal for six years before
coming to her urban school, where the mission
was early childhood education. Having been an
assistant principal for about nine years, she de-
scribed her experience as follows:
I do a lot student discipline. I go in
and out of the lunchroom to maintain.
I do all the schedules for the school.
… When people are absent, I have to
make sure that all the classrooms are
covered and the schedule was adjusted.
When asked why her job responsibilities had
not changed over the years, she complained
that it was because she had to do “something
the principal doesn’t want to do.” She said, “If
the principal doesn’t want to do it, they call the
I work very closely with Elaine [prin-
cipal]. She is my direct supervisor. I
am doing those duties for the sole pur-
pose of educating myself, and she has
responsibility for all I am doing. She
organizes everything. I assist her with
things, such as faculty meetings. Basi-
cally, she is prepping me for the things
that will be on my plate when I do
move up.
Having been a special education teach-
er and director of special education in the dis-
trict, Peggy had been in her assistant principal
position for two years. In the interview, Peg-
gy shared that her principal knew she aspired
to become a building principal and that it was
also the district’s intention to prepare her quick-
ly to assume that responsibility. Peggy was im-
pressed by the approach her principal had taken
as her mentor and said:
He has been very good about sharing
things with me. For the most part, we
do try to share a lot of responsibili-
ties. It works as a partnership between
him and me, and you can find a hap-
py medium focusing on each other’s
strengths.
Peggy also emphasized the importance of devel-
oping a partnership between the principal and
assistant principals. The partner relationship
with her principal, she felt, definitely enhanced
the possibility of coaching and mentoring.
He [principal] has to learn and accept
that I have a strong personality and he
has to accept that. He has to handle
things a little bit differently, and I think
it has been nice because we both have
learned about each other and ourselves
in terms of details. I am not a detail
person, but he is very detail-oriented,
which has helped me a lot because I
am now becoming more detailed, doing
things that I never used to do. It helps
me to develop as a leader. It truly does.
And he helps me a lot.
Although all assistant principals who were
interviewed showed a great interest in being
mentored by their superiors, most were not re-
ceiving such instruction. Interestingly, assistant
principals shared how they themselves men-
tored novice and non-tenured teachers in their
daily work by initiating individual meetings and
Grow Your own Leaders 11 3
school, described his school’s team as being
primarily teacher dominated.
My principal and I have connecting
doors. Because it is teamwork, I look at
part of my role as to provide the coun-
sel to the principal. For example, we
are starting to look at one issue, which
might become a big issue in the future
if we don’t do something about it now.
I may offer the suggestion [to the prin-
cipal] like: “You might want to take
care of this,” or “what do you think we
should do about this?” It was not so
much like we’re dividing up the work,
and the bottom line is to make sure that
the work is done efficiently.
The working relationship between John and his
principal provided positive evidence of how his
principal facilitated taking a collaborative ap-
proach. It also showed John’s willingness to
work together with his principal if a collabor-
ative environment was in place. Harold, with
master’s degrees in special education and in ad-
ministration, also praised the collaborative ap-
proach taken by his principal in their 400-plus-
student rural school:
Typically, at a middle school, the bud-
get is mostly the principal’s job, but
we shared and put together the bud-
get. We also shared building the over-
all schedule and worked collaborative-
ly to identify students’ issues, such as
how to help students get along with
each other. We have a very shared de-
cision-making process here.
Harold said his principal always took the re-
sponsibility at the end of the day, which en-
couraged him to share the workload with his
principal. When collaborative relationships are
developed, assistant principals can benefit and
gain opportunities to develop their leadership
knowledge and skills while working with their
principals.
Discussion
I sought to contribute to the realm of effec-
tive mentoring programs by investigating how
assistant principals perceived their roles and du-
ties and how they perceived their opportunities
to be mentored by their principals in order to
prepare them to become principals themselves.
This was achieved utilizing a mixed research
method. The survey findings indicated that
assistant. You are inferior. They can say you
need to do this.”
During the interview, it was evident that
these assistant principals were quite aware of
the authoritative position and power of their
principals and that they did the work they were
assigned. The comments Melinda made are il-
lustrative of this sentiment:
My principal’s responsibility is to be
the instructional leader of the building.
In all ways, to work with her faculty, to
make sure that they are prepared and
are preparing their children, to provide
support for teachers in whatever ways
necessary, and to evaluate them, which
she does every day. So, that’s her main
responsibility…. Mine is to provide
support for the principal, so she can do
those things. That’s what I should be
here for. Whatever I need to take on is
to make her be able to do that.
All the assistant principals who were inter-
viewed were very much aware of their subordi-
nate position to their principals and the mana-
gerial nature of their roles.
Theme 3: Collaborative Leadership. All the
participants suggested that their jobs should in-
volve more than simply maintaining the stabil-
ity of the building. They emphasized both the
importance of their roles and the importance
of being prepared to become effective leaders.
Harold, an assistant principal for five years in
two rural schools, underscored the importance
of the role of assistant principal:
The assistant principal has to be in-
volved in a lot of things. The prima-
ry thing the assistant principal has to
be involved in is to create a positive
culture in the building. Without that
positive culture, you are going to get a
lot of problems. Creating that positive
culture eliminates a lot of problems,
and reduces the discipline problems. I
think all the assistant principals should
do that.
