Sustaining a Leadership Mindset in the AP Role

A MiddleWeb Blog

I have been an Assistant Principal for five years now, and there have been plenty of times when I have felt defeated, unworthy, and lost. This is why online communities – and books like the ones written for APs by Baruti Kafele – are so important.

Assistant principals need to be reminded that we are worthy, that we are doing good things every day, and that others see and appreciate us as leaders. We often don’t hear that enough.

Kafele is one of the rare education thought leaders who devotes a lot of care and attention to the assistant/vice principal role. His writing gets to the heart of what it means to be an education leader in the number two position.

In his latest book for ASCD, The Assistant Principal Identity: Protecting Your Leadership Mindset, Fervor, and Authenticity, Kafele dives deep into how we APs can stay true to who we are while still fulfilling our roles and responsibilities as supporting leaders within our schools.

Kafele likes to use a first-person questioning style to pose thought-provoking prompts that can be used for self-reflection. He also provides his own answers based on his years of experience and knowledge.

As I read his short yet powerful new book, I found myself nodding along in many areas, pausing for reflection in others, and feeling my passion for leadership refresh itself after a very arduous year. While the entire book is chock-full of powerful nuggets of wisdom, it was three questions in chapter 2 that stood out to me the most.

Q12: How am I Protecting my Leadership Optimism? 

It is very easy to start each new year full of hope and optimism. What many of us APs may find difficult is maintaining that optimism in the face of the daily grind that comes with being an assistant principal. Kafele uses this section to remind us that we must never lose sight of what got us here in the first place: our previous accomplishments and talents.

He states, “Regardless of how difficult, challenging, seemingly unfair, or overwhelming the work may be, your optimism cannot and must not be affected or compromised. Your belief in yourself and your confidence in yourself must remain high” (p. 45).

Q15: How am I Protecting my Leadership Excitement?

While excitement and optimism may seem synonymous to some, they are not. It is nice to think that you cannot have optimism without excitement, but we all know that isn’t true. You can be very optimistic about your future as an educational leader, yet not excited about your current placement or position. Of course, excitement and optimism should go hand in hand.

Kafele uses this section of his book to ask very probing questions designed to make us think about excitement in our role as an Assistant Principal. Questions such as “Are you excited about being an assistant principal?”; “Are you excited about your progress [as a leader]?”; “Are you excited about the possibilities that each new day brings?” (p. 51).

Each of these, along with several other questions, are designed to get us thinking about the role we have and what it means to us. He reminds us that these are questions we should be asking ourselves daily. He states, “It is one thing to walk in the work that you worked so hard to do. But it is something very different to walk in your work with excitement, which brings a whole different level of energy to the work” (p. 52).

Kafele also reminds us that it is our responsibility to not only protect our excitement about the areas of our leadership that we get excited about, but to also build excitement for the areas that we do not.

Q17: How am I Protecting my Leadership Experience?

In this section, Kafele tells us that in leadership, our previous experiences can never be ignored. To emphasize his point, he begins this section with a vignette about a negative experience he had as a brand new assistant principal. He goes on to tell us how that experience has continued to stick with him and how he has used it to shape who he is as a leader and how he treats his faculty and staff.

Reading this reminded me of a conversation I had with my husband, a retired military leader, about leadership. He told me that we shouldn’t view leaders as good or bad; we should simply view them as someone to learn from – we learn what we will do and what we won’t do, in part, based on the experiences they provide for us.

Kafele alludes to this idea when he says that it is both the positive and negative experiences that “comprise who and what you are as a leader…and the lessons learned from them are immeasurable” (p. 55).

Sustaining excitement and optimism

At the end of his book (which is a wonderful complement to his free weekly virtual AP Leadership Academy on YouTube), Kafele reminds us to seize and own our identity, saying we have to “protect your leadership mindset, fervor, and authenticity” because failure to do so “can compromise your overall leadership effectiveness, and when that happens, everyone suffers” (p. 112).

So take the time to protect your leadership mindset, fervor, and authenticity, because in the end everyone benefits from a leader who is excited, optimistic, and ready to use their experiences to make school a great place to be for all!

After five years as an Assistant Principal, DeAnna Miller has joined Bay District Schools in Panama City, FL, as an Online Curriculum Developer. She looks forward to developing, writing, and facilitating online professional development for teachers across the state of Florida. We’re grateful for all her contributions to MiddleWeb, including her posts at My AP Life. Watch for future articles as she explores new ways to be a leader.

DeAnna Miller

DeAnna Miller (@DMiller0502) has been a middle school English teacher, instructional coach, and assistant principal during her 15-year career in education. She began her fifth year as an AP in the fall of 2022 and currently helps lead a K-6 public school in Enterprise, Alabama. DeAnna is an Army veteran married to a retired First Sergeant. They have three daughters, a son, and a new grandchild. She’s also a runner, avid reader and writer, and an “extreme Disney fanatic.”

3 Responses

  1. Wow DeAnna. I don’t even know how to thank you for this. I am so honored. This is the first piece written on this book and you have blessed me with it. I am elated. Thank you, thank you and continue to soar!

  2. DeAnna Miller says:

    Principal Kafele,
    Thank you! Your books and AP academy have helped me on my journey as a school administrator. Your insight and guidance is invaluable to all of us pursuing a leadership path. I look forward to reading, and learning, more from you in the future!

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