What does an Elementary School Principal do?

K. Testa
K. Testa
Elementary schools typically include students in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade.
Elementary schools typically include students in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade.

An elementary school principal is mainly responsible for the administrative oversight and instructional leadership of his or her school. US elementary schools—sometimes called primary schools—usually include students in kindergarten through either fifth or sixth grade. The principal oversees the students, teachers, and other employees. He or she typically develops and implements academic and disciplinary policies in conjunction with a governing body, such as a local board of education. The principal also usually monitors the school budget and approves new programs and other expenditures. Principals often have advanced degrees in fields such as education administration, and many of them are former teachers.

Principals are usually responsible for hiring teachers.
Principals are usually responsible for hiring teachers.

The elementary school principal normally hires and supervises the classroom teachers and other staff members. He or she usually presides over staff meetings and often leads teacher training workshops and other types of professional development activities. Another role of the school principal is to enforce disciplinary policies and procedures related to student behavior. He or she typically works in conjunction with teachers, students, and parents to ensure a productive learning environment.

Public elementary schools in the US are usually required to meet certain standards regarding teacher competency and student academic achievement. An elementary school principal helps to develop the curriculum and selects appropriate learning materials in order to comply with the various standards set at the national, state, and local levels. A private school principal, however, might not be subject to such standards and would only have to meet certain requirements set forth by the school board or other independent governing entity.

Along with the day-to-day administration, an elementary school principal is generally responsible for the long-term management of the school. This obligation usually entails financial oversight, such as reviewing and approving expenditures. In addition, he or she is usually considered the school’s representative in the community. Therefore, school principals often attempt to maintain positive working relationships with students, parents, and other local organizations.

An elementary school principal usually has an academic background in education administration or educational leadership. They typically earn master’s or doctoral degrees, although bachelor’s degrees are readily accepted by some schools. Many principals also have significant teaching experience, and some teachers are promoted directly to principal positions within their own schools. Several states in the U.S. require public elementary school principals to be licensed as well. They generally fulfill this requirement with training at the postgraduate level and sometimes by taking an exam. To keep their licenses current, they often take continuing education courses.

Discussion Comments


I just attended a seminar on how to approach a job interview in education, particularly at elementary level and I found it really interesting how different it seems to be from a lot of other positions. The principal I was talking to seemed to think it was relatively common now for applicants to bring along video of themselves in the role, or to put together a kit that was personalized to the school.

He said that he did all kinds of research before his interview, and made sure he knew what kind of questions they would ask, even writing down his potential responses so he would have them on hand.


@irontoenail - My mother is an elementary school principal and the job can be very difficult. I think her motto is that she might as well laugh about it.

Kids are getting older all the time and it's not just a matter of making sure everyone is playing nice together and listening to the teachers anymore.

Now you've got to deal with kids who know their way around technology and kids who need to be on multiple medications and teachers who are at constant risk of being accused of misconduct (particularly male teachers).

It's still a very fulfilling job and I don't think she'd like to do anything else, but it's very demanding and she works long hours. She definitely earns her paycheck although most people in education do, which it comes down to it.


The thing I've noticed about elementary school principals is that they are almost always completely upbeat and happy seeming people. I do wonder if maybe the folk who get into the job and don't have that kind of personality don't last very long.

I've been going to different schools at this level in order to get some experience and it's almost uncanny how perky all the principals seem to be. The elementary teachers are often the same.

The children really respond to it, which is great, but I find it a little bit unnerving.

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    • Elementary schools typically include students in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade.
      By: sumnersgraphicsinc
      Elementary schools typically include students in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade.
    • Principals are usually responsible for hiring teachers.
      By: contrastwerkstatt
      Principals are usually responsible for hiring teachers.