How To Become A Principal In 2022

How to become a school principal

Every elementary, middle, or high school needs high-quality guidance and leadership. This is why running the affairs of such schools requires the expertise of a teacher. This headteacher oversees other teachers in the school to ensure that there is a suitable environment that enhances teaching and learning. The headteacher who oversees the operation of the school is the school principal.

One of the major administrative positions in elementary, middle, and high school education is the principal or headteacher. While many people consider teachers as the face of a school, the headteacher works to ensure that the school has a good reputation.

The reason is that school principals run operations including classroom instruction, budget management, granting applications, and ensuring the school is giving students the best possible opportunities. Additionally, headteachers assist other teachers to become better in teaching students.

Most school principals assume the administrative position from the role of a school teacher while some enter the role through other pathways.

If you wondering how to become a school principal, this guide will show you the steps that you can take to become one. Continue reading below to get the steps.

Who is a School Principal?

A school principal, also known as a headteacher or principal is the highest-ranking administrator in an elementary, middle, or high school. The principal supervises the planning, organization, and coordination of the day-to-day educational and administrative aspects of a school. 

In most cases, headteachers report directly to the school superintendent while in other cases, they report to the superintendent designee.

Generally, the job of a principal lies between education and business. The teacher who occupies this position must show a high level of dedication and experience in the job. In addition, the headteacher has to be a competent and innovative manager in school affairs. Principals can only exhibit all these attributes if they have a comprehensive knowledge of an education curriculum.

Most principals or headteachers begin their careers as teachers. From a teaching role, principals transition to an administrative position by becoming vice principal. Afterward, they become a principal. Alternatively, principals can transition from the teaching role to becoming a department head or curriculum specialist before assuming the position of a principal.

What does a principal do?

Principals are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day educational and administrative affairs of a school. The duties of a principal are numerous and require dedication and experience. Generally, the duties of a principal are as follows:

  • Hiring of new staff members.
  • Deciding class scheduling and school maintenance.
  • Communicating staff members and parents when necessary.
  • Developing and executing curriculum standards.
  • Managing student recruitment and admissions into the school.
  • Evaluating the perfromance of teachers and recommending solutions for development.
  • Managing the school budget.
  • Ensuring that the school and teachers adhere to the rules and programs set by district, state, and federal regulations.
  • Providing disciplinary action for students when necessary.
  • Evaluating test scores and preparing reports for improvement.

Principals are similar to the head of an organization hence, they must take certain difficult decisions whenever the need arises. Every principal must contribute growth, development, and performance of students and teachers in any educational setting.

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How To Become A Principal: A Step-by-Step Guide

Many principals begin their careers as ordinary teachers before transitioning to an administrative position. While this is the popular pathway to becoming a headteacher, there are other pathways that you can follow.

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to become a principal of a school:

Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree

For most careers, a bachelor’s degree is a major requirement especially if you want to have a rewarding career.

If you want to become a headteacher, you will start by pursuing a bachelor’s degree program. The most common undergraduate degree program for teachers and administrators in a school is a bachelor’s degree in education. You can earn your bachelor’s degree in education in fields like guidance and counseling, English, math, biology, physics, accounting, etc.

Most individuals who wish to become headteachers spend a few years teaching in a school. This is because many states require potential headteachers to have some form of teaching experience. Alternatively, candidates can gain teaching experience by taking school counseling in an educational setting.

Step 2: Acquire a teaching certificate

Every state requires school teachers to possess a certificate, also known as a license. However, other specific requirements vary by state.

If you wish to seek teaching jobs in many states, start by applying for the job, then complete the licensure requirements for that state once you get the job. Keep in mind that you may not transfer a certificate of a particular state to many other states.

Some states offer individuals a teacher certification reciprocity. However, this may mislead you as certification from one state cannot transfer to another state. If such a case happens to you, you will have to complete additional requirements so as to gain certification in a new state.

To find out more about teacher certification, visit the website of the Education Commission of the States to see each state commission and answers to questions on state licensing.

Step 3: Gain professional experience in a school

Having teaching experience before becoming a headteacher is not compulsory even in states where it is a requirement. However, a teaching experience will help to make the principal job easier for you as well as make you stand out from other candidates.

