Last updated on July 9th, 2024 at 03:24 pm

A school principal is typically the top administrative official within a particular building. In most public school systems, as well as private schools, there is a school principal in charge of every building at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

If you are interested in pursuing this educational leadership role, then it’s essential to understand the career pathway toward becoming a school principal.

What Does a Principal Do?

On any given day, the school principal wears many different hats. The responsibilities of a principal may vary based on the type of school at which they are employed. Generally, though, these are some of the most common school administration job responsibilities:

  • Managing staff
  • Hiring and retaining qualified teachers
  • Setting academic policies
  • Building curriculum
  • Creating and managing the building budget
  • Implementing safety protocols
  • Developing performance objectives for students and teachers
  • Mentoring and providing professional development for teachers
  • Enforcing discipline when necessary
  • Working with superintendents and school district officials
  • Communicating with parents
  • Interacting with students and building relationships with families

Qualifications and Educational Background

School principals are typically experienced educators who have focused on developing their leadership skills and are passionate about serving in an administrative capacity. Most school principals begin their careers as teachers and must understand teachers’ perspectives and know what it is like to manage an individual classroom. 

However, to obtain a role as a school principal, educators should pursue a graduate-level degree. Most school principals earn a master’s degree in educational leadership to develop the advanced skill set needed to serve in this administrative position.

The Importance of a Teaching Certification

Principals must become strong and confident leaders but must also remain teachers at heart. Many states in the United States require school principals to maintain a valid teaching certification. With this certification, principals can prove they have a solid understanding of the most modern teaching strategies, the most effective pedagogy, and the best ways to implement a well-designed curriculum.

How to Transition From Teacher to Principal

Stepping outside the classroom and into the big front office at a school can be a little intimidating, but this is a natural career progression for many educators. You can transition from teacher to principal by:

Broadening Your Teaching Experience

If your career goal is to become a school principal, it’s crucial to diversify your teaching experience before pursuing a graduate degree in educational leadership. For example, you could spend time working in public school systems in addition to private schools to help determine which type of school is best suited for your professional interests. Or, you could work at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to see which type of setting aligns with your experience and strengths.

Building Relationships Within the School Community

Building relationships within the school allows the school principal to better understand the big picture and network with others who are invested in the school. By prioritizing relationships with teachers and staff members, you can begin to understand what is necessary to cultivate a positive workplace culture in that school building. 

Additionally, by reaching out to parents, local businesses, and community organizations, you can craft a key role for your school within the community. An intertwined school community is more likely to be vibrant, robust, and diverse, allowing students, staff members, and families to form a lasting connection with the school itself.

Advancing Your Knowledge in Public Safety and Security

School security has never been more critical, and principals must be able to lead during an emergency or security breach effectively. Not only should you familiarize yourself with the emergency response procedures at the school, but you should also invest in training and development programs that allow you to become familiar with the latest trends and emerging evidence about best school security practices. As a principal, it’s important to develop a sense of security for students, staff members, and parents without making anyone feel unsafe or isolated.

Opportunities for Growth in Your School District

Many educators in a public school district or private school system find plenty of room for upward mobility. If you want to elevate your career and pursue leadership opportunities, you should prioritize professional development opportunities that allow you to interact with other administrators. Seeking these opportunities can open the door to leadership opportunities throughout your district.

What Are “Stepping-Stone” Roles?

Sometimes, it’s not possible to go straight from a classroom teacher to a school principal position. Step-stone roles, such as assistant principal or department chair, can help you advance your career toward principalship.

Importance of an Advanced Degree

The school principal position usually requires candidates to have an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in educational leadership. The graduate degree in Educational Leadership from Salem University could give you the knowledge and skills to pursue principalship positions and pave the way to advance your career in various other roles. While an advanced degree requires an investment of time and financial resources, it typically increases your earning potential over time.

Job Outlook for School Principals

The educational landscape is shifting quickly, requiring skilled teachers to step up to the plate and pursue leadership positions. School principals today must navigate the complex needs of individual students while implementing rigorous curriculum programs and prioritizing the building budget. They must be aware of security protocols and willing to be flexible amid the digital revolution.

The demand for qualified, experienced, and dedicated school principals is quite high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there is expected to be little or no increase in the number of school principals hired. Yet, the labor shortage in the educational field continues to impact schools at every level. Between 2022 and 2032, the BLS projects that approximately 3,300 principals will be hired at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

How Much Do Principals Make?

Given the workload of school principals and the fact that they are responsible for overseeing building operations, they often earn a higher salary than most educators. The BLS shows that education administrators earn about $99,000 per year, while elementary, middle, and high school principals earn a median salary of about $101,000 per year.

Essential Skills for a School Principal

Becoming a school principal requires that you focus on both educational hard skills and 21st-century competencies that will set you up to succeed in an administrative position. Essential skills for a school principal include:

  • Leadership
  • Inclusivity and open-mindedness
  • Decision-making
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Budgeting
  • Resource management

How Much Experience Is Required to Be Considered for a Principal Role?

You should be a relatively experienced educator before applying for open principal positions in your school district. Generally speaking, school principals should have several years of experience teaching in the classroom, as this first-hand experience gives them a foundation to build their leadership skills.

In addition to teaching in the classroom, as an aspiring principal, you also should focus on pursuing leadership opportunities within your building or your larger community. You may benefit from a mentorship role with a particular student or become the advisor of an after-school club. These extracurricular experiences help you become a more nuanced and empathetic leader.

If you are not quite ready to take on a principalship position, consider other leadership positions within the building, such as becoming an interventionist, a department chairperson, or an assistant principal. From there, you could feel more confident in your role as a leader and gain the administrative skills required to succeed as a principal.

Start Your Journey to Becoming a School Principal

You can begin taking the steps needed to become a school principal today by enrolling at Salem University. Our online Master of Education in Educational Leadership is designed to provide experienced educators with a flexible and versatile master’s degree program that allows them to elevate their careers.

Request more information about our graduate degree programs.

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