What Does it Take? 5 Key Elements to Being a School Principal

images.jpgI love to read books and learn about leadership.  I REALLY love to read and learn about leadership in education. For a long time, I’ve thought long and hard about what key characteristics one must have to be a successful principal. About a decade into this work, I’m starting to put my thoughts into words. After not thinking about it for a while, I was recently asked at a conference, “what is your opinion on what it takes to be a great principal?” That got my mind working again. By writing this, I’m not speaking to any level of effectiveness I have or haven’t attained but instead a better idea of what it takes. I have a long ways to go to where I hope to be as a principal. I’m sure these thoughts will continue to evolve, but I sometimes think about turning them into a book or short article at some point. I hope to expand the information on each of these in the future, but here is my first draft.

1. Be a good person – Think about whatever characteristics you want that are needed for one to be a quality human being. Show integrity, be kind, give grace, be dependable, always honest, respect others, display great work ethic, etc. It all starts with being a good person. I have never met a great principal who was also not a great person. Sounds simple, I know, but that’s where it all starts. People will follow great people.

2. Believe in yourself – You will make hard decisions. You will be on an island at times. You will be questioned.  You will question yourself. You will make mistakes, some bigger than others. People in this position will need to be resilient as adversity is part of the job. our team will need to see you believe in yourself, what you do, and why you do it. But more than anything else, you will need to have that inner confidence and belief in who you are and what you do.

3. Inspire others to be better than even they imagined This is my X-factor element. Being able to identify and differentiate what each of your staff members need, then working to provide that, will be a never-ending journey. You have to know when to motivate, cheerlead, direct, inspire, and redirect. The ability to support and guide staff members to be their absolute best is a vital element to be a successful principal.

4. Love on kids – Your interactions with adults matters, it matters a lot. But there is nothing greater you do than impact kids. It’s why you get into the profession, to begin with. The ability to impact 100’s of kids on a daily basis is the greatest opportunity we have. I believe this is something you have or you don’t and you can see it instantly when you see a principal interact with kids.

5. Be Humble – Let’s be honest, I could’ve picked 20 elements. This one might not make the top 10 for many others, but it’s firmly in my top 5. While you have to have a belief in yourself, it’s about the team, the team, the team. Quotes like, “the smartest person in the room is the room” are ones that illustrate what being humble means. Being humble means you listen, really listen, to others. It means you are open-minded and seek to understand the perspectives of others. Being humble allows you to help grow your team to the best it can possibly be.

I know some very talented educators read my posts. I’d love to hear what you think about my 5 key elements or others you’d include.


4 thoughts on “What Does it Take? 5 Key Elements to Being a School Principal

  1. I love this post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Number 3 is so crucial to what we do each and every day! Lead on!


  2. The list of five items are essential. Item 3 -5, are necessary if we are to contribute to creating effective schools. Creating a vision, being the chief meaning Officer and being able to motivate your team members to seize the opportunities are also important skills we need as principals. These skills are intertwined with items 1-5. Great post, one of my teachers sent this message to me for Principal’s Day. It appears I am beginning to make an impact.


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