In many states, you can work as a substitute teacher while pursuing your bachelor’s degree so as to gain more experience before seeking a headteacher role in a school. Substitute teaching help graduates who cannot secure a teaching job to build their skills in classroom management, organization, and communication.

Step 4: Earn a master’s degree in education

Many schools in the United States require candidates to possess a graduate degree in education. With a master’s degree in education, you will have the ability to:

  • evalaute the skills of other teachers.
  • Assiste other teachers to improve their classroom instruction.
  • Head the affairs a school.
  • Manage budgeting and seek funding opportunities.
  • Hire and manage teachers and staff members.
  • Enforcing rules and programs set by district, state, and federal bodies.
  • Communicating with students and parents
  • Handling legal issues

It takes between one (1) to two (2) years to complete a master’s degree in education when you enroll full-time. If you enroll part-time, it may take you more than this duration.

You may choose to enroll in the graduate program on campus or online. The online programs are designed for individuals who may not take on-campus classes due to work or family commitments.

Many graduate programs in education require students to complete an internship. During the internship, you will work closely with administrators to learn about all the duties of a principal.

Step 5: Broaden your skills and experience

A teaching experience and a degree are not the only requirements to becoming a headteacher. You will need to expand your skill set so that you can keep up with the current and projected future trends in education.

In addition, you will have to gain problem-solving, leadership, and organizational skills in order to succeed in the job. Interpersonal communication skills are also a must-have as they will help you when interacting with students, teachers, other staff members, and parents.

To gain more skills and experience in school administration, join committees or enter leadership positions whenever you are teaching in a school. If you do not like this pathway, consider seeking a vice principal job.

You may also consider taking courses or attending events organized by state and national school administrator organizations including the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), and the American Association of School Superintendents (AASA).

Step 6: Meet your state’s requirements and apply for a job

If you want to get a job as a headteacher, you must have the teaching license and certification of that state. Some states require headteachers to maintain updated teaching licenses throughout their careers.

Ensure to check your state’s guidelines to know if your licenses and certifications meet the requirements and are up-to-date before applying for jobs.

If your licenses and certifications are up-to-date and meet the requirements, seek headteacher jobs around you in your state. Ensure to submit your application with your licenses, certification, and your degree (bachelor’s or master’s).

What is the salary and job outlook of principals?

According to PayScale, the average salary for a high school principal is $91,624 per year. Below is a breakdown of the salaries for principals as reported by PayScale:

The average salary of a headteacher with one (1) year of experience (includes tips, bonus, and overtime pay) is $67,249 per year. Principals that have between 1-4 years of experience make an average salary of $84,740 per year. Mid-career headteachers with 5-9 years of experience make an average salary of $87,624 annually. Additionally, the average salary of headteachers with 10-19 years of work experience is $92,029 per year. School principals with over 20 years of experience make an average salary of $100,413 per year.

On the other hand, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the job outlook is projected to grow by 4 percent from 2018 to 2028. This is similar to the employment growth of teachers.

Many teachers in the baby boomer generation are reaching retirement age quickly, hence there will be a high demand for principals to fill the administrative spaces in schools.


Principals oversee the day-to-day educational and administrative operations of a school. The duties of a principal or headteacher are numerous hence, it requires enough experience to manage students and teachers.

If you wish to become a principal, consider earning a bachelor’s degree in education and proceed to acquire a graduate degree too. With a graduate degree in education, you will have more experience of the job and become more competitive among other candidates.

Although you a bachelor’s or master’s degree is a requirement for headteacher positions, you may not succeed in the field if you do not have teaching experience. Therefore, consider gaining teaching experience by teaching in a school for some years. Ensure to get your teaching licenses and certifications before applying to work as a principal in a school.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many years does it take to become a school principal?

Many schools require that you gain teaching experience before taking up the position of a principal. Therefore, it takes between 1-5 years of acquiring teaching experience before you can become a principal.

What are the skills necessary for a principal job?

The skills that candidates seeking principal roles in a school include:

  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Negotiation and decision-making skills
  • Leadership
  • Organizational and time management skills

Do principals get summer breaks?

No. Principals do not get summer breaks like teachers. They use summer breaks as a time to plan, budget, and hire new teachers for the next academic year.

Do principals get paid more than teachers?

Yes. The average salary of a school principal is $91,624 per year while the average salary of a schoolteacher is $62,870 annually.




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