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How to Become a Principal

Find out how to become a school principal with online educationSchools everywhere need high-quality guidance and leadership. They need great school principals. While teachers are often the face of the school, principals serve an important role in organization and management. They guide curriculum, set agendas, and ensure the school is giving each and every students the best possible opportunities. Interested in becoming a principal? With this guide, you’ll have a clear understanding of the necessary steps on how to become a principal.

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Becoming a School Principal: A Review of the Steps

Before we dive into the details, here is a brief outline of the typical process to becoming a school principal.

  1. Bachelor’s degree in teaching
  2. Become certified as a teacher
  3. Work as a teacher (three years recommended)
  4. Master’s degree in school administration
  5. Become certified as a school administrator or principal
  6. Interview for principal openings
  7. Work as a school principal
  8. Optional: Doctorate in education-related field
  9. Optional: Advance to higher administrative roles (superintendent, education policy advisor, etc.)

Common Traits for a Great Principal

Before you decide to become a school principal, you should look inward and determine if you have some of the traits that make a great principal. Leadership and relationship-building are two important elements of being a school principal. If you constantly find yourself leading groups, in official or unofficial roles, you may have what it takes to be a great principal. If you love meeting new people and creating useful relationships, you could have what it takes. If you are organized and can deal with multiple situations in a single day, a principal career could be right for you. You’ll have to take on many different tasks and hold many different responsibilities, so maintaining organization is crucial. Finally, you have to have a deep belief in the value of a high-quality education. Everything you do will be guided by this belief, so maintaining a deep commitment to education is essential.

Do I Need to Be a Teacher First?

The honest answer is no, you don’t have to be a teacher before you become a principal. However, the vast majority of principals will have experience working as a teacher, and some states actually require classroom teaching experience for principals. So while it is possible to become a principal without working as a teacher, most people in the field would highly recommend teaching as a path to a principal career. For this reason, we have created this guide with the assumption that to become a principal, you will first need to become a teacher. We have included in our guide the steps to becoming a teacher, and using this experience to land your first job as a principal.

School Principal: The Education Education

Step 1: Undergraduate

The first educational step (after high school graduation or equivalency, of course) is to obtain an undergraduate bachelor’s degree.

Teaching: The Most Common Undergraduate Degree for Principals

While there are a few different options for bachelor’s degrees that can lead to a career as a principal, most people will earn a degree in teaching. Whether you take an in-person course or seek an online education degree, you will go through a combination of coursework that involves liberal arts and science as well as advanced courses that build the necessary skills for a teaching career.

During an education degree program, you will study topics that include

  • Child development
  • Early language
  • Literacy
  • Classroom management
  • Assessment
  • Teaching methods
  • Techniques for teaching specific courses (science, math, tc.)
  • Curriculum planning

To finalize a teaching degree, you will also need to complete a student teaching internship. During your internship, you will work directly in classrooms with current teachers, helping you gain entry-level experience in the career. Before you can actually work as a full-time teacher, you’ll have to complete state licensing and certifications. Earning a degree in education and working as a teacher is the common path to a career as a principal, but it’s not the only path.

#TRENDINGWestern Governors University.

Other Undergraduate Career Options

Teaching may be the most common education and career path, but it’s not the only way to become a principal. School counseling, for example, is a possible education path for principal jobs. During a counseling bachelor’s program, you will learn about human behavior, interpersonal communication, crisis intervention, social policy, and some psychology. Essentially, this program will prepare you to counsel students in need of academic or career advice while also learning to help youths who may be facing tough situations, such as domestic issues or violence.

#TRENDINGOur Lady of the Lake University.

Education Step 2: Master’s Degree

Most job openings for school principals will require a master’s degree, which must be focused on education leadership or education administration. While principals at private schools may not need this degree, you will significantly increase your chances of landing a job when you complete a graduate program. To earn your master’s degree in education administration, you will need to dedicate roughly two to three years towards the program. Throughout the program, you will study a wide range of topics, including:

  • Assessment of instruction
  • Improvement of instruction
  • School leadership and management
  • Education legal issues
  • Educational funding
  • Personnel administration
  • Cross-cultural teaching

#TRENDING: Concordia University.

It is possible to complete a master’s degree in education administration online. Depending on the program you enter, there will be a combination of online course work and field work required. There will also likely be class discussions that dive into concepts affecting principals and schools. These discussion topics can include school culture, motivating students, and dealing with personnel issues.

After completing the course work, most programs will require a principal internship, which prepares you for principal jobs. Throughout the internship, you will work alongside school administrators to gain firsthand knowledge on state requirements, parent-school relations, and general school management. This internship will require a certain amount of hours, which can vary depending on the program. It may, however, last multiple semesters.

State Licensing for Principals

One of the most important school principal requirements is licensing and certification. In addition to licensing or certification for school administration, you may also need to maintain a teaching certificate to work in certain areas or specific positions. School administrator certifications or licenses will be earned through specific exams that are issues by the state. You will have to pass these exams and also go through a background check before you are issued a license to become a principal.

For example, in Iowa the first requirement for an administrator’s license is to be eligible for or have your teaching license in the state. If you meet this requirement, you will need three years of teaching experience and you must have completed the requirements for an administrative endorsement. Finally, you will need to complete a master’s degree is a relatable field.

In New York, aspiring principals and assistant principals, as well as other school administration roles, will need to possess one of four different certificates, which include School Administrator and Supervisor certificate and School District Leader certificate. These certifications are valid for a certain number of years and will need to be re-certified after a certain period, usually around five years.

Beginning Your Career

The journey to working as a school principal can take many different roads, but in most cases there is a clear path to take. For the vast majority, it starts by working as a teacher, gaining experience, then (after a master’s degree and licensing) interviewing for principal positions.

