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Q&A: Positioning for a School Administration Job

December 11, 2008 3 min read

Pamela Murphy is Senior Manager of Human Resources with Harford County public schools in Bel Air, Md. In that capacity, she has facilitated search processes for new principals, and conducted training sessions for teachers on administrative opportunities in the district. She helps conduct a course on site-based HR management for existing administrators, as well other staff looking to move into administrative positions. We recently asked what schools look for in principal candidates and how teachers can make the transition to school administration positions.

What qualities do schools in your district generally look for in a new principal or assistant principal?

Principals are looked upon to be the “instructional leader” in the building. They head the School Instructional Leadership Team and the oversee the School Improvement Plan. Therefore, when reviewing an application we look at past leadership roles, prior work on curriculum/instructional projects, committees, etc. Has the person demonstrated and effective use of data in their decision making?

At the secondary level, we have a tiered assistant principal system. That is, an AP “1” is entry level and someone who is typically right out of the classroom. When interviewing for those positions, we’re looking for potential. Will they be able to handle the transition to administration (i.e., handle discipline referrals, employee issues, building scheduling, etc.). The highest tier is the AP “4”. Those candidates should have a good understanding of the day-to-day managerial aspects of the building and are now fine tuning the instructional leadership role. Whether a principal or AP, we always look for student-centered focus, good communication skills, time-management skills, comfort with and ability to use data, and effective use of technology.

What advice would you give to a teacher who is interested in advancing to a principal or assistant principal position? How might he or she improve his or her chances?

I would strongly encourage them to talk with a good mix of current administrators and shadow them if possible—both on the instructional and noninstructional sides of the house. Find out what the real challenges are to being in administration. Of course, making sure you hold or are eligible for the required certificate/license is important. I have found many new administrators are unprepared for how different it is outside the classroom. For example, the pay increase is nice, but some don’t realize there is a corresponding time increase. Another hurdle many have difficulty with is the “management” piece of the job. My colleagues and I are always getting phone calls asking what to do with a problem employee.

What licensure requirements must principal candidates meet? What are the options for a teacher who might want to pursue them?

In our district, they must hold or be eligible for an Advanced Professional Certificate with an Administrator II endorsement. And “APC” means that they have at least 3 years of successful teaching experience and a master’s degree. They can get the Admin II endorsement by either doing their masters in school administration or taking specific courses (e.g., education law) beyond their masters.

How have you identified teachers who you think might be ready for administration positions? What traits or skills do you look for?

Many are identified by the Education Services Department as well as their principals. They are then encouraged to go through the leadership development program. Again we look for those teachers that have already begun to assume leadership roles both within their schools or in other arenas. They could be members of the School Improvement Team, served on a professional learning committee, worked on curriculum review, taught a course at the college level, or served on a state-wide committee of some sort. We’re trying to identify are those who are self-motivated.

—Anthony Rebora


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