Surviving the Life of an Assistant Principal

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The assistant principal fills a unique role within the context of a conventional school setting. While an assistant principal may not possess the level of authority and decision-making responsibility as a principal, the assistant principal nevertheless bears responsibilities that are essential to the successful operation of a primary or secondary educational institution. Paul R. Simpson’s Assistant Principal Survival Guide: Practical Guidelines and Materials for Managing All Areas of Your Work offers a wide range of suggestions concerning how assistant principals might carry out their professional duties more effectively (Simpson, 2000). The position of assistant principal is quite often a steppingstone towards the position of principal itself. It is through assuming the role of assistant principal that education professionals are most able to prepare themselves for the eventual assumption of full responsibility for the operation of a school.

The U. S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the primary responsibility of the assistant principal as aiding the principal in the general administration of a primary or secondary educational institution. The normal duties of an assistant principal include scheduling classes, procuring educational materials such as textbooks, overseeing the school’s bus and transportation services, and presiding over the institution’s food, janitorial, and student support services (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013). The interaction of an assistant principal with students can range from issuing discipline to providing counseling concerning educational issues, future professional pursuits, or even personal problems. An assistant principal may also develop recreational programs and other extracurricular activities for students, in addition to assuming responsibility for matters of health and safety within the school setting. Assistant principals are also being increasingly assigned responsibility for the development of curriculum itself, setting standards for teachers, managing teacher turnover, and even managing relations between the school and the wider community that the school serves (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013).

Clearly, the role of the assistant principal is one that is vital to the overall successful operation of a primary or secondary educational institution. As student populations grow larger, the number of assistant principals within an individual school is continuing to increase. Principals are also continuing to farm out many of their traditional responsibilities to assistant principals as their own array of responsibilities continues to expand. Simpson’s book offers much guidance concerning the question of how assistant principals can carry out their own responsibilities more efficiently and effectively (Simpson, 2000). Drawing on his twenty-two years of experience as a school administrator in various capacities, Simpson’s advice is oriented towards a concern with the practical rather than the philosophical. He even includes templates for letters and forms that an assistant principal would normally need to utilize during the course of their work.

One message that is clear from Simpson’s discussion is the necessity of communication between an assistant principal and those with whom they will normally interact during the course of their professional duties. These include students, teachers, school employees, and other administrative personnel. One of the most compelling aspects of Simpson’s overview is his discussion of discipline (Simpson, 2000). The meting out of discipline is one of the most important and difficult functions of an assistant principal. Simpson suggests that the issuing of discipline should not be a unilateral undertaking on the part of an assistant principal. Rather, an assistant principal should carry out disciplinary procedures within the context of guidelines that are well-established and reflect a school-wide consensus among relevant personnel. Where no consensus is in place, an assistant principal should strive for the creation of such a consensus.

Coping with stress is another important issue that the assistant principal ultimately faces. Assistant principals normally bear a heavy and varied workload. Ineffective management of stress can often lead to “burn out” or inefficient performance of one’s responsibilities. Additionally, there are a number of very serious matters, including emergency situations that a school administrator such as an assistant principal can potentially face, such as a school shooting incident like the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Simpson’s book leaves the reader with a much-heightened awareness of the many varied skills an effective assistant principal must cultivate during the performance of their professional obligations.


Simpson, P. R. (2000). Assistant principal survival guide: Practical guidelines and materialsfor managing all areas of your work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013). Elementary,middle, and high school principals. Retrieved from