Should I Become a School Principal?

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are that you’ve thought about taking the leap from being a teacher to a school principal. But making a big career move, especially one that requires additional training, can feel scary. Before you take the plunge, you’ll want to know what it takes to be a successful principal and what you can expect on the job.

So let’s look at what skills make for a strong school leader and what steps you can take towards principalship.

School Leadership Starts in the Classroom

Successful principals draw on past teaching experience and knowledge to help them in their roles. This is because as a teacher, you learn so many valuable leadership skills that transfer into the principalship role, including:

  • Managing students
  • Providing equitable experiences to diverse student populations
  • Collaborating with parents
  • Monitoring grades
  • Instructional planning
  • Using data to inform instruction
  • Team collaboration in PLC meetings

These skills and so much more contribute to the foundation that leads to effective school leadership. But relying on classroom experience alone won’t prepare you for the demands of principalship. There is additional learning that is required to be successful in this role.

Developing Instructional Leadership Skills

One of the most important skills to develop as an aspiring school principal is instructional leadership. The day-to-day management of a school is a part of the job, but the focus of a successful principal should always be on promoting growth in student learning.

In Closing the Teaching Gap, Donald Bartalo (2012) suggests eight tenets for a principal to grow as an instructional leader. The tenets are:

  1. Develop an in-depth understanding of teaching and learning.
  2. Maintain an insider’s understanding of the school’s culture of teaching.
  3. Inspire teachers to create better learning opportunities for students. 
  4. Work with teachers to change methods where students are not succeeding.
  5. Support teacher improvement.
  6. Help teachers learn more about teaching.
  7. Understand the why behind the how.
  8. Use self-reflection and feedback to improve.

These tenets are the guideposts for principal improvement, which also improves the methods used by teachers. This directly impacts student achievement, which is at the heart of everything a principal does.

What do you learn in a Principal Prep Program?

Along with experience as a classroom teacher, instructional leadership skills are cultivated through participation in a principal preparation program. These programs also grow other key skills needed for effective school principals. Let’s take a deeper look.

Curriculum Support

This skill involves the leadership processes that enable systems and individuals to maximize student learning by providing aligned and quality content.

Ethics, Equity, and Diversity

Another key skill involves equipping educational leaders to serve as culturally proficient leaders across diverse school settings. This includes knowledge, skills, and mindsets grounded in educational psychology, sociology, political science, economics, and cultural studies.


The development of communication skills is foundational for effective school principals. Understanding how to reach staff, parents, community members, and stakeholders will enable everyone to work together towards a common goal.

School Operations and Safety

Another key skill for aspiring leaders to learn is how to create an atmosphere of safety that encourages the social, emotional, and physical well-being of staff and students. Learning cannot happen if students or staff do not feel safe and respected.

School Culture

Effective school leaders know the power of positive school culture. It is a leader’s job to provide for the development and maintenance of a school culture, which fuels the growth of healthy students and supports staff who reach their highest potential.

Human Capital

Understanding and retaining your most valuable resource, your staff, is a big part of your role as a school leader. It’s important to learn the practices and systems as the human resources manager, which creates an environment where learning occurs at a high level.

Leading Groups, Change, and Decision-Making

Evidence-based organizational development and change management strategies are essential to leading a school community that embraces a continuous improvement mindset.

Instructional Observations and Coaching

The final key skill is knowledge and tools which enable instructional leaders to grow teachers through practice embedded observations, goal setting, and instructional coaching.

These skills that make for an effective school leader are developed through an approved principal preparation program, so you can rest easy in knowing that you will acquire these skills through your training.

Principal Certification Network

One avenue for aspiring principals with a Master’s Degree to learn the skills they need for principalship is through ESC Region 13’s Principal Certification Network (PCN).

This TEA-approved preparation program has 20+ years of experience in certifying leaders to serve schools in Texas. With fully online and blended models, expanded coaching, and strong alumni programming to support career networking and transitions, PCN provides the framework busy educators need while completing the program.

All in all, the journey to becoming a school principal builds upon your classroom experience and teaches you skills that will be invaluable in your new role. Our students in Texas need strong leaders like you!

Learn more about how PCN can jump-start your new principal career!

Apply for the Thompson Executive Leadership Institute and accelerate your training!

Tara is an Administrative Specialist for Leadership Certification Programs here at ESC Region 13.

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