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How To Become A Principal: Five Skills To Start Building Now

A woman smiling. Besides her we can see a children's classroom. There are some children drawing seated at a desk

A dedicated teacher has the knowledge and skills required to guide and influence learning in a classroom setting. However, as a teacher progresses through their career, they may want their influence to transcend the classroom. A school principal can inspire an entire community of students, teachers, and parents. Assuming this role requires dedication early in a teacher’s career to develop the proper leadership skills and experience. For teachers who believe their calling is to work in school administration, and want to know how to become a principal, there are a few things to know.

Principal Requirements

All principals begin their careers as teachers. Teachers are the leaders of their classrooms, creating a positive atmosphere in which students can learn and build their confidence. Teachers require a bachelor’s degree in either education or related field to teach. Many schools require a principal to have a minimum of five years of classroom teaching experience before working as a principal. Teachers can also improve leadership skills and gain administrative experience by volunteering to supervise school programs.

Teachers who are interested in working in the in the public-school system are required to complete a master’s or doctoral degree in education leadership or administration. As managing an entire school can be initially overwhelming for a new principal, the master’s program prepares future principals in budgeting, managing staff, and working with the community.

As a final requirement for working in a public school, a principal must have a state-issued license as a school administrator. The license requirements will vary between states but typically a principal must have master’s degree and will have to pass an exam and background check prior to working. Principals in private schools may not have to obtain a license although it can vary by state and school.

Daily Duties of a Principal

A principal is responsible for directing and guiding the various day-to-day operations of a school. It’s a large job, usually requiring early mornings and late evenings. Leading a team of teachers and staff, the principal is responsible for the following:

  • Determining class scheduling and school maintenance
  • Developing and implementing curriculum standards
  • Evaluating teacher performance and providing recommendations for development
  • Assessing test scores and preparing reports for improvement
  • Managing the school budget
  • Enforcing rules and programs set by district, state, and federal regulations
  • Providing disciplinary action for students and parents

A woman smiling. Besides her we can see a school bus

Similar to a CEO of an organization, a principal must make difficult decisions. A principal should directly contribute to the improvement, growth, and performance of students and teachers. However, to be an active leader requires more than a daily checklist.

Five Skills for Principals

The tangible duties help answer how to become a principal, although there are five key skills that are not as easily acquired but are necessary to becoming a successful principal.

1. Communication:

Developing communication skills is a life-long endeavor. Successful principals know how to keep an open and transparent dialogue with all members of their school. A principal must listen to the concerns of teachers and parents, and learn how to address those concerns with understanding and empathy.

2. Critical thinking:

A principal reads test score reports, new procedures, curriculum programs, and much more on an on-going basis. A principal must learn to be objective in analyzing and applying this abundance of information, and understand how results and processes may impact their school.

3. Problem solving:

The principal is responsible for setting the operational plan at the beginning of the school year. But, as is always the case, there will be unexpected challenges such as budget constraints, student incidents, and other issues. Using critical thinking and communication, a principal must discover the underlying problem that causes an operational issue, and set a plan to correct it, bringing in support if needed.

4. Decision making:

Principals make decisions based on what is best for their students and staff. Many factors need to be considered and understood when deciding a course of action. It can be challenging to make the right decision for everyone. It’s a principal’s responsibility to involve the right people and apply the proper information to make a well-supported decision.

5. Leadership:

A strong and vibrant teaching team is usually the result of excellent leadership by the school principal. A principal is not only responsible for overseeing teachers, but also for building a group of leaders. One strategy is to ensure everyone has the right qualifications, skills, and support to succeed.

Why You Should Become A Principal

Discovering how to become a principal means realizing that it will take hard work. But that dedication is rewarded with the knowledge that principals are making a deep, positive, lasting impact on an entire school community. The role may involve much responsibility and difficult decisions, but the position is one that can make a difference in the lives of teachers and countless students.


Bureau of Labor Statistics

National Association of Elementary School Principals

The Wallace Foundation

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