How to Become a School Principal

If you’re researching how to become a school principal, start by focusing on the level of schooling where you hope to work. Elementary, middle and high schools all have distinct challenges, so make sure your educational path takes these factors into account.

Principals oversee all the operations of a school, including textbook choices, cafeteria menu items, building maintenance and human resources. Principals must make sure staff members have the resources to do their jobs and that the school is performing up to state and federal standards.

Principals are the face of education in their communities. They meet with political figures, superintendents and community leaders to make the case for education, so they must be excellent communicators and negotiators. Principals also supervise programs that benefit the community such as before- and after-school childcare, special education programs and student counseling.

In very large schools, there may be multiple assistant principals to help with various programs and activities. They are learning about the principal role so they may get involved in several areas to gain experience.

Education Requirements to Become a School Principal

Most school districts require a principal to have a master degree in education. A degree in administration or leadership is also an option. The education degree is important, but so is the ability to

  • manage teachers and other school personnel
  • create and manage budgets
  • create and execute project plans
  • communicate with members of the community.

A person may start out by working toward an education degree, then move into professional administration or leadership programs. Business management courses teach budgeting and planning. Any opportunity to work on community projects or internships will be valuable when competing for a principal’s job.

Don’t miss a chance to gain experience teaching — at least one year in the classroom will be helpful before entering a master program.

Most states require a person to have a license as a school administrator to become a principal. Some states rely on educational requirements while others administer an exam. Every state is different, so make sure you know the rules in yours.

Career Options: What You Can Do as a School Principal

School principals work at the elementary, middle or high school level, either in public or private schools. Other options include charter schools and technical schools. Principals also find work in language/culture-based schools and other specialty schools.

Principals aiming to advance in their career may choose to become school district superintendents. They can also become instructional coordinators who structure programs for large school districts. Other principals may become teachers at the higher levels to teach future school administrators.

What to Consider if You Pursue a Career as a School Principal

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for school principals will remain about average through 2020. The BLS says  the median annual salary for a principal is $86,970. This is highly variable depending on the area of the country, size of the school district and the level of education and experience of the principal.

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