CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a principal.
Is becoming a principal right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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Bachelor’s Degree (B.Ed. or BA/B.Sc.)
School principals usually begin their careers as teachers, which generally requires a Bachelor’s Degree in Education (B.Ed.) or a specific subject field (Bachelor of Arts-BA or Bachelor of Science-B.Sc.)
Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in elementary, secondary, and special education. Coursework is structured according to grade levels and subjects that the student intends to teach.
Most degree programs feature classes in educational philosophy, classroom management, and working with diverse students. To become certified, education majors are also commonly expected to fulfill a student teaching internship – often referred to as a practicum – during the course of their bachelor’s degree program.
In states that allow prospective teachers to work as substitutes while attending university, students of the profession should seek out opportunities to do so. State boards of education may need to issue special permits or licenses to participate in these programs. Of course, working as a substitute teacher provides the chance to gain in-class experience, develop the teacher skill set, and interact with and learn from seasoned professionals.
All states require public school teachers to be licensed before they start teaching. Licensing/certification qualifications vary by state, but most boards stipulate that candidates complete a bachelor’s degree and supervised in-classroom internship. Many licensing boards also require that candidates pass an exam that tests general teaching skills, methods, and subject knowledge.
Receiving a National Board Certification is an advanced credential that supplements state teaching certificates.
Work Experience and Research
The experience that aspiring school principals gain as teachers lays the foundation for their career in educational leadership and administration. This experience, at least two or three years of it, is not only needed to acquire licensure as a principal, but is also commonly mandated by state laws. The specific number of years of required teaching experience varies by state.
In addition to the formal requirements, it is highly recommended that while gaining their teaching experience, prospective principals teach a variety of subjects and at as many different grade levels as possible. Furthermore, they should seek out opportunities to demonstrate their leadership skills by spearheading school and community activities and committees.
Finally, teachers wishing to become principals should research the school principal qualifications of the school boards to which they will likely apply. Knowing this information early in the education process will reduce stress and streamline transitions to graduate programs and ultimately to a position as a principal.
Master’s Degree and Letters of Recommendation
To prepare for advancement to school principal positions, teachers typically earn a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration.
This degree program is generally two years in duration and enrolment is often contingent upon obtaining a state teaching license. Courses normally include instruction supervision, curriculum development, administrative leadership, school law, and school finance. Master’s candidates may also be required to complete an internship and a capstone project as further conditions of graduation.
While working toward a graduate degree, students are encouraged to secure letters of recommendation from administrators and principals at schools where they have taught and from professors who have instructed them. Consulting with these professionals may also provide useful information about applications, school districts, and states to consider.
School Administrator Specialist License
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of states require school principals to have a school administrator license. To be eligible for licensure, most states require that applicants hold a graduate degree and sit for a state licensing exam.
Work experience and mentoring experience may also be necessary to meet eligibility standards for the license. Specifications vary by location, but many states permit an individual to add a principal endorsement to a current teaching license.
Consider Becoming a Vice Principal
Many intermediate and high-school level institutions in larger areas hire vice principals. Depending on the district, this role may also be known as a dean of students or assistant principal. Since this position supports a principal, it is a great stepping stone to becoming one.
Doctoral Degree (optional)
In competitive school districts, a doctorate may provide an edge in being hired as a principal. It may also mean an increase in wages.