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July 10, 2023
ASCD Blog

Finding Your Assistant Principal Identity

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Leadership expert Baruti Kafele talks about remaking the assistant principal position from within.
Leadership
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Credit: Olenapolll / Shutterstock
At the outset of his latest book, The Assistant Principal Identity, well-known school leadership expert Baruti Kafele acknowledges that he has a “near obsession” with the assistant principal position.
When I asked him about this in a recent interview on the ASCD Connect podcast, Kafele said that his deep interest in the position goes back to the time when he was an AP himself and found himself thrust into a disciplinarian role that left little time for instructional leadership.
Kafele said this kind of miscasting of assistant principals is endemic in schools and squanders the talents of these individuals, who tend to be experienced instructional experts. “We need to start rethinking—reimagining if you will—what the role of the assistant principal is,” he said. This means refining school organizational cultures—and their often-fragmented approaches to student discipline—so that the AP can be “that instructional leader, that instructional coach that the children and the staff require and need them to be.”

We need to start rethinking—reimagining if you will—what the role of the assistant principal is.

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At the same time, Kafele said that assistant principals’ ability to remake the position and thrive in it is also highly dependent on the development of their own inner attributes. One of the most critical of these, he stressed, is “protecting your authenticity, who you are.”
Kafele explained that, amid all the competing challenges and pressures of the job, it’s very easy for assistant principals to “lose themselves”—to forget or downplay their values, their talents, and their original aims for their role. To avoid this, APs need to be “very intentional” about remembering why they took the job in the first place and what value they hoped to add to the school. “You can’t get to a point where you lower expectations,” either for yourself or for students, he said.
Kafele added that, as part of this process, APs need to do the critical work of defining and establishing their own leadership identity. (His own, as anyone who’s heard him speak won’t be surprised by, is “The Motivator.”) “Keep in mind,” he noted, “that your professional identity is directly rooted in your personal identity. You can’t morph into someone you’re not.”
In the course of our conversation, Kafele also offered some tips on how principals can better support APs (an essential component of school management and staff development, in his view) and how newly appointed APs can best prepare for the job. That’s a question he acknowledged is coming up a lot in these days of increasing leadership-team turnover in schools.
Listen to the full episode:

Anthony Rebora is the chief content officer for ISTE+ASCD, overseeing publications and content development across all platforms.

Previously, he was the editor in chief of Educational Leadership, ASCD's flagship magazine, and led content development for the association's fast-evolving digital outlets.

Under his leadership, Educational Leadership won numerous awards for editorial excellence, increased the breadth of its coverage and contributors, and greatly expanded its online reach.

He was formerly a managing editor at Education Week, where he oversaw coverage of teachers and teaching policy, and played a key role in online editorial strategy. He has written and developed impactful content on a wide range of key K-12 education topics, including professional learning, school leadership and equity.

As a content developer, his foremost goals are to empower diverse educator voices and raise awareness of critical issues and solutions in education.

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