How to Become a Successful School Principal

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A school’s principal holds a crucial position in education administration. They oversee the operations of elementary, middle, and high schools while providing the best education for students, including planning curriculums and budgets, managing grants, and collaborating with parents and teachers. Additionally, school principals play a vital role in mentoring students and providing teachers with professional development.

Even though most principals start their careers as teachers, there are other paths they can take to become a principal. Here’s an insightful guide to becoming a successful school principal.

  1. Graduate with a bachelor’s degree

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree is the first step to becoming a principal. A bachelors in Education is most commonly earned by people who want to become teachers or school administrators. If you’re interested in teaching English, math, or another subject, you can earn your degree in those subjects.

Before moving into administrative positions, many people work for a few years as teachers, as some states require a minimum number of teaching years. It isn’t just through teaching that you can gain experience that is vital to becoming a principal. Other roles, such as school counseling, can also prepare you for this job. Choose a course of study suitable for your abilities and career goals.

  1. Study education at the master’s level

Every principal and administrator in public and private schools in the U.S. is required or strongly prefers to have a graduate degree.

The length of a master’s program varies based on the course of study and the student’s progress. Those who enroll in the online master’s program can broaden their knowledge of teaching and acquire the skills to advance to the position of the principal without having to leave their current careers.

There are various programs available today, so you can choose the best online masters of education program based on your preference of state, ranking, affordability, or institution.

A master’s degree in education equips you with the following skills:

  • Conducting an assessment of another instructor’s skills
  • Enhancing classroom instruction by helping educators
  • School leadership and management
  • Keeping parents and students informed
  • Taking care of legal matters
  • Budget management and funding sources
  • Recruiting and managing teachers and staff
  • Teaching in diverse settings requires cross-cultural skills

You will be required to complete classroom instruction either in person or online to complete your degree requirements. As part of most programs, you’ll also have to complete an internship where you’ll work with administrators and learn about the responsibilities of a principal.

  1. Achieve your teaching certification.

Public school teachers in all states must hold a certificate, sometimes called a license, but the requirements vary from state to state. It may be best to apply for jobs first, then complete any licensing requirements in the state where you are hired. If you plan to teach in more than one state, it is unlikely that certificates will be transferable between states.

Some states offer reciprocity in teacher certification, but it may be misleading because it does not mean certification from one state will automatically be valid in another. You usually need to meet additional requirements to gain certification in a new state.

  1. Work in educational settings to gain professional experience.

While not all states require teaching experience for a person to become a principal, it may still be a good idea. Substitute teaching is a common practice in many states during undergraduate programs to gain experience before entering the teaching profession. Having substitute teaching experience can enhance classroom management, communication, and organization skills if you cannot find a teaching job immediately after graduation.

  1. Develop a wide range of skills and experience.

You will need teaching experience to be a successful principal. However, this isn’t the only qualification you might need. School principals play many different roles, so it is important that they find ways to develop the following skills:

  • Student-centered approach
  • Trends in education today and in the future
  • Lifelong learning aspirations
  • Communicating with others
  • Ability to solve problems, lead, and organize
  • Empowering others

During your time as a teacher, you will be given opportunities to gain hands-on experience in these areas, join committees, and take on leadership roles. If you are not quite ready to become a principal yet, you might consider applying for a position as a vice principal instead.

There are several state and national schools administrator associations where you can find courses and events that will broaden your knowledge and experience.

  1. Become familiar with the laws in your state.

Principals must have current teaching licenses and certifications, and some states require that principals maintain these licenses throughout their principalships. Make sure your licenses and certifications are up to date before submitting your application for employment. You can check the state guidelines on how to verify this.

  1. Post a job application.

When you have completed your master’s degree and have the relevant experience, you should begin applying for principalships.

In late 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 283,200 jobs available for elementary, middle, and high school principals, with an average salary of $96,400 per year. In comparison to most job fields, it is a relatively small field, so it is important that you have the right education and experience to set yourself apart from the competition.

  1. Create a mindset for success

Once you become a principal, drive change by motivating others.

There is no faster or easier method of creating a school where faculty and staff are not motivated and unable to make progress than by fostering an environment that promotes the same philosophy.

It is important for a leader to remain persistent in constantly motivating change throughout their tenure as a principal.

Change is an inevitable part of the process and success for any institution, students, parents, and the surrounding communities.


It is not enough to possess good communication skills to become a good principal. You must also have a good sense of responsibility. The most important thing about you should be that you are approachable. It is important that staff and students should feel that they can approach you about any issue, no matter how big or small, and expect a prompt response to their concerns.


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