Q: An Assistant Principal position is coming up in our school. I want to go for it. But I hear it will be a competency-based application form that could run for pages and pages – I’m not sure I’ll have the staying power for it. Anything to soothe my frayed nerves? (DR, email).
A: You, DR, and many others. Many Assistant Principal posts are now coming on stream so a lot of teachers will find themselves tackling the very forms you mention, writes Mary O’Brien Killeen, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.
Yes, they can be a marathon affair. A Principal I know is adamant said forms have been created with deliberate complexity to test applicants’ mettle; the rationale being that “if you haven’t the stomach for filling out forms on an ongoing basis, best we find out now – because school managers have to complete a lot of forms, and make a lot of persuasive cases.”
The Assistant Principal form you will be asked to fill will likely seek details under four or five competencies – for example, Leading Learning and Teaching, Managing an Organisation, Leading School Development and Developing Leadership Capacity.
To get yourself ready now, even before the form has been issued, write down half a dozen major achievements from your professional and ‘private’ life (e.g. community, sporting, cultural, social, charitable and so on). Elaborate on them without trying to slot them into a particular competency bracket just yet.
School achievements might be producing the musical, purchasing specialist language learning equipment for your subject or coaching the athletics team to success. Beyond the walls of the school, it could be your role in renovating the local town hall or running the annual community festival.
Once you have your achievements written down, you will find a home for them under the various competency headings in the dreaded form itself. The school musical role might equate in some way to managing an organisation, while purchasing the specialist language equipment could fit in snugly under Leading Learning and Teaching. Or the school musical might even do the job under Developing Leadership Capacity, if you happened to have a team of three other teachers working under you.
The trick here is to marry compelling examples with the required competencies. Examples can be versatile: if they are good enough, they’ll do a good job wherever you decide to place them in the form. But, once used, they can’t be re-used. One story proves one competency, no more.
I would strongly advise doing the above exercise now, DR. Don’t leave it until you get the form or it may overwhelm you. When you finally receive the form, break it down into ‘mini forms’ – create a Word document for each competency and work on them individually rather than tackling the entire form in one go. At the end, copy and paste the ‘mini forms’ back into the form itself; give it a thorough proof read; and get a respected teaching colleague to look at it all and act on relevant feedback they give you.
Show a willingness to take responsibility, an ability to distribute leadership among colleagues and a real desire to learn from your experiences to date. Don’t just tell stories: put them into context and demonstrate what you have learned.
Final advice: give yourself time. Don’t run up against the deadline. It’s a bit too demanding for that kind of carelessness.