What is a Principal?

Do you have a love of teaching? Do you have a desire to impact the lives of others through education? Do you enjoy administrative work? You may want to consider a career as a principal!

A principal is the leader of an entire community within a school, and is responsible for managing major administrative tasks and supervising both teachers and students.

Educators seeking to become principals begin their career as teachers. They typically transition to a position in education administration by first becoming an assistant or vice principal or by pursuing a department head or curriculum specialist position.

What does a Principal do?

Leadership is typically cited as the most important trait of a successful principal. The ability to establish goals and objectives and design strategic plans to achieve them is vital.

A smiling female principal standing outside a classroom.

Equally important is the capacity to create a sense of community and family within the school that fosters mutual trust and respect. The best principals know that they are not successful all on their own. They apply their leadership skills to create other strong leaders and teachers around them.

While cultivating the educators they lead, principals must also be student-centric. They must always make decisions based on what is best for students, their progress, and their personal development. To achieve this, principals may sometimes have to make unpopular decisions and stand resolute in their convictions. The quintessential principal is a believer in lifelong learning and a role model to both teachers and students.

In many ways, the career of school principal is located at the intersection of education and business. The role calls for a dedicated and experienced teacher, as well as a competent and innovative manager. Thorough knowledge of and familiarity with curricula is only one subset of the principal’s required skill set.

Also crucial to the role is the aptitude to interact and communicate at all levels – with staff, students, parents, school boards, and communities at large. Add to this responsibilities for school safety, school budgets, teacher evaluations, and disciplinary matters and ‘school principal’ easily emerges as one of the most complex and demanding careers.

Responsibilities and duties of a principle:

  • The hiring of staff members
  • Communicating with parents and faculty when necessary
  • Creating policies (such as dress code)
  • Planning academic calendars for the school
  • Handling of student recruitment and admissions into the school
  • Disciplining students when needed
  • Supervising students, staff, and other faculty members
  • Designing creative new programs and restructuring old ones
  • Handling of the schools budget
  • Maintaining secure funding for the school
  • Making both daily decisions as well as long-term decisions

Are you suited to be a principal?

Principals have distinct personalities. They tend to be enterprising individuals, which means they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic. They are dominant, persuasive, and motivational. Some of them are also social, meaning they’re kind, generous, cooperative, patient, caring, helpful, empathetic, tactful, and friendly.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if principal is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Principal like?

Great principals can make a huge difference in the lives of students and their communities. Principals have always been responsible for the management of their school, but lately they’ve also taken on an additional task of student achievement.

Principals can work in colleges, universities, high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, pre-schools and in daycare facilities. They usually have their own office as well as their own administrative assistant, but can also be found working in classrooms, auditoriums, and outdoors during special events.

Principals work long hours, often working into the evening. They work closely with vice-principals, teachers, and other faculty with the common goal of providing a rich and safe learning environment for the students.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Principals like?

Based on our pool of users, principals tend to be predominately enterprising people. The very word, ‘enterprising’ speaks to their capacity to balance a commitment to education with the management, administrative, and organizational skills often associated with professionals in the corporate sector.

School principals are the supervisors and managers of their schools. And as is true for practitioners in business, principals in school systems are frequently called upon to exhibit patience, tenacity, flexibility, confidence, innovative thinking, and sound decision making.

Principals and business leaders alike understand that they are responsible for establishing a successful culture and climate of continuous improvement. They know, quite simply, that the proverbial buck stops in their offices and it is largely up to them to maintain and promote the overall health of their enterprises.

Should I become a Principal?

Becoming a school principal can lead to a long and satisfying career. Before embarking on the quest to enter the occupation, however, it is important to ask yourself these three rather big questions:

Do I have a love of teaching? Do I enjoy administrative work? Do I have a desire to impact the lives of others through education? To succeed as a principal, a Yes reply to each of these questions is essential.

Expanding on the implications of these self inquires will likely reveal whether you should become a principal.

Do I have a love of teaching?

If you care deeply about teaching and learning, should you stay in the classroom or move into a leadership role? It depends on whether you are comfortable trading your direct impact for having a bigger, but less direct impact. As a leader, it is not your job to fix everyone’s problems. Your job is to build reliable systems to keep students learning and from falling through the cracks; systems to help teachers grow professionally; and systems for dealing with the countless problems that inevitably arise in a building full of complicated, very human beings.

Do I enjoy administrative work?

Making the move from teacher to principal offers a chance to make broader changes and have positive impact on a larger group of people. Along with this very significant opportunity come significant responsibilities and all of the associated administrative duties and paperwork.

Are you ready to…
-manage the overall operation of a school?
-set academic objectives and ensure that teachers have what they need?
-implement local school board policies and federal standards?
-evaluate teacher performance?
-deal with an ineffective teachers; help them improve; or terminate them?
-administer discipline when required?
-act as the public face of the school?

Do I have a desire to impact the lives of others through education?

Understand that no one person in a school building has more influence or control over culture and change than the school principal. Great administrators inspire change and passionate learning. They are visible and transparent. They honor confidentiality and don’t allow secrecy to breed division among their staff. They focus on kids first and remember that they are at their core, teachers.

Are Principals happy?

Principals rank highly among careers. Overall they rank in the 70th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only. This above-average happiness quotient is clearly reflected in the comments of some teachers:

‘As a classroom teacher, I was able to directly affect only those students assigned to me for the year, but in the role of principal, I am able to support and positively affect all teachers and students in my school.’

‘I guess I gravitate toward it because it allows me the luxury of creating a vision.’

‘Building a community among students, staff, and families is the foundation that everything else is built on.’

How long does it take to become a Principal?

Most states require that a newly licensed principal have a minimum of five years of teaching experience. Some may also demand experience as a vice principal, curriculum consultant, or school board intermediary. It is also recommended that candidates for school principal positions have taught a wide range of subjects and students at various age and grade levels.

These stipulations ensure an acceptable level of knowledge in the areas of curriculum development, creating a safe learning environment, evaluating student performance, and overall classroom management. Add the required years of teaching to a four-year bachelor’s degree and approximately a one-year practicum or internship, and the total minimum time required to assume a school principal position is generally at least ten years.

Steps to becoming a Principal

The path to becoming a school principal is multi-layered. It is a precise combination of formal education, certification, experience, research, professional networking, and individual conviction.

Principals are also known as:
Head Teacher School Principal Headteacher Headmaster Headmistress School Manager High School Principal Elementary School Principal Primary School Principal