As we head into the thick of the 2021 hiring season, it’s time to update one of my most popular posts with a 2021 edition of top assistant principal interview questions!
The assistant principalship is a great entry into school administration. It provides a good balance of leadership while staying connected with students. You get a small pay bump which doesn’t hurt if you’re pursuing financial independence.
It’s also a challenging position. That challenge starts with getting hired. Assistant principal interviews are highly competitive with dozens (or even hundreds) of applicants for each position. You’ll need to prepare in order to be successful. I can help!
Let’s go through some common assistant principal interview questions and how you might answer them. Afterward, you may want to take some time to work through teacher interview questions – just to sharpen your instructional leadership voice!
Prepare as much as you can for the process. You’ll get the job.
Table of contents
- Assistant Principal Interview Questions and Answers
- Why Do You Want To Be An Assistant Principal?
- What Makes For An Effective Team?
- How Do You Handle Student Discipline?
- How Would You Handle Challenging Parent Situations?
- What Is Your Experience Building School Schedules?
- Where Do You Want To Be in 5 Years?
- How Do You Approach Underperforming Teachers?
- What is Your Experience with <insert key school initiative>?
- How Do You Ensure All Students Are Successful At This School?
- What Is It Important to Keep In Mind When Supervising Extracurricular Activities?
- Assistant Principal Interview Tips
- Other Information to Help You Prepare
Get a free list of more than 200 administrative questions to help you prepare: Principal Interview Questions
Assistant Principal Interview Questions and Answers
Start by checking out my list of over 200 principal interview questions. Many of these questions are common in all levels of administrative job interviews. Reading through them will give you an idea of the full span of questions you might face.
Now, let’s narrow in on some questions specific to assistant principal hiring. I’ll also offer some advice on how you might answer the question.
Each question will have a quick overview, followed by keys to answering the question and things to avoid. Then, I’ll give a small part of an answer snippet as an example.
Why Do You Want To Be An Assistant Principal?
You will undoubtedly get some version of this question. It may be framed as why you want to work at that specific school. Even if it’s not – your answer should include passion for the school/district you are interviewing with. If you don’t feel that passion – you shouldn’t want that job anyway.
Answer keys: Focus on your ability to impact. You want to improve student learning, support teachers, and connect with the community. An assistant principal position gives you all those things.
Avoid: How it benefits you. No one really cares about your career ambitions, your need to make more money, or your lust for status.
Example: “As a teacher, I’ve seen and experienced the benefits of having someone passionate about their job in administration. It’s tough to leave the classroom, but as an assistant principal I can help those students who need it most, support and learn from teachers throughout the building, and help continue the great work going on here at XYZ School. As an assistant principal I can…”
What Did You Learn From The Pandemic? (2021 addition)
The pandemic, and subsequent closure (full or partial) of many schools is at the forefront of education right now. It is almost inevitable that any school leader will get questions related to the pandemic response during interviews this year. They may not be this direct, but may refer to distance learning, online instruction, emergency preparedness, or inequitable outcomes for students.
Answer keys: Talk about the positive ways in which you responded, changes you’ve made, or what you learned that you’ll apply going forward. Focus on the impact on students, not adults and how you are committed to making sure that we retain any positives while working to undo the damage.
Avoid: Arguing about the pandemic itself, or the government response. Do not focus on your own personal struggles beyond (if necessary) a quick mention and pivot to how you responded positively for students.
Example: “The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for our profession. It highlighted the importance of us being prepared for anything. It’s also important for us to recognize that it hit some of our students, and community, harder than others. I’m hopeful we take this opportunity …”
What Makes For An Effective Team?
(Or… Describe Your Experience as a Member of An Effective Team.)
This question is designed to tell the principal how you will work with them. Others in the room will be listening for your leadership style.
Answer keys: Focus on the power of a team. Take a look at Google’s keys to an effective team. Talk about how healthy debate leading to collective implementation is important for good decision making and leadership teams. Mention loyalty – everyone cares about that to some degree.
Avoid: Asserting yourself as a hero leader. You may be the most brilliant human on the planet, but no one wants to work with someone who believes themselves to be the most brilliant human on the planet. Do not give hints of autocracy.
Example: “There is nothing quite as amazing as being part of a great team. A good team has members with complementary skills focused on shared goals. A good team requires that we all depend on and trust each other. We debate in an atmosphere of psychological safety, but once the decision has been made, we collectively take responsibility for it. I learned a lot by being part of <insert team experience here>… “
How Do You Handle Student Discipline?
(What is Your Philosophy of…)
You can count on this one. Most AP positions are focused on student discipline. Even if yours isn’t specifically, there will be times you support it. Know your philosophy and be clear about it. You do not want to get a position where your approach is mismatched with the school expectations.
