When times get tough or when I feel low and the self-doubt creeps in (and many of you know exactly what I mean), I need to be reminded of the following points regularly.

  1. Your Feet: Lead by example; walk the walk, walk in their shoes. Education is designed on continuous improvement. No matter where you are and what type of school you lead, as school leaders we are charged to elevate schools to the next level. To do so, we must elevate our teachers and staff so that we can elevate students. If we want change in our schools, if we want transformation, then we ourselves need to BE THE CHANGE. We, like our teachers, cannot pigeon-hole ourselves into simple tasks and checklists. If you want your teachers to elevate their instructional practices, then you too must elevate your leadership practices. Walk the walk to elevate your role as an instructional leader for your teachers and your students. Get out of your office, grab a cart, or invest in a mobile desk to get in the halls and in the classrooms. You must walk alongside your teachers and students to be better informed on how you can support their transformation.
  2. Your Eyes: Help yourself and help your staff see challenges through positive angles. Identify concerns or areas of growth, but always find ways to highlight the good amongst those concerns. Educators do tremendous things each day, even when there are road bumps, but we are living in a world where the negative is sensationalized and drowns out the best of our efforts. When you are guiding a teacher with how to support one or two of their students with severe academic growth needs and they have exhausted all ideas to help… make sure you are pointing out the 20 other students the teacher IS making it work for and making a difference for. Or… when the staff or community of your school of 800 students is sensationalizing improper behaviors of about 20 specific students, help them see that 20 out of 800 equates to 2.5% of the student body, leaving 97.5% of the students doing what IS right all or most of the time. Help others see the good when times are hard.
  3. Your Ears: When someone is speaking their mind, there are two key phrases that should always resonate from within you: 1.) “What else can I do for you?” and 2.) “I receive that, thank you.” As a leader, we are prone to have the answers. But know that just like teachers, there are times when you do not have to have the answers. But you can listen. Listen to your teachers; sometimes they just need to vent and think out loud. And when you, too, feel like you are out of the right answers, remember your #1 response, “What else can I do for you?” More times than not, you will hear, “I just needed someone to hear me out. Thank you, that helps.”
    When you receive feedback from someone, make sure you listen, listen for and to—as they are different perspectives. Listen to as many sides that you can before moving forward with a decision. As you know, there are many sides to a situation and the right answer is usually somewhere in the middle. Do not be surprised the perspective that you expected to be right, ends up not being the right perspective. It has happened to the best of us. Lastly, when you listen to input from another party who you absolutely know is not going to understand your perspective or other perspectives, no matter how hard and long you try, resist the urge to defend your side or other sides endlessly—and add this response to your bank, “I receive that. Thank you. We’ll consider that in our decision.” “I receive that.” Three words that can save you endless amounts of time in the future.
  4. Your Shoulders: One of the most difficult challenges as a school leader is shouldering when to apply pressure and when to provide support. Your shoulders are the scale that measure the temperature of the climate of your school as well as of your individual teachers. If you are not doing the tips I mentioned above—the walking, the seeing, the listening—you will have a difficult time not knowing when to lift your teachers up and when to push them on. When you move forward to elevating practices with new initiatives, you will be the shoulders they step on, providing them with the resources and the support to keep climbing onward. When your teachers experience trauma or a life event, you will be the shoulder they lean on, providing them with guidance and resources until they can get back up.
  5. Your Voice: As educational leaders, I know I do not need to remind you that communication is key— and that being clear in your communication is an act of being kind. It is straightforward, but here is a communication tip that always helps with one of the roles we may not have realized is part of what we do—event planning. Who would have thought that EVENT PLANNING is a role of a school administrator? Well, it is, so the tip is BACKWARDS CALENDARING. When you schedule that big event, i.e. the school pep rally, get that date down on the calendar, but also go back in your calendar—schedule the day and time you and your helpers will setup the gym, schedule what materials you will need and who will be responsible, schedule your audio and technology needs and who will be responsible, schedule when you want communication to go out to your staff and community, schedule what week the flyer is due for proofing and what day it goes in the newsletters and your social media posts, etc. Communicate those dates to your admin and/or staff. You cannot event plan all by yourself, so communication helps you and your team.
