Roles and Responsibilities of Assistant Principals
Historical Perspective of Assistant Principal Roles
Prior and Current Research Studies of Assistant Principal Roles
Assistant Principals and Use of Instructional Leadership
Transforming Assistant Principals into Instructional Leaders: Key Obstacles
General consensus indicates that the role of the assistant principals should move beyond its traditional clerical and disciplinary heritage to evolve to instructional leaders that deal with curriculum development, teacher and instructional effectiveness, clinical supervision, staff development and teacher evaluation. Yet, historical and current research shows that there has been little change in the assistant principal occupation since its origin in 1920. This paper uncovers research that tries to reconcile why the role change that practically everyone seems to want to happen hasn't been that quick to occur. As these reasons are better identified and understood, perhaps the twenty first century will see a positive transformation in the role of the assistant principal.
1.1 Need for Study
More research is needed to understand inhibitors of instructional leadership so that schools can begin to focus their efforts on making the changes that will expedite the transition of an assistant principal from a clerk and a disciplinarian to an instructional leader. Additionally, it's important to be aware of solutions that can address shortcomings. Currently, there's research on what assistant principals roles are and what they would like it to be, but little concrete research information exists to understand what solutions might actually work to facilitate role change.
1.2 Study Purpose
The purpose of this study on the assistant principal and his roles and responsibilities is four fold:
To identify what the appropriate role of an assistant principal should be and why,
To discover as many reasons as possible that assistant principals are performing their responsibilities differently from how they should be conducting their job,
To gain an historical perspective of the assistant principal's role, and To develop possible solutions that will facilitate the transition of an assistant principal to meet the needs of larger, modern day schools.
The ultimate objective is to provide research that will help accelerate the appropriate role transformation for the assistant principal.
1.3 Problem Statement
Increasingly, instructional leadership by assistant principals is seen as necessary to achieve school reform, improve the job satisfaction of assistance principals, and to equip them with the skills necessary to advance to the principal level. Schools are too large and complex for the principal to lead by him or herself, assistant principals are not happy with their clerical and disciplinary tasks, and assistant principals do not obtain training in the different skills of a principal before they are promoted to that role. Yet the most probable remedy, instructional leadership, seems to elude assistant principals.
Theories as diverse as training and selection issues, the nature of hierarchical organizations, motives of principals, real-world resource constraints, reactive rather than proactive school systems, insufficient reward systems and deficiencies in instructional leadership at the principal level all offer some hints as to the underlying causes preventing instructional leadership from becoming a common part of the assistant principal's job. This discussion also develops possibilities for improving the ability of an assistant principal to become an instructional leader such as formal instructional leadership course training, new selection processes, organizational behavior training, promotion criteria, resource escalation, government and political group intervention, refurbished reward systems, and focus on the leadership skills of principals. This paper does not attempt to rank the issues or the solutions in terms of relative importance.
2.0 Literature Review
This review of the literature provides an overall understanding of, and rationale for, the role of the assistant principal as an instructional leader. In addition it explores the responsibilities of the associate principal for the past century. Evidence is presented to support the claim that the job has really changed since its inception, with the majority of associate principals still serving as clerks and disciplinarians. Next, possible causes for the slow transition of the assistant principal to an instructional leader are presented with the hope of providing guidance that will accelerate role transformation.
Solutions are presented that are worthy of further exploration to determine if they can be useful in transforming the role of the assistant principal.
2.1 Roles and Responsibilities of Assistant Principals
There's much ambiguity about what the role of the assistant principal is or should be. According to authors David and Sylvia Weller, the role of assistant principal is one of the least researched and discussed topics in educational leadership. They argue that lack of a clear definition of the role had allowed it to be ineffectively used and has made it difficult to properly staff the position.
Most believe that assistant principals should be significantly involved in instructional learning, but lament that this hasn't happened. Williams believes that the assistant principal should be in instructional leadership to become "an advocate for excellence, a visionary leader, a change agent, a communicator, a motivator, and a determinant of school climate." Rutherford has developed five qualities for effective leadership:
Have a vision. Work toward a shared understanding of the goals, progress toward their achievement and coordinate curriculum, instruction and assessment.
Translate the vision into action. Work as a team, emphasize school wide goals and expectations.
Create a supportive environment. Promote an academically-oriented, orderly, and purposeful school climate.
Know what's going on in the school. Find out what teachers and students are doing and how well.
Act on knowledge. Intervene as necessary accommodating different teacher personalities, styles, and teaching strategies.
However, Gorton describes the present-day assistant principal position as one of custodial, clerical, discipline and social duties. Panyanko and LeRoy echo this finding stating that "The assistant principal is often overlooked and the position has become buried in custodial, clerical, discipline and social duties."
Williams, Groton, Panyanko and Leroy all agree that the role of the assistant principal needs to be structured in such a way that can make school administration more productive. They cite the need for the assistant principal's leadership skills to achieve significant reform, the need for more participation to improve job satisfaction, and the need for leadership experience to become an effective principal. Michel, in his research of the assistant principal's role, found that they did not have the team management and public relationship skills to take on the role of the principal. He suggested more emphasis on inservice education and leadership academies as potential remedies.
Others even conclude that the role of the assistant principal as a disciplinarian is negatively impacted by the lack of instructional leadership. Reed believes that assistant principals that control students through disciplinary sanctions are only moderately successful. Instead, a more complex six-step process involving a high degree of student interaction is more effective. Often, the principal will take on the role as a leader rather than a disciplinarian to prompt cooperation from the student.
2.2 Historical Perspective of Assistant Principal Roles
In order to understand how the role of the assistant principal has evolved, it's useful to first understand the development of superintendents and principals. In the nineteenth century, superintendents controlled city schools for the most part. Principals at this time were head teachers with very little authority in running schools. As urbanization developed and school systems became larger, around 1900, superintendents began to delegate school management to principals so that they could occupy administrative and supervisory positions that had become necessary
In 1920, the principal relinquished teaching duties and primary responsibilities shifted to assisting less experienced teachers.
Between 1920 and 1930, the assistant principal roles emerged although this position was then referred to as general supervisors. Their job was to take over the principal's day-to-day classroom supervision and to assist with administrative and logistical operations of the school. Common duties included student discipline, preparation of attendance reports, data collection for evaluation purposes, and coordination of special school programs. Assistant principals had very little formal authority. The principal's role shifted from classroom supervision to the task to running the school. While educational reform that surfaced at the end of the 1990s has called on the instructional leadership skills of the principal to affect change, the assistant principal has often been overlooked as being part of the solution.
2.3 Prior and Current Research Studies of Assistant Principal Roles
Research shows that the duties of assistant principals are still strongly linked to practices established eighty years ago. In 1992, Glanz produced a survey of 200 New York City assistant principals that was approved by the Board of Education's Conflict of Interest Committee. The results showed that assistant principals were far more involved in disciplinary and administrative functions than in instructional and curricular functions as show in the rankings below.
Actual Duties of Assistant Principals: Rankings and Percentages