Answer keys: Stay true to your philosophy. Do your research in advance on the approach the school uses. (Discipline expectations or handbooks are almost always posted online) Focus on how you help students be successful while also ensuring learning continues.
Avoid: Criminalizing or demeaning students in your answer. Our job is to support students, not punish them. If you believe otherwise, you shouldn’t be going into school administration.
Example: “When I was researching how <school name> approaches student management, I saw that you use <reference program/structure.> That fits well with my philosophy and approach. I believe behavior is the function of the environment and there are a number of steps we can take to support students both before and after they’ve made a mistake. We want to make sure a student can be successful and that teachers can continue teaching. The best way to do this is…”
How Would You Handle Challenging Parent Situations?
As with student discipline – expect that dealing with complex stakeholder situations is now a part of your responsibility. This is one of the most challenging skills for a new leader who has never been in a room where people may not be interested in a logical resolution.
Answer keys: Staff need to believe you will support them. Recognize parents are an important part of the school community. Make it clear that you are not conflict averse and are willing to dig into hard situations.
Avoid: The temptation to attack parents. Do not promise that staff will be 100% right – it’s not realistic and will eventually create integrity issues.
Example: “I always work to remember that parents are advocating for their child in the best way they know how. Starting there helps me work through even the most challenging situations. At the same time, I never immediately assume their version of events is 100% accurate. I’ll always protect the classroom learning environment and of course it goes without saying that I’ll follow contractual and district policies around complaint procedures. I’m always glad to listen, and then I’ll talk directly to the educator about what happened and what resolution they’d prefer. Then, I… ”
What Is Your Experience Building School Schedules?
This one isn’t always a part of assistant principal interviews, but in many schools the responsibility for building the schedule is assigned to an assistant principal.
Answer keys: Describe your experience. Know in advance what type of schedule (semester, trimester, block, 7-period etc.) the school runs on.
Avoid: Pretending you have experience in something you don’t. Explaining why the schedule at your current school is superior.
Example: “I noticed that you are operating on a semester block schedule. While most of my experience is with a 7-period schedule, I believe the keys to a good schedule are (insert your own beliefs here.) I look forward to digging into the schedule and will do everything needed to quickly learn what I need to know.”
Where Do You Want To Be in 5 Years?
This is a standard question in many interviews and is generally regarded as annoying. In an assistant principal interview though, it’s less trivial. People are listening to how you balance ambition and a dedication to the school. It’s expected that you want to be a school principal eventually…but not that you’re racing to it.
Answer keys: Express commitment to the job you are interviewing for. Emphasize learning and being open to future possibilities.
Avoid: Giving the impression that you’re viewing the role as a stepping stone. Growth is fine, “climbing” is not in many people’s eyes.
Example: “Five years from now I hope I’ve been able to help this team and the school achieve amazing things. With everything I’ve learned from this team by then, I’d be open to other leadership opportunities if they made sense, but I’m not focused on that now. I always focus on doing everything I can to do well in the role I’m in.”
How Do You Approach Underperforming Teachers?
A key question with a very different emphasis depending on who is asking it! Remember, that no one (even the teacher) benefits from underperformance in the classroom. Don’t shy away from this question – you should have a good answer if you’re ready to be a leader.
Answer keys: Balance high expectations with a supportive approach. Including both in your response will let all stakeholders hear what they need to hear from you.
Avoid: Coming across as anti-teacher or accepting of poor teaching. No one wants either in a leader.
Example: “Part of my role is to help teachers be successful. If a teacher is ‘underperforming’ by some metric, then the first question has to be ‘how can I help them meet expectations?’ Before these conversations even start, I’ll have been in the classroom observing, having conversations about expectations, and doing everything I can to eliminate barriers to great teaching. I start with the premise that every teacher wants to be great and work from there. Then, I sit down…“
What is Your Experience with <insert key school initiative>?
This question is why advance research is key. If you already know the key school initiatives, you’re ready to go with examples, or research. Sometimes, it may be so new that it didn’t turn up in your preparation research. Don’t be afraid – you can still handle this one well!
Answer keys: If you have experience with the topic, you’re well-prepared to knock this one out of the park. If not, be ready to describe how you’ll learn more. Emphasize the practitioners in the building as experts you can learn from.
Avoid: Assuming that your experience matches perfectly with the school version. Positioning yourself as THE expert. Pretending you know something you don’t.
Example: “Project based learning is a passion of mine. In my current role, I’ve led several inservices on it and mentor newer teachers on implementing PBL. I also know that each school takes a slightly different approach, so I’d be eager to learn from you how it works here. As a teacher I’ve….”
How Do You Ensure All Students Are Successful At This School?
It’s amazing to me how many applicants miss the richness of this question and fail to use it to establish themselves as exceptional candidates. This is literally the entire point of an educational leadership job. Treat it that way.
