The Principal as Leader

Kelly Nelson
Kelly Nelson
Assistant Principal, Central Elementary School, North Carolina

The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) describes school principals as multitaskers, climate creators, and visionaries. As instructional leaders and tone setters, principals serve as guides in successful schools. They are responsible for the daily flow of teaching, learning, and community involvement. Principals often spend their day juggling these various responsibilities. It is imperative that effective principals seek out resources, as well as opportunities to reflect on and improve educational practice at their site. Principals ultimately set the stage for learning and teaching at their schools.

Setting the Stage

Principals set the tone for the school they represent and lead in. They help the staff in the building establish and carry out a vision. Effective leadership starts with the creation of a vision based on data. This data is often taken from Teacher Working Conditions Surveys, End of Grade Test Data, and Teacher EVAAS data. The principal provides school personnel with this data and uses it to identify strengths and weaknesses within their school. They then help develop goals and hold high standards for staff and students that will ultimately lead to school improvement. As the “face” of the school, the principal steers the educational ship, hopefully in the direction of growth and positivity.

Fostering School Culture

Principals are not only seen as the “face” for their schools, they also serve as a liaison between the community, the district, and the school. Ensuring a safe and orderly school environment is a top priority. This means that principals must be involved in instructional planning and handle discipline within the school. Effective principals work to build trust between colleagues and to foster a school culture that is welcoming. Empowering other staff members and cultivating leadership within the school encourages other capable adults to step up and take on leadership roles and responsibilities, thus fostering a collaborative and equitable environment.

Tips for Being a Successful Leader

Being a successful leader does not happen right away. It takes practice and experience. A few tips for being an effective school principal include:

  • Focusing on student need.
  • Empowering and respect others.
  • Staying up-to-date on curriculum.
  • Being present in classrooms.
  • Communicating with colleagues and the community.
  • Valuing diversity.
  • Efficiently addressing issues.
  • Creating a safe and welcoming environment.
  • Supporting those in need.

Perhaps one of the most important realizations an effective principal can have is that they are not alone. Principals can reach out to colleagues, associations, and veteran educators for advice and direction. Together, educators can create successful school environments and tackle any challenge presented to them.

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