School principals are the educational administrators who oversee the operations and activities of elementary, middle and high schools. School principal duties and responsibilities encompass everything from the school's budget, to hiring and supervising teachers, to creating academic goals and programs, to managing facilities and fundraising. Principals meet with and motivate teachers, staff, students and parents. They're also tasked with providing a safe and productive learning environment for students, which calls for effective security measures and student discipline policies.
Day in the Life of a School Principal
School principal jobs vary depending on the size of the school and district and whether the school is public or private. For that reason, many — but not all — of the school principal duties here apply. On a typical day, here's what a school principal might do:
- Collaborate with teachers to develop, implement and maintain curriculum standards. In public schools, they implement standards and programs set by the school district, state and federal regulations.
- Examine learning materials and programs.
- Prepare reports on student test scores and other achievement data. In public schools, they measure their school's performance against district, state and federal standards.
- Hire and train teachers, librarians and support staff.
- Observe teachers at work in the classroom.
- Evaluate teachers' performance.
- Organize professional development workshops for staff.
- Manage the school's budget, order school supplies and equipment, and schedule maintenance. Prepare financial reports and manage record keeping.
- Supervise building repairs and improvements.
- Establish school rules and policies, such as student dress codes and anti-bullying policies.
- Counsel and discipline students.
- Meet with teachers and parents to discuss students' behavior and progress.
- Establish and coordinate security procedures for students, staff and visitors.
- Oversee student services and any additional school programs, such as counseling, special education programs, and before- and after-school programs. Participate in workshops for administrators and teachers.
- Meet with the school PTA.
- Meet with superintendents, the school board, legislators, and members of the community to request or explain funding for their schools. They also address the concerns of parents and the community.
Some school principals work more than 40 hours a week, including time they spend supervising school activities at night and on weekends Depending on the school, a principal may work year-round or only during the academic year. In larger schools and districts, principals have additional staff — such as assistant principals and instructional coordinators — to perform or assist with some of the duties listed above.
Important Characteristics for School Principals
Successful school principals typically share some key skills. As the highest authority in the school, a principal should have leadership skills to establish and enforce educational goals, policies and procedures. As a leader, a principal also motivates teachers, staff and students. Having strong interpersonal and communication skills can help a principal relate to students, teachers and parents. Critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills can equip a principal to effectively manage the challenges of the job.
Typical Steps for Becoming a School Principal
Most public school principals start their careers as teachers. Others start our as assistant principals, or as school or school district administrators. From any of these positions, the path to becoming a school principal consists of some typical steps — and a few possible variations.
- Earn a master's degree in education administration or educational leadership. This is a requirement for most public school principal jobs. Some of school principals have doctoral degrees or a specialized degree in education administration. Most principals in private schools have earned a master's or doctoral degree, although some have only a bachelor's degree.
- Become licensed as a public school administrator. Most states require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators. This usually involves passing an exam and a background check. Most states require an administrator have a master's degree to become licensed, but some states offer alternative programs for candidates who don't have a graduate degree in education administration or leadership. Principals in private schools are not required to be licensed in the states where they work.
- Take continuing education courses throughout your career. In fact, some states require this for school principals to maintain their school administrators license. Whether or not this is required, continuing education is a great way to keep your professional knowledge, skills, and network up-to-date.
- Consider a step up the school administration ladder. A school principal may advance their career by moving into a similar position in a larger school or school district. Some become school district superintendents or presidents of an educational institution.
- Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/elementary-middle-and-high-school-principals.htm
- Summary Report for Education Administrators, Elementary and Middle School], O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/11-9032.00