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The Changing Face of the Vice-principalship

by Thérèse McNamara

Remember teachers and administrators from your schools when you were growing up? Still hold fond memories of that warm and personable vice-principal? Maybe not. Ridiculed in teen movies and popular children’s novels, vice-principals have traditionally tended to be the less than favoured members of school staffs.

Thankfully, former opinions are transforming. As a result of shifting attitudes, improved understandings about the role, and ‘better ways of doing business’, the vice-principalship of today holds far more potential for job satisfaction than previously ‘enjoyed’.  Accordingly, many vice-principals no longer attempt to fast-track through their vpship at warp speed.

As an elementary school vice-principal (in the last 5 years or so of my career), I can affirm that I don’t feel a pressing need to quickly propel myself forward to the pship. The distributed leadership model has done much to change the nature of the vp role; school admin work as a team rather than hierarchy, collaborating on matters related to instructional leadership, school improvement planning, management/school organization and community relations.  In accordance with these changes, the attitudes of school staff and community members’ reflect appreciation and respect for the vp’s leadership contributions.

A key responsibility remains that of discipline, however, the discipline of today takes root in character and values development: respect, equity, responsibility, inclusiveness, and safety. Today’s school leaders ‘front-load’ by creating safe, welcoming learning environments (food programs, anti-bullying strategies, restorative practices, etc.) where healthy bodies and minds flourish. They build strong relationships with the student and parent community and visibly model the same traits and values expected of all. They know children’s names, and check in with those who are at-risk on a frequent basis, actively listening, sharing anecdotes, encouraging, praising and inquiring as to well-being.

Though not a ‘friend’, the face of the vice-principal is certainly a more ‘friendly’, human one for students, parents, and staff.

Give us your thoughts… What actions should a vice-principal take to further support a favourable learning environment?


 is a school administrator, special education resource teacher and mother. In her 30+ years as an educator, she has worked as a classroom teacher, computer/curriculum consultant, and education officer. She holds a Masters of Education degree with a focus on Literacy and has taught additional qualification courses for 3 universities. She has reviewed and written a number of professional learning resources and supports the application of evidence-based, best practices to support all students.



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