Being a principal is unlike any other kind of job in a school. Not only are you the one that is in control of all administrative proceedings but you are also the person that other administrators and teachers look to for guidance. The way that a principal comports themselves sets the stage and atmosphere of how the rest of the school functions. As the chief of the school, it is your responsibility to make sure that things are running smoothly, that students are reaching certain state or district-mandated metrics, and that your teachers are working to improve their skill set so they can be more effective educators.
At times, the job of a principal can be a thankless one and a lot of what you do is “in the background,” so to speak. But pushing through the thankless days is how you ensure that your students are getting the most out of their education that they can.
To aid in your work as a principal/administrator, we put together this list of important qualities that every good principal must have. Every principal should take great pains to ensure that they are exemplifying these qualities.
As the principal, you are the one fielding most major decisions about school matters, including hiring, funding, and other things. These questions can often be pressing and have to be made quickly in a manner where all the information may not be fully transparent and available. Principals have to calculate different possibilities and prospective consequences, even if those consequences are far down the line and may not be immediately obvious.
As such, part of being a good principal means that you need to effectively manage and distribute risk. Good principals can look ahead of individual decisions to see where they lead and how those might affect the bottom line of their institution or district.
Cultivating Leadership in Others
Principals are leaders, first and foremost. A lot of people think that being a leader just means that you are the person who gives orders, and it is everyone else’s job to follow through with those orders. While principals certainly do call the shots, being a leader involves a lot more than just barking orders. Being a leader also involves cultivating a sense of leadership in others. A longstanding consensus in leadership studies is that leaders from all walks of life depend on others to accomplish their goals and they need to encourage the development of leadership skills in others.
If data is any indicator, principals that are focused on stimulating leadership in their teachers and other administrators end up creating better results for students. Effective leadership from the top to the bottom of the school hierarchy—from principals all the way down to individual educators—is associated with better student outcomes across the board, whether it relates to testing scores or general student satisfaction.
The reason why is simple. Good leadership improves motivation in work settings. This motivation, in turn, can improve classroom instruction by giving teachers a sense that they have a more active role in how things go. The greater success of these kinds of schools is likely a result of everyone having greater access to the collective knowledge and wisdom of their peers and colleagues.
Good Principals Are Themselves Good Teachers
During a normal day as a principal, it is common to meet and speak to a number of teachers, parents, other administrators, and more. Effective teachers make good principals because they themselves understand exactly the kinds of things that teachers go through on a daily basis. Teachers spend most of their day in communication with others and so must principals, although in a slightly different context.
Effective principals also need to be aware of the kinds of instructional methods that are effective and ineffective. As leaders, they need to understand how to guide curricula development with teachers and when it is being properly executed. The most obvious way that a principal can gain this kind of knowledge is by having previously worked as a teacher.
Like teachers, principals must also know how to manage their time and be prepared to determine which services and functions are necessary. All of this is to say that the most effective principals also understand how it feels to be in the teacher spot, whether they know those things from being a teacher themselves or engaging in open and sincere dialogue with current teachers.
They Create a Climate Conducive to Education
As a principal, it is your job to ensure that your school is a functioning environment that is conducive to student learning. A healthy school environment is one that prioritizes safety and orderliness as well as more abstract qualities like support, responsiveness, and openness towards children’s diverse learning styles. Principals that excel at creating a constructive instructional climate also succeed in developing an atmosphere of care and trust.
However, this commitment to creating a climate conducive to education extends further than just students. It also extends to teachers and other administrators as well. As the principal, you will likely be one of the people performing class observations. It is times like these that you can incentivize teachers to continue their own education and professional development.
Crafting this kind of environment involves combatting several common pitfalls of the profession. Teacher isolation, closed-door policies, defeatism, are all common ailments in schools and it’s your job as a teacher to cleanse the environment from these negative sentiments. This involves respecting every member of your school community and undertaking efforts to involve students and teachers in a number of schoolwide activities and projects.
Principals are the head of the school and so they need to cultivate habits and traits to ensure that they can lead the school in the right direction. Being an effective principle is correlated with a highly effective school environment and there are several active routes you can take to foster a positive environment for both students and teachers.