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How do I Become a School Principal?

Margo Upson
Updated Jan 29, 2024
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A school principal is responsible for keeping a school running smoothly. A principal's day is full of paperwork, keeping the budget in check, and keeping in constant contact with other school administrators. Principals must always be available for teachers, students, or parents who have questions or need assistance with something.

To become a school principal, you must first be certified as a teacher according to the requirements of your state. This requires a bachelor's degree, a certain amount of time spend student teaching, and a masters degree in education. Principals must have a very strong background in academics.

After becoming a certified teacher, the next step is to spend several years as a teacher. Ideally, you will be teaching in the same age group that you hope to be a principal for. For example, if you are interested in being an elementary school principal, you should be teaching elementary school. During this time, you should take advantage of any administration or leadership training that may be offered through the school or through local colleges.

Before you will be able to make the jump from teacher to principal, you will need to get a graduate degree, either a Master's or PhD., in either education administration or educational leadership. This degree will give you the experience and knowledge to be an effective school principal. Leadership methods, administrative skills, school law, finances, and curriculum development are all likely areas that will be covered in either of these degrees. After graduating, and taking a licensing test, you will be qualified to become a school principal.

Not everyone who is qualified to be a school principal would be good at the job. You will need to prove yourself to school administrators before they will consider you for an opening in their school district. The principal has a very important, and very public, role in the school district. Go the extra mile with your classes; get involved as an adviser for extra curricular activities. Be active in any planning boards or panels the school may put together.

Some principals start out as vice principals, while others are moved right to the position of school principal. It depends on the needs of the school district at that time, and the level of training that the person has. Different districts also have different requirements for who they will hire as a principal. By being familiar with these requirements, and also letting supervisors know that you are interested in moving up to being a principal, you improve your chances of being hired. You should also keep an eye out for any school principal positions opening up in nearby school districts. Many school districts don't need to hire a new principal very often, so expanding the range of your search may greatly increase your likelihood of finding a position as a school principal.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margo Upson
By Margo Upson
With a vast academic background that has ranged from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education, Margo Upson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her role as a WiseGeek writer. Her wide-ranging interests and skill at diving into new topics make her articles informative, engaging, and valuable to readers seeking to expand their knowledge.
Discussion Comments
By anon338899 — On Jun 18, 2013

How can a person not finished with a principal degree sign papers as elementary principal?

By cupcake15 — On May 14, 2011

@Icecream17 - I know that if you are considering becoming a high school principal or even an elementary school principal you really have to have a thick skin because not everyone is going to agree with you.

Sometimes you will be speaking to a parent that is in denial that their kid has any problems. Since a school principal has to be an expert in conflict resolution not everyone feels comfortable in this position. A principal has to deal with a lot of problems especially if the principal was hired to turn a failing school around. Sometimes it involves firing teachers and expelling students.

There was a movie made about a principal in New Jersey who was hired to fix a failing school. His forceful manner eventually changed the school for the better but it was not without significant opposition. He almost lost his job because of some of the measures that he took. While this is an extreme situation it just goes to show you how challenging a high school principal‘s job can be.

At the same time the principal's job was also rewarding because he saw the positive influence that he had over the school and forged bonds with many of the students.

By icecream17 — On May 11, 2011

@Cafe41 -I agree and I wanted to say that if you have a doctorate in educational leadership you will be in a better position to get a school principal job then if you have a Masters degree only. Both the assistant principal and the principal at my children’s school have a doctorate in educational leadership. I also think that any teaching awards would also be a plus in this field.

By cafe41 — On May 10, 2011

I always thought that being a high school principal would be really rewarding, but equally challenging. I know that school principal salary starts at around $80,000 a year but there are not a lot of school principal jobs because most school principals do stay in their position a long time. I think that with the addition of charter schools that might change because there might be more school principal jobs in the future.

I know that if you develop experience as a school teacher and become a department head it might give you more visibility.

Margo Upson
Margo Upson
With a vast academic background that has ranged from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education,...
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