As an experienced teacher who’s had a tremendous impact on students, it makes perfect sense to begin considering how you can take your career to the next level. Becoming a school principal could be the perfect opportunity. In this leadership role, you could use the skills and experience you gained in the classroom to influence and improve a school as a whole.
Before you make a career-changing decision, you probably have some questions. What degree do you need to be a principal? What are some typical job duties? What principal requirements will you need to meet?
We have the answers to all these questions and more. So keep reading to review the important information you need to know about becoming a school principal.
What does a principal do?
You likely have a decent idea of some basic school principal duties, but there’s a lot to the role you may not realize. A principal is the educational leader of a school, reporting to the superintendent who oversees its district. Daily responsibilities will vary depending upon the size of the school and its resources.
In general, the principal fulfills several key functions:
- Teacher leader: Guides academic goal setting and curriculum development as well as teacher evaluation.
- School leader: Manages operations, oversees budget needs, organizes district-level policy and coordinates security and safety.
- Student advocate: Assesses student needs, addresses parent concerns, manages student relations and handles disciplinary actions.
- Public representative: Advocates for school needs, justifies funding to legislators and addresses community concerns.
How to become a school principal
If you’re currently a teacher, you’ve already fulfilled one of the most important principal requirements: being a licensed, experienced educator with at least a bachelor’s-level degree. But hiring managers won’t stop there. They’ll be looking for the experience, credentials and attributes that show you will be an effective education leader.
Here are a few steps you can take to help you build both the necessary and preferred principal requirements:
1. Diversify your teaching experience
Most schools require several years of teaching experience before becoming a school principal—and that’s just a minimum. Once in the position, you’ll have to understand the needs of a variety of student segments.
Taking steps to make sure your experience includes a range of educational settings can be beneficial. But as a busy teacher who has limited opportunities to vary your experience in your day-to-day work, it can be difficult to pinpoint ways you can diversify.
Dr. Patricia Clark White, dean of the School of Education at University of Massachusetts Global, suggests discussing these aspirations with your current school leadership. “Talk with your principal about your interest in preparing for that type of position. Ask if you can shadow him or her,” Dr. Clark White advises. “Volunteer to take on some of the tasks the principal does, like duty schedules, budget monitoring, student discipline, chairing school committees, working with the PTA on fundraisers and parent education.”
Other options include working with children in extracurricular activities or programs for kids with specific abilities and even getting involved with local youth clubs that operate outside of your specific school district. Compiling diverse experiences like these will help you be prepared to take on school principal duties when the time comes.
2. Develop relationships in your school and community
Leadership skills are near the top of the list of principal requirements. One way to develop expertise in this area is to volunteer in your community and organize groups within and outside of your school.
You may choose to plan fundraising opportunities for much-needed school supplies. You might advocate for teachers who need extra support in challenging classrooms. You could even organize opportunities for students to give back to their communities and build skills in the process. You can demonstrate leadership skills and cultivate important relationships by serving your community—all while bolstering your resume for becoming a principal.
3. Build expertise in public safety and security
In today’s world, school principals must be aware of safety and security issues from a wide range of perspectives. They may need to address bullying, harassment, emergency procedures and even violence. Parents, students, faculty and staff all want to foster a school environment that protects their rights and safety.
How can you build this expertise? Attend trainings or conferences about school safety to learn how you can address these concerns in your school district. By learning about policies in your school and others, you can better develop, implement and improve safety policies when you become a principal.
4. Research and network with school districts that have opportunities for growth
Like it or not, networking is an important part of getting any job. As early as you can, start researching what types of schools you might want to work in. Consider your own professional goals, how you want to impact students and where you’ll find the kind of career opportunities you want.
You may discover you’d prefer becoming a principal in a smaller school that allows you to work one-on-one with students. Or perhaps you want to work in a larger, more complex environment. By expressing your interest and curiosity in these areas or attending conferences where you can meet peers, you’ll be better connected with those who can impact your future professional life.
5. Explore “stepping-stone” roles
Not all teachers can easily make the leap from faculty member to principal. And not all schools are set up for that direct transition. Depending upon the size of the school and its resources, the principal may or may not have support staff who assist in school administration and management.
Start looking for job postings like “vice principal,” “assistant principal” or “instructional coordinator.” Roles like these provide opportunities to demonstrate your skills and become familiar with the realities of school leadership. You’ll be able to point to specific initiatives you’ve completed and show you have what it takes to tackle the challenges of being a school principal.