How to Become an Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal
Principals must communicate effectively with students, teachers, and parents.
Most schools require elementary, middle, and high school principals to have a master’s degree in education administration or leadership. Principals also need teaching experience.
Principals typically need a master’s degree in education leadership or education administration. These master’s degree programs teach prospective principals how to manage staff, create budgets, set goals, and work with parents and the community. To enter a master's degree program, candidates typically need a bachelor's degree in education, counseling, or a related field, such as culture and gender studies or foreign language.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Principals need several years of teaching experience. 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 by state, but most require a master’s degree. Some states have alternative programs for candidates who do not have a master’s degree in education administration or leadership. Most states also require candidates to pass an exam and a background check.
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 or other types of education administrators, which may require additional education. Others become instructional coordinators.
Communication skills. Principals must communicate effectively with students, teachers, and parents. For example, when dealing with academic issues, they must listen to students and teachers in order to restate their understanding of the problem.
Critical-thinking skills. Principals analyze student test results and testing procedures to determine if improvements are needed. They must assess available options to help students achieve the best results.
Decision-making skills. Because principals are responsible for students, staff, and the overall operation of the school, they consider many factors when making decisions.
Interpersonal skills. Principals work with teachers, parents, and superintendents and must 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 staff to achieve these goals.
Problem-solving skills. Teachers, students, and other staff report problems to the principal. Principals need to be able to analyze problems and find appropriate solutions.