Making the move from teacher to administrator, becoming a principal, is a chance to make broader changes and positive impact for a much larger group of people in your school or community. Principals have the unique opportunity to implement changes that make significant strides towards a better community for both students and teachers. You will also face new and challenging responsibilities. A principal is expected to:
- manage the overall operation of schools
- set academic goals and ensure teachers have what they need
- implement any local or federal standards
- evaluate teacher and student performance
- act as the public face of the school
How to become a Principal: Getting the right skills & education
Aspiring principals and administrators should consider a Master’s degree in educational leadership or educational administration to start their transition. Licensure requirements vary from state to state, but most require a Master’s degree.
This degree should prepare you to move from the classroom into 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. It should also help you understand the social, economic and political landscape you will be facing. You will need to be comfortable making decisions and problem solving, assessing and mentoring other teachers, and counseling and disciplining students.
Teaching experience provides many of the skills that will make you a good administrator – strong leadership, communication and interpersonal skills, as well as a depth of knowledge of the way your school or district works. Having been a teacher, you will have experience with effective teaching methods and practice – and understand the minutia of implementing new methods.
Making the change
Transitioning into a leadership position can be difficult. You will be facing new responsibilities while having to adjust to a wider administrative perspective. As a principal, the work load can become even more demanding and require availability at all times. 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.
Regardless of whether you’re being promoted within the school you’ve been working, or assuming a 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 you are 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.
Consider all these factors as you make your decision to transition to an administrator. Along with typically higher compensation, comes greater responsibility and expectations. Above all, however, lies the opportunity to make a broader impact in your community.