Online Degrees Blog Teacher to Principal - How to Become a Principal

Teacher to Principal - How to Become a Principal

08 December
Confident female teacher stands in front of a chalkboard.

Do you think you would like to become a principal? Making the move from being a teacher to being a school principal is a chance to make a positive impact on a much larger group of people in your school and community. You will also face new and challenging responsibilities.

What School Principals Do

School principals at the elementary, middle school, and secondary levels are typically expected to:

  • Manage the overall operation of schools, including staffing and building maintenance
  • Manage school security
  • Manage the school's budget
  • Implement local and federal curriculum standards
  • Participate in curriculum development
  • Evaluate teacher and student performance
  • Coordinate staff professional development
  • Oversee student discipline
  • Meet with parents
  • Act as the public face of the school
  • Create a positive learning environment

Do You Have to Be a Teacher to Be a Principal?

Group of kids with teacher and pc tablet at school.

The career path for principals begins with teaching. Teaching experience is usually required to become a school principal and builds many of the skills that will make you good at educational administration. Classroom experience helps develop strong leadership, communication and interpersonal skills. Having been a teacher, you will have experience with classroom management and effective teaching methods and practice. If you become a principal in the district where you've taught, as many principals do, you'll also have deep knowledge of the way your school or district works.

Smiling african american young male teacher gesturing on african-american elementary boy at desk.

How to Become a School Principal

To become a principal, first become a teacher. To become a teacher, you need to start by earning a bachelor's degree. Then you will typically need to continue your education and get a teaching certificate or license and get teaching experience as a private or public-school teacher. Learn more in our step-by-step guide to becoming a principal.

Do You Need a Master's Degree to Become a Principal?

Licensure requirements vary from state to state, but most school principals are required to have a master's degree. If you think you want to become a school principal, consider earning a master's degree in educational leadership or educational administration to start your transition.

Other Benefits of Earning a Master's Degree

African-american principal and teacher meet in school hallway to discuss schedules.

A graduate degree such as the online master’s in educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Kansas prepares you to move from the classroom into school administration with practical training in establishing a successful culture and climate of continuous improvement by managing teachers and staff, setting goals, preparing and managing budgets, and working with parents and the community.

Your master's degree coursework should also help you understand the social, economic and political landscape you will face and develop the cross-cultural skills to work in diverse settings. As a school principal, you will need to be comfortable making decisions and solving problems, assessing and mentoring teachers, and counseling and disciplining students.

Moving Into Educational Leadership

Transitioning into education administration can be difficult. You will have new responsibilities that affect the entire school and need to adjust your perspective to encompass the larger school environment. As a school principal, you will still work with students but it's nothing like the direct, constant contact that you had before. Instead of one classroom or grade, you will get acquainted with the whole school.

Positive african-american teacher gesturing while talking to multicultural pupils in school hall.

Regardless of whether you're being promoted within the school where you've been working, or assuming a school leadership position in a new environment, it's good to meet with staff and teachers in your new role. Keep the days of being a teacher fresh in your mind. You might have a lot of great ideas, but be careful how and when you implement those changes.

Respect the time and ability of the educators you work with, as well as the responsibilities and demands they are already facing. Accept that, as a school leader, you may feel like you're on the “other” side, and experience a social divide that wasn't there before. You will be making complicated and tough decisions, and sometimes those will not always win you the support of those who were once your peers.

Other Educational Administration Roles

In addition to becoming a principal, there are other educational leadership roles that may interest you. The KU online master’s in educational leadership and policy studies can prepare you for administrative positions at public or private schools including vice principal, assistant principal, and superintendent. You may also take on specialized roles in curriculum or instruction coordination, become a department director, a chief academic officer or an academic dean.

What's the Average Principal Salary?

Professional headshot of a confident female teacher standing in front of school.

School principal salaries can vary greatly from district to district, from public school to private school, and from elementary to secondary school. that said, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the 2021 median wage for elementary, middle and high school principals as $98,420.1 For comparison, the BLS shows median salaries for elementary and secondary teachers as approximately $62,000.2

The National Center for Education Statistics publishes a table of average school principal salaries that is broken down by school type, selected school characteristics and the years of experience for the school principal. Data for the 2017-18 school year shows that a public high school principal with 10 or more years of experience in a suburban setting can earn an average salary of $115,900 per year. 3

Being a Principal Can Be A Highly Rewarding Job

Teaching is one of the most important and challenging careers you can follow. If you want to use your leadership skills to support other teachers and students, you may find the transition into educational administration very satisfying. The top-ranked and affordable online education programs for teachers at the University of Kansas help you continue your education while you continue your career. Our program will help you become the school administrator you would like to be. Learn more about the program.