Harold’s view emphasized that effective team-
work between principals and their assistants
is fundamental in order to prepare them to be-
come effective leaders. Of the 10 assistant prin-
cipals who were interviewed, three gave details
of their collaborative work with their princi-
pals. John, who worked in a suburban middle
Sun
11 4
administrative and institutional authority or
power (Allix, 2000). In the present study, I
used interviews to explore the mentoring rela-
tionships between assistant principals and their
principals in the workplace. Most of the inter-
viewees in the present study reported that they
were subordinate to their principals and had
had few opportunities to be mentored by them
or to take part in a mentoring program. The
survey results showed that assistant principals
were rarely, if ever, able to undertake leadership
roles such as Instructional Leadership, Evalua-
tion of Teachers, Curriculum Development, and
Innovation and Research, which they felt would
be useful to prepare them to become principals
themselves.
The results are especially disappointing be-
cause many schools, districts, and states have
provided professional development for princi-
pals (Hunt, 2011). However, assistant princi-
pals, who are generally viewed as being in the
pipeline as candidates for principals’ positions,
are largely excluded from such leadership pos-
sibilities. I, therefore, recommend that school
principals should make it a priority to involve
their assistant principals in diverse and direct
leadership-related school activities and to ar-
range a time to mentor and coach their assis-
tants. Such mentoring relationships can hap-
pen only if school principals adopt distributed
leadership — a collaborative approach for en-
hancing school leadership and management
(Gronn, 2002; Spillane, 2005; 2006). This ap-
proach is highly likely to foster an environment
that could generate more diverse opportunities
for assistant principals to gain leadership skills.
Research has indeed shown that “sharing lead-
ership responsibilities expands the new assistant
principal’s understanding of the scope of his or
her own role beyond student management to in-
clude instructional monitoring, supervision, ac-
countability, community relationships, resource
allocation, and other administrative responsibil-
ities” (Pounder & Crow, 2005, p.59). It is also
essential that principals have frequent conver-
sations with their assistants and to coach them
on tasks such as teacher evaluations, instruc-
tional leadership, curriculum development, and
innovation and research. Although it is assis-
tant principals who are most responsible for
their own professional growth and develop-
ment, research has shown that mentoring and
assistant principals were not satisfied with what
they were doing, which was illustrated by the
disparities in the “actually do” and “should do”
duty rankings. Of the five top-ranked duties in
the “actually do” category, the only direct lead-
ership-related task was Evaluation of Teachers.
This result fell far short of the expectations of
those who wanted to be more involved in pro-
fessional-development activities. The remain-
ing four duties on the top-ranked “actually do”
list were Student Discipline, Administrative Du-
ties (paperwork), Counseling Pupils, and Paren-
tal Conferences. These were all managerial in
nature and reflected the type of duties most as-
sistant principals were asked to perform.
The quantitative findings were reinforced in
the interviews. Eight of the ten assistant prin-
cipals reported that they were performing tasks
that were mostly managerial in nature and that
maintaining school stability was a major part
of their jobs. On a more positive note, two as-
sistant principals said that they were involved
in instruction-related leadership activities such
as evaluating teachers, attending and conduct-
ing grade-level meetings, and analyzing student
data on state assessments and that these activ-
ities had prepared them to become all-around
leaders. Two assistant principals also report-
ed being in charge of special education. Such
a finding was echoed in the quantitative sur-
vey, where 7 of 48 (15%) assistant principals
suggested being in charge of special education
should be added to the survey’s existing list.
The results indicate that assistant principals
would like to be given more time and oppor-
tunities to engage directly in leadership-related
tasks. Many assistant principals were often ful-
ly occupied in lesser managerial roles such as
calling substitute teachers, supervising break-
fast and lunch, dealing with disciplinary is-
sues, bus duties, and after-school duties such
as evening concerts and sporting events. As a
result, there was not enough time left for assis-
tant principals to engage in other activities and
tasks that could develop their all-round leader-
ship knowledge and skills. This suggests the
need for schools and districts to restructure as-
sistant principals’ job responsibilities and make
more time available for them to focus on duties
beyond maintaining the stability of the building.
Leaders in formal positions have great in-
fluence over their followers by virtue of their
Grow Your own Leaders 11 5
The attitudes of the participants may be a
concern. The literature shows that “the way in
which subjects view a study and their participa-
tion in it can create a threat to internal validity”
(Fraenkel & Wallen, 1996, p. 248). How the as-
sistant principals viewed this study with regard
to their own jobs may have affected their atti-
tudes when taking the survey and may have in-
fluenced the results.
While this study focused on elementary
and middle school assistant principals in New
York State as a convenience sample, future re-
search may extend to other states. Further-
more, future studies could be undertaken to ex-
amine assistant principals’ jobs at elementary,
middle, and high schools separately in order to
determine if there are different trends and per-
ceptions among assistant principals at different
school levels.
Finally, the findings from the research and
literature review revealed that assistant princi-
pals have long desired to become involved in
a greater number of school activities. How-
ever, the present study provided no empirical
evidence to suggest whether or not a greater
participation in school activities has actually
improved students’ learning outcomes. Future
researchers, therefore, should connect students’
academic achievements with assistant princi-
pals’ involvement in school activities; in partic-
ular, those that are instruction related.
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Grow Your own Leaders 11 7
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