Answer keys: Voice a clear commitment to equity. Name student outcomes as a priority. Recognize individualized approaches. Give an example of how you’ve done this in your current practice.
Avoid: Blaming students or families for underperformance. Giving the impression that you have low expectations for any group of students.
Example: “Ensuring all students are successful is why I do this work. Our system has failed some students for far too long and it’s important that we intentionally correct those inequitable outcomes. That will require all of us to have high expectations for every student, examine our own practices, and resist doing what we’ve always done. As a teacher, I’ve always used frequent assessment to….”
What Is It Important to Keep In Mind When Supervising Extracurricular Activities?
As an assistant principal, it’s virtually certain that supervising extracurricular activities is part of your job. It’s not glamorous, but it is important.
Answer keys: Recognize the importance of extracurricular activities. Emphasize safety. Give an example if you have one.
Avoid: Complaining about supervision. Talking like you’ll be running a prison camp.
Example: “Getting our students and community into the building is so important for a healthy school. It’s also a great opportunity to interact with them in a different environment. When supervising, I focus on the safety of all participants as my primary responsibility. I ensure that I move throughout the event, stay alert for…”
Assistant Principal Interview Tips
Of course, a successful interview isn’t just about answering the questions in the moment. You may have other questions about how to be successful. Here are some other common ones I’ve answered for aspiring administrators.
How Should I Prepare?
If you’re reading this post you are already doing more preparation than the vast majority of candidates! That’s a great start.
Most important – research the school/district you are interviewing with. It won’t tell you everything you need to know, but being able to reference a specific thing about the school will leapfrog you above most candidates. In particular, I suggest finding the following information:
- School population
- Student performance
- Strategic plans / initiatives
- Important community partnerships
For most schools this information is all available online. If you happen to know someone at the school, set up a conversation to learn their perspective.
What Should I Wear to An Assistant Principal Interview?
Unless you know that the school intentionally takes a very relaxed stance, I would suggest dressing at the business casual level or above. Some principals will have very specific expectations regarding dress, but it’s virtually impossible to know that in advance. Instead, dress nicely at the level which you remain comfortable.
Dressing in full business attire will help you stand out. Just make sure you appear relaxed in other ways so you don’t come across as too stuffy.
You do not need to buy a suit if you don’t own one. Just wear your best and let your skill and passion shine through.
What Should I Expect From the Hiring Process?
You can read about the full principal hiring process here. In some places, that will be replicated pretty closely for assistant principals. In others, you’ll just have a single interview with the principal.
In general, you should expect two rounds of interviews and a performance task or two. Common performance tasks include a teacher observation and data or schedule analysis.
In some districts, the superintendent or a senior district official will conduct a final interview for all administrative positions. In most, the school principal will select the assistant principal(s) for their school.
What Questions Should I Ask the Hiring Team?
Asking good questions when given the opportunity helps establish rapport and set you apart. Some candidates will simply have none. This is interpreted as either apathy, overconfidence, or lack of depth. Have some questions prepared.
If you’ve done your research (do it!), note a few areas of focus or challenges the school is facing. If these aren’t addressed in the interview, ask.
“I noticed the school has been using XYZ curriculum for two years. What’s gone well and what results are you seeing?”
The Circle Back
During the interview, you may answer a question and want to follow-up to find out more information but the time isn’t right. This is a great opportunity to come back to a topic.
“You asked me earlier about how ensuring all students are successful. I’d love to hear about your existing approach to that?”
The Stakeholder Connection
If you can’t get a good vibe on a certain stakeholder in the room, this is an opportunity to try for a connection.
“I’m so glad to see parents on this hiring team. How do you prefer assistant principals engage with you?”
Never ask in the interview about salary. It’s absolutely okay to ask the hiring manager or at a different step in the process, but the interview is not the time!
Always ask the team to provide you with information about their needs from the position. This demonstrates your openness to listen AND your acknowledgement that they’ll select the best person.
Also – an interview is an exchange of information. If what they describe is not what you want to be, then you know the job isn’t a fit for you – even if it’s offered. This is a worthy outcome.
“What are you looking for in an assistant principal?” or “What do you need from this position to help you and the school be successful?”
What If I Don’t Get The Job?
Always always always be gracious and ask for feedback. You may be a very close second, or another position may open up. It’s hard dealing with disappointment, but your actions at this moment can set you up for future success.
“I’m glad to hear you got a great candidate for the job. I really enjoyed meeting the team and know the school will be successful. Do you have any feedback for me?”
Other Information to Help You Prepare
Here are other posts I’ve written about the administrative hiring process.
- How to Craft a Powerful Principal Resume
- 200+ School Principal Interview Questions (downloadable list)
- What to Expect in a School Principal Hiring process
- Interview Tips for Teachers and Principals
I hope this information helps you feel ready for the interview. I’m excited for you and hope you get the job! We need great school administrators to support teachers and students.