How do you know….

My mantra for my position throughout the past (almost) year has been that there wasn’t a manual handed to me with my new position. I say it jokingly but in all seriousness, there is. no. manual. As in, here’s your office, here’s your keys…go. The finer details of my position, the specifics, such as when certain things need to be done, the how’s of how they have been done…or the urgency of some certain tasks is pretty much up to me. Which is great until you get back to the fact that there isn’t a darn manual!

I walk most evenings with another AP who lives close by. As we walk, we go through our days, discussing this and that. I am always amazed at her confidence in handling any and all situations. From trying teachers, wailing students, to irate parents she never misses a beat. I asked her over this holiday break at what point I could expect to “know what to do”…she just laughed and kept walking…but I was serious!

How do you know?

How do you know what to say to an employee who disagrees with you and vocally says so? when they ask a question you don’t really know an answer too?

How do you know what to say to a parent who won’t admit responsibility to a child’s mistake? who is totally in the right but you can’t “fix” their teachers perspective?

How do you know what to say when a student hits…throws…cries? and you know you can’t fix what they go home too, but need them to be CALM for you now?

I’m really hoping as I approach my one year mark (I started mid semester, March 8th) that all these things are going to click into place and I am going to have an infinite wisdom that just overcomes me. If you know of a book that could get me there faster, feel free to share!

wisdom searchN, Amber


  1. Shannon said:

    Hi Amber,

    Wow, do I remember being in your position just 2 years ago. There isn’t anything that I can say to get you anywhere faster, but always give yourself the freedom to learn as you go. Even if there was a manual, it would have to be thousands of pages (and more) to address the individual circumstances of each scenerio that crosses your desk. The learning curve is steep and no doubt you have already amassed a wealth of experiences and a repertoire of responses. Everyone with whom we deal is an individual and a relationship worthy of developing. Ask questions. Listen. And feel confident. Be open and vulnerable too – demonstrate your learning as a model for risk-taking and life-long learning. And, of course, keep on reflecting. Great post, thanks for sharing.


    December 31, 2010
  2. Chris Wejr said:

    Great thoughts Amber! That is the power of the PLN. How do I know what to do in certain situations? I don’t! I ask people from #cpchat as well as principals and teachers in my district. Through experience we start to have a larger backpack of strategies but right now for me… if I have the time to ask (and a decision does not need to be made immediately), I ask my PLN.

    I think that, in addition to this, as long as every decision you make is what you feel is done with an ethic of care and in the best interests of the students, you cannot go wrong as people will always respect you for trying.

    I am a new administrator and I make mistakes every day. The key is that I learn from them and can always support my decisions with reasons for the decision.

    Use your teachers, support staff, parents, students, and other admin (whom you trust and respect) – you have fantastic resources in front of you. I have mentors that are current and previous admin, teachers, and support staff. Too, through Twitter and blogs – there is a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be tapped into.

    Lastly, saying that you need to think about or call someone before a decision is made is not a bad thing.

    In the end, we do our best and lead with our heart.

    Great post! I felt the same way last year and a little less this year as my backpack has grown.

    December 31, 2010
  3. Cale Birk said:

    A great post, and something that every administrator goes home and thinks about, regardless of which stage they are at in their career. The comments by Chris and Shannon are bang on. This is my tenth year in admin, and I find that sometimes I feel that the longer I am at this, the LESS I know. But the best thing for me is that I have a great team that I work with, and we bounce ideas off of eachother all of the time. I completely agree with Chris that most times, I do not have to make a decision at that exact moment–I find that even taking a minute or two to consult, and sometimes much longer if the situation affords it, gives me the time to make a better choice than I would have if I made a snap decision without consulting with those around me.

    Along with listening (as Shannon said) the other thing that really guides me now is when I put my parent hat on. When parents are upset, I understand because I am a parent and can picture myself being upset. When they stand up for their child, I understand because I would stand up for my child. When I make a positive phone call to a parent, I know how much that means to them. And when I have a teacher that is upset with a child or a parent, I try to come from that perspective with them as well. The most precious commodity (and the reason we are all there) is for the children of our parents.

    From one person’s perspective, I ‘know’ when I am doing what is the right thing for the child. But as far as whether I am ‘there’ and the point in my career when I will ‘know’ how to handle every situation, I don’t know that I will ever truly ‘know’.

    Thanks for your thought provoking post!

    December 31, 2010
  4. Amber,

    Great post. I was an assistant principal for three years and just this year I took on the principal’s role. There were no manuals but I approached every situation as if I were in their position. Most situations can be handled quickly, and professionally, when the other party knows you are truly understanding and there to help.

    As you go through these tough times make sure that you focus on the real reason we have entered this profession: helping students achieve success and move on to the next level prepared for whatever comes their way.

    Keep up the great work and keep these great posts coming!

    – John

    December 31, 2010
  5. Chad kuzyk said:

    I am also a new AP with the same concerns. During this holiday break I asked myself the same questions and have come to terms that there is no magic bullet. Every scenario is unique to the school, situation or community. I have to believe we were given this opportunity because we have the ability to wade through the “stuff” because our foundation is solid. Therefore, if we are the key, then we must take care of ourselves ……balance…life work and play. Easily written, hard to do. Best of luck in the new year!

    December 31, 2010
  6. Amber,

    Congratulations on making it this far in your new position. Just as with my teaching, there is no replacement for time and experience. I would suggest that you have the benefit of networking with others in a way that was not available to me at your stage. Use it!

    In grad school, I had a professor who said that no matter what we read in texts or discuss in class, there was “no substitute for OTJ (on the job) training.” That has been very true. What I can offer is a few tips:

    1. Be an attentive and active listener.
    2. Care for and support your teachers. If you can link their personal goals with the schools goals, you are on the right track.
    3. Do not underestimate the power of symbolic leadership. Respect tradition and enhance the culture.
    4. Enter into every conversation as an opportunity to learn about the other person and yourself.

    I hope this helps. Thanks for sharing.

    Troy P. Roddy, Ph.D.

    December 31, 2010
  7. Garrett said:

    There is a book written long before all of today’s self-help books…

    It was written before confucious, budha and many other philosophical thinkers who’s works mirror this book (meaning their ideas weren’t exactly original)…

    It was written by the richest man ever to walk this earth — in today’s money, Bill Gates AND Warren Buffett combined would look like paupers, seriously…

    Every princiciple ever written anywhere in any religion, in any faith, in any language, in any culture can be found in this book…

    You will find what you need — and you may find yourself needing a mentor with reading and understanding this book — in the book of Proverbs…

    December 31, 2010
  8. Vince Gagne said:

    Great post Amber!

    I agree with everyone so far…there is no manual and no way of knowing what each day will bring. This is my 14th year as a Principal and I have worked with many new Assistant Principals. The only advice I always give them is to remember that we are in the people business. Our day is filled with opportunities to help others…students, parents…staff…our community. Always let that principle guide you and you will find success. People around you will know that you care about them. There is nothing more important in my job as Principal than the relationships I have with everyone I come in contact with. Even after all these years, you simply couldn’t know all the answers. We undergo change every day in our jobs. How could we prepare for that? Work at those relationships and that will give you the confidence and the confidence from others for you to make decisions in a timely manner. People will be patient with you and respect that you are taking your time because the “right” decision is important to them and for you.

    Good luck and keep those posts coming!

    January 4, 2011

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