Leading Through Uncertainty: How Assistant Principals Are Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic

“The pandemic has exposed a lot of challenges in our schools that can now be addressed because they’ve been so opened up for everybody to see,” said Dr. Ellen Goldring, the executive associate dean and professor of education and leadership from the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations at the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University during a webinar this month on the role of assistant principals.

Co-hosted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and AFSA,  the event featured assistant principals in honor of National Assistant Principals Week. 

Panelists included Joseph Napolitano from the Westerleigh School in Staten Island, New York, representing AFSA; Debra Paradowski, the vice principal of Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland, Wisconsin, representing NASSP; and Andrea Thompson, assistant principal at Mary Harris “Mother” Jones Elementary School in Adelphi, Maryland, representing NAESP. 

As part of the webinar, participants engaged in intriguing discussions regarding challenges they have faced during COVID-19, considering the unique challenges of the 2020–2021 school year as school leaders step up to support their staff and students’ academic, social, emotional and mental health needs.

“We need to address those [social and emotional needs] before we can even get into the academics; if they don’t have the fundamental basic Maslow needs, we cannot move to the next level,” Napolitano said. 

“Every day I’m thinking what can I do to demonstrate to our staff self-care, and how important that is," Paradowski said. "If we are not at our best, we are not going to be at our best for our kids." 

Panelists also delved into how they see the future of the role of assistant principals, considering its position within the school setting.

“Now we truly are an AP of everything, we are the physicians doing the COVID testing, we are the attorneys doing the legal, we are the forensic accountants doing the financials, and we also are the data analysts reviewing all the data,” Napolitano noted.

“Planning ahead, I believe in healing circles, I believe in listening circles, Thompson said. "When teachers return to the building that school administrators give these adults a chance to talk about their experiences. Otherwise, you know, it’s doing to come out some other way.” 

As Goldring noted, this conversation highlighted the importance of flexibility and autonomy to let the professionals make decisions and implement what is best for their communities, while having the resources to do so. 

The entire program is avaiable on demand below.