Avoid These 3 Pitfalls as a New Assistant Principal

Being a new assistant principal is hard. There are so many new things coming at you that you’ve never really had to think about before as a classroom teacher. With a little bit of awareness, we can avoid certain pitfalls, so let’s get started.

Pitfall #1: Inaction

Specifically, we are talking about inaction when redirection is required. Unfortunately, there will come a time when you need to redirect a teacher’s behavior. It could be for any number of reasons, and let me be clear, that part of your job sucks. Every new assistant principal struggles with this early on. We know how hard our teachers are working, and we do not want to have corrective conversations. However, part of your job is to grow your staff. Have high expectations for them, and do not “hope” things will get better by themselves. One of my college coaches always used to say, “You’re either coaching it, or you are allowing it to happen.” That’s true in this case as well. If a teacher knows you saw something, and you didn’t say something, you just told them that it is ok for them to do that thing again. Thankfully, these conversations are infrequent, but when they are needed, you have to take action.

It literally may just be a conversation. “Hey, I noticed… Tell me about…” There may very well be more to the situation that you aren’t aware of. All you have to do is ask, but if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. If the behavior is more egregious, it might be a formal write-up the first time it happens. The response varies depending on the behavior. However, the worst thing that can happen is for you to ignore it and allow a pattern of unprofessional behavior to appear with you having done nothing or said nothing. If that pattern becomes a THING, HR might have to get involved. If HR comes in and asks for documentation, and you don’t have any, that’s a problem. Remember this: If you didn’t have a conversation and document it, it didn’t happen.

Pitfall #2: Not Knowing Timelines

You have to understand and stick to timelines as a new assistant principal. There are several you need to be aware of. What is the timeline for a formal response to a parent or student when they’ve made a bullying or harassment complaint? What is the timeline for giving a teacher feedback after an observation? If you miss one of these deadlines and the teacher or parent wants to push back, guess who wins? They do. You need to go talk to your principal BEFORE school starts and ask about timelines. Simply ask, “What timelines do I need to be aware of when it comes to discipline and teacher feedback?” They should be able to fill you in pretty quickly, so you’ll know what is respected by your district and your state. These timelines should also be spelled out in your board policy (You’re going to get to know board policy well!).

Also, this is considerably less formal, but make sure you are responding to emails and phone calls within 24 hours if at all possible. It will save you so many headaches.

Pitfall #3: Not Saying “I Don’t Know”

You have to be ok saying “I don’t know” when you start your new assistant principal position. The absolute worst thing you can do is commit to an answer when you are still unsure. It’s okay to say, “Thank you so much for sharing this with me. Let me look into it, and I’ll get you an answer as soon as I can.” It’s much worse to commit to something and then have to go back to that teacher, parent, or student and pull back from your commitment. Your admin team knows you are new. They expect you to ask questions. Throw your ego to the side, and go ask them.

You’ll get better at answering questions pretty quickly, but you’ll still have situations popping up in your 2nd or 3rd year that you’ve never experienced before. That’s just the nature of the job. Be ok saying “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

Someone told me during my first year, “Be new as long as you can be.” I think that’s pretty good advice. When you are new, people give you grace. Everyone has been new at something. Be ok with being new. Use it to your advantage.

Just don’t be that guy or gal who walks in and acts like they know everything from the jump. Everyone knows better, and it just hurts your credibility, and it will likely make your job harder.


These are just a few things new assistant principals need to keep in mind as they get ready for their first year on the job. At the end of the day, we have to check our egos at the door, ask questions, and be willing to have hard conversations from time to time.

If you are looking for more tips for new assistant principals, here are a few resources that might be useful:

Tips for New Assistant Principals

Common Mistakes New Assistant Principals Make

Starting the Year as a New Assistant Principal

Leading With Appreciation

Finally, if you are interested in tips and strategies to help you take the next step in your leadership journey, you can subscribe to the New School Leader Newsletter right here:

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