An excellent school administrator can make an impact on an entire school community by providing effective leadership and organization, and fostering a spirit of learning. Teachers contemplating the professional and educational steps to become a principal will need to gather information about the principal’s role and the precise nature of the steps to take.
What Is a School Principal?
A school principal oversees an entire school. This means overseeing teachers and staff and serving as the instructional leader. It also means representing the school to district leadership, such as the local superintendent.
Principals are needed at all levels from elementary through high school. Both public and private schools have principals, as do charter and magnet schools. Many schools also have at least one vice-principal or assistant principal who contributes to school administration and may specialize in a particular area such as student attendance or discipline.
The major responsibilities of a school principal vary depending on where the school is located, how many students it serves, and what kind of funding it receives from the state and federal governments. Most of a school principal’s duties can be summed up in the following titles:
- Leader: Principals are teacher leaders. They help set academic goals and guide curriculum development. Principals evaluate teachers and other staff on campus.
- Administrator: Principals are charged with overseeing school budgets. They also ensure compliance with district, state and federal regulations and policies. A school principal oversees safety and security at the school level and manages the school’s overall operations.
- Advocate: School principals advocate for their students. They assist teachers in making the best decisions to meet student needs and work with parents to create student success plans. Principals also help manage relationships between students and staff.
- Representative: Principals represent and advocate for their schools at the district level by sharing successes and requesting the resources students and teachers need. Principals also work with the community at school board meetings and act as the face of the school to the public.
Why Become a Principal?
Teachers choose to become principals for many reasons, generally including both personal and professional goals. On a personal level, teachers who earn a degree in educational administration can earn more money and have a wider impact by serving a larger number of students. Additionally, a teacher who is ready to lead adults rather than children may thrive as a principal. Professionally, as is evident to teachers, school principals exert a strong influence on the culture of the school.
In addition to this, principals:
- May continue to work in the classroom
- Train a new generation of teachers
- Lead with empathy and integrity
How to Become a Principal
For most teachers, the first step to becoming a principal is something they have already accomplished-being an effective teacher. Principals, like teachers, must have a degree and be licensed by their state. After that, there are several routes a teacher can take to become a principal.
1. Additional Teaching Experience
Teachers who want to become principals should strive to diversify their experience. This might mean teaching at different grade levels within their school or moving from elementary school to middle school. This kind of experience helps them discover what student population they would work best with as a principal.
2. Other Responsibilities at School
Teachers are busy, expected to work full days with students and to spend afternoons grading and communicating with families. This leaves little discretionary time for taking on additional responsibilities. Teachers who hope to become principals should let their own principals know about their career goals. They may be given an opportunity to take on some of their principal's duties, such as scheduling classes, working with the PTA or holding parent education classes. These tasks will help them understand the work that constitutes the role of a principal.
3. Teacher Leadership
Teachers need not leave the classroom to lead other teachers. They can support other teachers at their school by becoming grade-level or department-level chairs. They can also work with teachers at other grade levels to ensure vertical curriculum alignment. Teachers who want to become principals should have experience leading and teaching their peers.
4. Exploring Opportunities
Teachers who want to become principals can begin by learning what leadership opportunities are available in their district. They may shadow principals at elementary, middle and high school levels to compare the experiences. Additionally, they should weigh the options of serving as principal at a large school, with an extended reach into the community, or at a small school, where they may work with students one on one.
5. Support Roles
While teachers are earning the appropriate degree to become a principal, they can step into support roles, such as vice-principal or instructional coordinator. These roles are outside of the classroom but may not require as much training and experience as the position of principal. A teacher who moves into an assistant principal role will have a better understanding of what it is like to run the operations of a school.
6. Earn a Qualifying Degree
Teachers who want to become principals can go back to school to earn an advanced education degree. A master's degree in school leadership or school administration can help a teacher prepare for the aspects of a principal’s work that are not yet familiar. A degree program crafted to train future principals will include coursework on how to manage staff, create budgets and develop curriculum. Teachers will also expand their knowledge of education law and policy.
7. Earning an Appropriate License
Principals may need to earn specific licenses or certificates; requirements vary by state. In some states, a teaching license is enough to become a principal. Other states require a specialized licensing process. School administration licensure is generally required only for public schools. Principals at private schools may not need to be licensed.
If you are a teacher ready to become a school principal, join us at Grand Canyon University for the Master of Education in Educational Administration degree program. This program is regionally-accredited and approved by the state of Arizona and helps prepare students to earn their principal certificate.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.