  6. Your Muscles: As an assistant principal, do not be afraid to pick up the heavy weight and take on the hard stuff. It is okay to be trepidatious, in fact you should be, especially if you are dealing with something sensitive. That caution will allow you to make sure you have as many pieces as possible in place before you tackle the charge. Do challenge yourself to take on the heavy stuff —whether it is a critical conversation with a teacher or a litigious ARD meeting. Be prepared to take it on, because when you do, no matter the result, as a leader, you will grow from it.
  7. Your Skin: Your skin is a double-edged sword. Because for one, your skin needs to be thick. You know you will not make everybody happy and that is okay as long as your purpose is the target and you have the right people on board and in your corner. It is okay to be tough but also know when there is a need for your transparency. Transparency is a tough one for me. I have come a long way in 10 years, but I do let people know when I am struggling, too. I hold my chin up when I need to, but I also am okay to disclose that I sometimes am failing at things because if I do not, I will crack under the pressure of showing people I have everything right. You cannot do that for yourself, you cannot do that for your teachers, and you cannot do that for your students. Let your skin be transparent and be okay with needing guidance sometimes.
  8. Your Lungs: Breathe. Take the time, refuel, and breathe. Make sure you do things that are not your job. Whether it is going to watch your son’s soccer game or meeting friends for dinner, schedule it. If you have a dream to take golf lessons or if you want to work out more often, sign up and get it on the calendar. And then do this—make a commitment to yourself that you will not miss it due to work or being too tired. Do not sacrifice something personal that you enjoy or something you dedicated yourself to, for the tasks of your job. A.) The job tasks will be there, all the time. And if you start making exceptions for one, you will continue to make exceptions for more. B.) We need the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We work too hard to not be able to play hard.
  9. Your Heart: Do not lose your passion. Keep the high-caliber educators in your corner—whether they are teachers, coaches, or fellow administrators. Share their heart. Reach out to them to let them know you are thinking of them. Like their posts, share their tweets, keep them in your inner circle because there will be a time when you will need them again. To help propel yourself or help get yourself up, you may need their ear, their perspective, their shoulder, or you may even need them. I have staff with me from my former campuses, but not just any staff. They are staff who make the difference, who share in my charge despite the adversities and the challenges. They move students, and they move teachers. They contribute to the climate of the building in positive ways. They share in my passion, and I share in theirs. If you keep your heart pumping, your passion ignited…walk the walk, be transparent, have courage to deal with the heavy stuff, keep the integrity of your purpose. The good ones will come to you. They will follow you.
  10. Your Mind. I bet you are figuring that I am going to refer to that growth mindset, right? Well, I am not. Instead, as assistant principals, many, if not most of you, may be showing up each day with an end goal in mind: to be the next principal. Which is excellent. We need good principals. But as you are in the AP role, your mind should not be focused on your title, it should be focused on your purpose. If you are lucky, your purpose is aligned with that of your principal. Show up and together serve your purpose, serve your teachers, and serve your students and families with integrity. Your mind should never be about “who can do the job better?” It should be about “how can we do this better together?” If you want to earn respect from your teachers, your students, and your community, do not focus on your title or the next best thing. Focus on doing what is right, right now, even when you do not agree with your partner. Find a way to compromise and find a way to rise together for the better of the whole. Do that, and you will earn more respect from everyone around you. And, if you want it, the title will find you.


With that my dear friends and colleagues, I urge you to continue onward doing the everyday ordinary things that we do. Because as educators, as administrators, our ordinary…is extraordinary.

Rachel Corbin is a principal in McKinney ISD. She was the 2022 National Assistant Principal of the Year for Texas and currently serves as Vice Chair of TEPSA’s Membership, Marketing and PR Committee.

TEPSA News, March/April 2023, Vol 80, No 2

Copyright © 2023 by the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association. No part of articles in TEPSA publications or on the website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association

The Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), whose hallmark is educational leaders learning with and from each other, has served Texas PK-8 school leaders since 1917. Member owned and member governed, TEPSA has more than 6000 members who direct the activities of 3 million PK-8 school children. TEPSA is an affiliate of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

© Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association

Sign up to receive the latest news on Texas PK-8 school leadership.