Career Step 1: Working as a Teacher

The first step in your career will be to work as a teacher. This will, of course, include all the undergraduate and certification steps that we addressed above, which allow you to become eligible for this career path. Once you are eligible, you can begin interviewing for a teaching position. Whether you work in an elementary school, middle school, or high school, this job will help you gain a ground-level knowledge of the educational system. You’ll work directly with students, helping them gain essential knowledge while honing your skills as an educator.

Career Step 2: Finding a Job as a Principal

After teaching for a few years and completing your master’s degree, the next step in your career will be to land your first job as a principal. During this phase, you will likely rely heavily on the contacts you have made while working as a teacher. Through your network of contacts, you’ll have an inside track for potential openings throughout the area. While it may seem ideal to stay in the school district where you worked as a teacher, you may need to branch out and move to a new area. Simply put, there are not as many principal jobs as there are teaching jobs, so landing the position you desire may take longer.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2016 there were over 1 million high school teachers, 630,000 middle school teachers, and over 1.5 million kindergarten and elementary school teachers. That’s over 3 million teaching jobs! Combined elementary through high school principals, however, only totaled about 251,000 total jobs. Although applicant competition will be less, the jobs will be more rare.

Working in the Career and Staying On Top of Your Field

While you may not be looking to advance any further in your career, as a principal you should always look to improve your skills and stay at the leading edge of your profession. This might not bring significant advancement (although it could), but it will help you provide the best possible educational opportunities to students under your guidance.

As we mentioned earlier, you will need to re-certify for your career. To make sure you pass the exams for re-certification, you’ll need to constantly study and learn about your profession. However, continuing education should go beyond the mandatory education, certification, and licensing.

As a school principal, there are numerous opportunities to stay at the leading edge of education and teaching. There are plenty of books, trade magazines, and other literature that you can utilize. These resources will help you develop new ways of managing a school, and could help you discover new ways of making your institution even better. If you want to take your education to the next level, you could always consider seeking your doctorate. (Imagine all the students and staff calling you “Doctor!”) There are many different doctorate paths that will advance your knowledge of teaching and administration, and this advanced education could also lead to more opportunities, including school superintendent or educational advisory roles for state, local, or federal governments.

#TRENDINGGrand Canyon University.

Job Outlook for School Principals

School Principal: The Daily Work

Working as a school principal brings many unique challenges, ranging from broad-level issues, such as budgeting allocations, to small details, such as making sure there are enough chairs for a concert recital. The typical day will have principals arriving to the school around 7:00 am, perhaps earlier depending on the amount of work that needs to get done. And as we’ll see, the amount and variety can be staggering, so you’ll need all the education and experience you can muster.

One of the main duties of a principal is the supervision of instruction to students. Principals help develop and maintain effective teaching programs and work to administer these programs from the top level to the teachers down to the students. Working in this career, you’ll have to give careful attention to supervising teachers and other instructional staff to make sure all the required teaching criteria are being met. Principals may also make recommendations to the superintendent for hiring staff. While few principals will actually be making these decisions, they can have a strong influence on hiring, promotions, specific assignments, transfers, and even the termination of school staff members.

Principals are not just responsible for students, they are also responsible for supervision of the school grounds and buildings, including oversight of cleaning, maintenance, and the general neatness of the campus. This responsibility helps ensure a safe area for the students, so premises need to be checked regularly. It will be the responsibility of the principal to either perform this task or delegate the responsibility. If any repairs or significant maintenance is needed, it’s the job of the school administrator to make sure it is handled swiftly. Whether you are an elementary or high school principal, you may have to collect data, such as preparing attendance reports that may be required by law or requested by the superintendent. You may conduct studies to improve the school’s procedures, and could work to establish a positive relationship between the school and the community.

Potential Earnings for School Principals

There are many different sources you can turn to to find numbers on career salary, but one of the most reliable is the BLS, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor. The BLS says that elementary, middle, and high school principals earned an median salary of $92,510 in 2016. To put this in perspective, the median salary for all occupations is $37,040. Even the lowest 10% of principals stand to earn around $60,000, while the top 10% earn more than $135,000. These numbers demonstrate that working as a principal can be a lucrative career choice.

Job Availability

Although there are not a lot of principal jobs compared to many other careers, the field is expected to maintain steady growth through the years. The BLS says that job growth will be roughly 8%, just a notch above the national average of 7%. If student enrollment increases, there could be an even higher demand for principals. However, if budget issues keep districts from building new schools, the job market for a school principal could stay flat. According to statistics from the BLS, there are roughly 251,000 principals in the United States. This makes it a relatively small job field, but because of the larger requirements for applicants, job competition is not overwhelming.

Areas of Growth

Because of their sheer size, states like Texas, California, and New York have the most principals. However, if you really want to understand the best locations for principals, you need to look at employment per 1,000 jobs. According to statistics from the BLS, the best state, per capita, for principals is Vermont, which has 2.93 principals per 1,000 jobs, making it the most dense state for principals. In fact, they are the only state with a mark over 2.5. The next best is West Virginia with 2.47, followed by Maine (2.37), Connecticut (2.33), and New Hampshire (2.32). Apparently if you’re searching for opportunities as a principal, New England is a good region. You should also look for places where school principals make the most money. In this case, Connecticut is the best, with an average mean wage of $127,110. New Jersey is close behind with an average mean school principal salary of $125,760. New York, California, and Delaware round out the top five.

Is a Principal Career in Your Future?

From initial teaching degrees to master’s programs in education administration, our degree database provides accurate and comprehensive information that you can trust. And, remember, it’s best to get educated before you enroll! 

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