AEFP 45th Annual Conference

Toward a Meaningful Impact through Research, Policy & Practice

March 19-21, 2020

Examining Assistant Principals' Feelings of Preparedness to Step into the Principalship

Youjin Chung, Tennessee Education Research Alliance,

Based on data from Tennessee, about one in eight schools must fill a principal vacancy each year, and most of those hired are assistant principals (APs). Given the critical role assistant principals play in principal pipelines, the experience and preparedness of APs are of particular interest for understanding the labor pool of future principals and the self-efficacy of incoming administrators. Using a statewide survey of administrators, we examine responses from assistant principals to assess feelings of preparedness across all APs, as well as how levels of feeling prepared vary across factors such as length of time as an AP, responsibilities as an AP, personal demographics, and school characteristics. Overall, we find that most assistant principals (86%) feel prepared to become a principal, but the variation across critical variables is illuminating. First, APs’ confidence in being prepared for principalship is positively correlated with years of experience as an AP. The proportion of APs who feel strongly prepared to become a principal varies by school level, with APs middle schools having the highest proportion (43.19%) and those serving in high school having the lowest (38.8%). This distribution also varies by student poverty quartiles. APs in schools with lower proportions of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch (FRL) were more than 25% more likely report strong feelings of preparedness than those in schools in the top quartile of FRL eligibility. In terms of specific roles and responsibilities that appear to help develop a sense of preparedness, APs feel strongly prepared when they had influence over standards, curriculum, PD, hiring, and budget. Finally, more APs feel strongly prepared when their current principals encourage them to become a principal in the future. Those who feel strongly prepared receive more leadership opportunities from their principals and more one-on-one interactions with their principals. Between now and a spring presentation of findings, we will work with partners at the Tennessee Department of Education to discuss potential recommendations and guidance to district leaders in light of these trends and welcome the chance to discuss implications with education stakeholders in other states.



Hi Youjin - thanks for sharing your findings! I thought it was interesting that APs feel strongly prepared when they had influence over standards, curriculum, PD, hiring, and budget - in some ways I would think it might be overwhelming to have control over those factors. Are some of those factors more important to have influence than others? Is there any interaction between influence over these factors and school poverty? It might be helpful to check whether influence over those factors is similar or different for high- vs. low-poverty schools (to rule out the possibility that APs entering higher-poverty schools are feeling less prepared because they have less control over standards, curriculum, PD, hiring, and budget). Last, do you have any data that could be used to shed light on the relationship between leadership opportunities and one-on-one interactions with principals and feelings of preparedness? Is it that some APs seek out more leadership opportunities and one-on-one interactions, or is that driven more by differences in the principals that that the APs are working with? If the latter, do principals offer more leadership opportunities and one-on-one interactions to certain APs - either APs that they perceive to be more qualified/effective, or who have specific demographic characteristics? Again, thanks for sharing and if you have any questions, you can reach me at

Thanks for presenting an interesting topic. I find the role and purpose of the assistant principal to be an interesting consideration. I am interested in the idea that the assistant principal position is a training ground for the principal position. I am curious if you controlled for, or have examined, instances where the assistant principal is not preparing to be a principal, but rather, focusing on getting really good at administrating one area (such as behavior, academics, testing administration, etc.). I work in Kentucky and we are seeing a growing trend of principals self promoting themselves as "Executive Principals" and delegating tasks to a stable of assistant principals who actually run the day-to-day functions of the school. In this instance, the Executive Principal's role is to represent the school in the community and to oversee and coordinate the work of multiple APs. Do you have any thoughts on that? Matthew Courtney

This is interesting data you report on here, Youjin. The question that your work leads me to is whether or not "feeling prepared" is a good proxy for actually being prepared to be an effective principal. There is some work in the business administration world that even suggests those who are most confident in their leadership abilities are actually pretty ineffective leaders. Perhaps you might view "feeling prepared" as an end in of itself, and it does seem important to me to have a leader who does not feel unprepared. "Strongly agree" though may not necessarily actually be better than "Agree." The nice thing is that if you link your data to principal hiring and principal and school outcomes, you could begin to test whether an AP "feeling prepared" tends to work out well for students in the long run.

Thanks for sharing these results. I would love to see the first figure with four bars for each likert level where the four bars are disaggregated by 1st, 2nd, 3rd year, and more than 3 years. That is, I would like to see the first two figures combined. Additionally, do you have these same statistics for the 30% of new principals who were not previously assistant principals? Regarding the relationship between assistant principals feeling prepared to become a principal by leadership opportunities provided by their principal -- the causation could run in the other direction -- principals might not give opportunities to provide leadership who unlikely to feel prepared to be a principal.

This is an interesting set of results. This makes me think of the literature on the leadership pipeline, particularly with respect to gender and racial diversity. Do you find differences in how prepared female APs vs. male APs rate themselves? Does the relationship with experience vary by sex? (E.g., do we see male APs more likely to judge themselves well-prepared in the first year of the role vs. female APs)? I'd be similarly interested to see if there are differences for leaders of color vs. white leaders--I could see a similar dynamic possibly being at play with respect to AP race. Thanks for sharing these results--I look forward to seeing future iterations at in-person AEFPs!

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