How to Become an Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal
Master’s degree programs in education administration prepare students to lead teachers and other staff.
Most schools require elementary, middle, and high school principals to have a master’s degree in education administration or leadership. Most principals also have work experience as teachers.
Principals typically need a master’s degree in education leadership or education administration. These master’s degree programs prepare future principals to manage teachers and staff, prepare and manage budgets, set goals, and work with parents and the community.
To enter these programs, candidates typically need a bachelor’s degree in education, school counseling, or a related field.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Candidates for the position of principal usually need work experience as a teacher. For more information on how to become a teacher, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Most states require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators. Licensure requirements vary from state to state, but most require a master’s degree. In addition, some require candidates to pass a test and take continuing education classes to maintain their license. Working with a mentor may be required, as well. Some states have alternative programs for candidates who do not have a degree in education administration or leadership. Most states require principals to pass a background check as part of their certification.
Principals in private schools are not required to have a state-issued license.
An assistant principal can advance to become a principal. Some principals advance to become superintendents, which may require completion of additional education. Others become instructional coordinators.
Communication skills. Principals must communicate effectively with students, teachers, and parents. For example, when dealing with student disciplinary or academic issues, they consult with and listen to parents and teachers to understand the problem.
Critical-thinking skills. Principals analyze student test results and testing procedures to determine any improvements to help students achieve better results.
Decision-making skills. Because principals are responsible for students, staff members, and the overall operation of the school, they consider many factors when making decisions. For example, they consider the safety of students and staff when making a recommendation to close a school before a snowstorm.
Interpersonal skills. Because principals work with teachers, parents, and superintendants, they must be able to develop positive working relationships with them.
Leadership skills. Principals set educational goals and establish policies and procedures for the school. They need to be able to motivate teachers and other staff to achieve set goals.
Problem-solving skills. Teachers, students, and other staff members report problems to the principal. Principals need to be able to analyze problems, and develop and implement solutions.