So You Want to Be a Principal: Steps You Should Take

Kelly Nelson-Danley
Kelly Nelson-Danley
Assistant Elementary School Principal; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction

Schools need capable and dedicated leaders. Principals play a key role in how instruction is delivered and in the development of the school’s culture. A principal’s responsibilities include: making sure educational strategies are quality and practiced with fidelity, facilitating professional development, guiding teachers toward goals, evaluating teaching, giving feedback, interpreting data, and much more. According to the National Association of Secondary Principals, the need for elementary, middle, and high school principals will grow 6 percent nationwide by the year 2022. This is due to an increase in population. This could mean that many schools across the country might be facing a principal shortage. If you think you have what it takes, there are several steps you can take to make that happen. Showing initiative, educating yourself, and embracing self-improvement will help you find your way into an administrative role.

Show Initiative

One of the first steps you should take toward being a principal is showing initiative within your school. This could mean seeking out and signing up for leadership roles, connecting with an administrative mentor, or raising your visibility. Leadership roles such as School Improvement Chair will give you a different perspective of the vision of a school and how to use data to make decisions that will ultimately lead to improvements at the school. It will also give you the opportunity to work closely with your current administrator and seek out advice and knowledge relative to the role you desire. Seeking out certain roles, such as being a mentor, can help give you experience in observing teaching and providing teachers with quality feedback regarding instruction.

In addition to taking on leadership roles, you can show initiative by inquiring about administrative positions within your district. Some districts offer mentor programs for those seeking to become principals. Other districts are giving potential principals real experience through programs that are mostly internships so that students can learn firsthand the duties of a principal. Inquire about what your county has to offer. This will not only get you some needed experience, but it will also get your name out there. 

Educate Yourself

If you haven’t fully decided if being a principal is right for you, do some research on the job itself. There are lots of blogs, articles, and books available to teachers that are looking to be leaders within the field of education. Many books on the topic will provide you with insights into the daily life of a principal and inform you on steps to take to attain this position.

Before you can officially take on the role of principal, you will need to make sure you have the right credentials. You will need a teaching degree (which you likely already have if you are interested in this position), you will need to have had leadership experience, and you will need to hold a master’s degree in educational leadership and become a licensed administrator. Once you become licensed, you can begin applying for administrative jobs.

Courses that you will take during your educational leadership program will prepare you for the many tasks that belong to principals. Most programs include courses on school law, curriculum, leading adults, and how to be an effective leader and organizational change. During these programs, educators learn how to lay out a course for school growth and improvement. Educators will also learn how to lead adults, how to use data to drive instructional change, and how to change school culture and maintain a positive learning environment. Programs are offered online, face-to-face, or even a hybrid of the two. There are many options for online and face-to-face programs to earn your administrative license. If you are interested in pursuing your administrative degree, do some research and find a program that meets your needs.

Embrace Self-Improvement

Self-improvement and reflection are not just for teachers. School leaders must continually examine themselves in order to make improvements in their practice. Not only will self-improvement change the way you lead, it will change the way others see you. Hopefully, others will see you as one who is willing to put in the work to become better every day. Here are some ideas of how to embrace self-improvement.

  • Attend a workshop
  • Get into classrooms (of various subjects and levels)
  • Begin a reflection journal
  • Model a lesson
  • Observe other leaders
  • Have a positive mindset
  • Set personal and professional goals
  • Welcome others to observe you and provide feedback
  • Record a video yourself

Being a school principal is not an easy task, but it can be rewarding and is a very attainable position. If you are interested, start showing initiative in your current position, reach out to other principals, educate yourself on the career, and embrace self-improvement. Your educational possibilities are endless. There’s a school waiting to be led by you!

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