First-Year Assistant Principal: Pandemic Style

Tyson GardinBlog, Lead Better, Manage Better


  • The pandemic caused uncertainties at the beginning of the school year, but leaders must still lead by figuring out a plan to serve and keeping students at the center of our focus.
  • Effective leadership means you communicate regularly, listen attentively, offer empathy and support, and meet people’s needs with flexibility and adaptability.
  • Courageous, strong leadership is necessary to ease fear, confusion, and uncertainty.

Thursday, March 12, 2020 was the last day I taught in a classroom. Little did I know that would also be the last day that I would see or speak to my students in person. The reality hit on Friday, March 13, 2020 that it would be a long time before we went back to school again. COVID-19 was wreaking havoc on the world, and life as we knew it would never be the same.

The year ended without any real closure. What was next? When will we go back? As summer went on and we wondered what school would look like, I still had aspirations of becoming an administrator. Would there be openings? Was this the right time?

I need to be a more resilient, visionary leader who is willing to do whatever it takes to keep students at the center of my focus. Click To Tweet

What’s next for an Assistant Principal, Pandemic Style?

There were a couple of openings in another district and I decided to take a leap of faith and apply. I interviewed and was fortunate to land a new job. I was ecstatic because I achieved my goal. Then reality set in. I was going to be a new assistant principal, in a new district, in a new grade level, and, oh, there’s a pandemic going on!

School districts around the state were trying to figure out when to start school. As of my hiring, I had two weeks to get up to speed. I was stepping into a new role with a new administration, a brand new front office, several new teachers, and we were still in a pandemic. There was plenty of uncertainty for a new assistant principal.

I knew I wasn’t ready. Fortunately, school was pushed back a couple of weeks. The weekend before school started, I still wasn’t ready. Plans still weren’t finalized, students still needed to be registered, and I was still trying to figure out how I would lead.

I remember having a staff meeting before school began and our plan was simple: Get them here, get them fed, and get them home. Something so simple, yet so integral to the success of the first school day during a pandemic.

Leading as an Assistant Principal – Pandemic Style

After the first few days, I asked myself a couple of difficult questions: How does an instructional leader serve in a pandemic? How do you still hold teachers and students accountable?

There’s not a playbook for this. There aren’t any experts to turn to for something so unprecedented. Like the rest of the world, I looked for answers. Now more than ever, I need to be a more resilient, visionary leader who is willing to do whatever it takes to keep students at the center of my focus.

Here are some thoughts on how I started my career as an administrator and became more effective during a pandemic.


Whether your school is face-to-face, hybrid, or virtual, communication will be the key. It is important to consistently check in with staff to keep everyone abreast of any updates. Check-ins with students and their families are equally important. Leaders must meet all stakeholders where they are through a variety of digital tools.


Teachers will NEED to talk to you. There will be frustrations and complaints. It’s important to show your humanity. Show that you care, engage yourself, and practice empathy, don’t judge others, be mindful, and don’t interrupt. Stay focused on what your teachers are saying. Stay in the moment and be respectful. Listen and become a more compassionate leader.

Empathy and Support

During this pandemic, you will have students and teachers that have experienced trauma or are having difficulty adjusting to our new environment. Are teaching and learning important? Yes. Do you want to see them take place? Also, yes. But let’s consider how to we might all feel overwhelmed by our own anxieties.

In a time where teachers, students, and parents are feeling the frustrations of school, as an administrator, I simply want to know how I can help. What can I take off your plate today? How can I make your day easier? It is important to remember that everyone is in this together. Think of others, and reach out however you can.

Flexibility and Adaptability

This is a crucial piece of advice to school leaders. As we continue, we are arguably facing the highest level of unknowns in our career to date. The one constant we can and should plan for is the fact that whether learning is remote or in person, students and teachers will have educational needs and it is our job, as leaders, to meet them in an equitable fashion.

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Going Forward as an Assistant Principal – Pandemic Style

As a new leader during the pandemic, I have learned to simultaneously balance impromptu circumstances and planning for change. Teachers, students, and parents need strong leadership to ease fear, confusion, and uncertainty.

Because schools are open, it’s important that instructional leaders take the opportunity to create the kind of educational system that serves ALL children.

Now more than ever, it is critical for principals to accept the enormous responsibility that is theirs and demonstrate courageous, strong leadership.

About Tyson Gardin

Tyson Gardin is an elementary assistant principal in the Chester County School District in Chester, SC. He is passionate about making a positive impact on equity and excellence in our schools and encourages our students to make their own positive and lasting impact in our world.