School principals are some of the most important leaders in our society as they shape the education of our children. However, a large proportion of principals leave the profession, and a 2017 national survey in the United States found that approximately 18 percent of principals had left their position since the year before, suggesting that principals feel underappreciated and are under a lot of pressure at work.
As a teacher, you most likely already possess many of the strong leadership qualities required to be a principal, considering you act as the leader of an entire class. So what are the most important skills required to become a good principal?
The role of a principal
Before discussing what skills are needed to become a good principal, let’s first discuss what the role of a principal is.
The definition of a school principal, according to OECD, is: the link between teachers, students and their parents or guardians, the education system and the wider community.
A principal essentially has to oversee all aspects of school life, including but not limited to:
- Class scheduling
- Management and creation of the curriculum
- Evaluating teacher performance
- Managing the school budget
- Disciplining students
What skills are required to be a successful principal, given that it is such an important role?
1- Leadership skills
As a principal, you are in charge of a large team of staff, as well as a huge number of students and you are the mediator between students, teachers, and their parents. Therefore, as principal you must be a strong leader so that students, staff, and parents respect you and listen to what you say.
It can be useful for principals to have previous experience in various other teaching leadership roles, such as head of a department or organizer of a co-curricular activity (many principal postings will require you to have this previous experience anyway). This gives you the opportunity to develop your leadership skills by managing a smaller team before taking on the role of principal where you are in charge of everyone in the school.
2- An ability to adapt and innovate
One of the skills that all educators, not just principals, should have is the ability to adapt and innovate. We live in a world where technology is constantly evolving and there are constantly new teaching techniques emerging. Principals have to lead by example and must not be afraid of change but rather make changes to the curriculum and teaching style as these new trends and techniques emerge.
3- IT skills
Furthermore, in order to remain innovative and keep the curriculum and teaching styles relevant, principals must feel confident with the latest technology. As with everything that principals do, they must lead by example because if they don’t try to use this new technology, they cannot expect their teachers to. This has become even more important due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting move to online learning across the world which means that teachers now have to rely on technology more so than ever before.
Are you interested in improving your IT skills for the classroom but not entirely sure where to start? Check out our course ‘ICT as a Tool for a Student-Centered Classroom‘
4- Communication skills
As a principal, you come into contact with many different people: parents, students, and staff members. You therefore need to make sure that you communicate any necessary information to them, and in an appropriate way- the way that you would address a student would be different from how you would communicate with a parent or staff member.
The most important thing is that you keep all parties informed about what is going on at the school. To communicate with parents, for example, you could send out a weekly newsletter, outlining events happening at the school and student achievements for the week. To communicate with staff you could send out a weekly bulletin with any relevant information they may need to know about students.
5- An ability to delegate
There is a common misconception that a good leader is someone who is able to do everything themselves. Whereas, in fact, the best leaders (and therefore the best school principals) know when they should delegate a certain task to someone else. There might be some tasks which other staff members would be better equipped to complete, or sometimes a principal may simply have far too much work to complete themselves and requires help from other members of staff to get everything done. This is where being able to delegate specific tasks to other members of staff comes in very handy!
6- Be decisive
Another essential quality for a school principal is that they are decisive. Being decisive gives the impression to both staff and students that you know what you are doing and you are confident in your abilities. This, in turn, increases their confidence in your ability to lead the school. In addition, usually, if you act decisively and therefore quickly, it means that the issue which you are trying to address is also solved more quickly.
7- Problem-solving skills
Problem-solving skills are arguably one of the most important skills for a principal to have, since on a daily basis, principals are presented with a range of problems from funding issues to students’ home issues. If anyone (staff or students) has any kind of problem then the principal is the person that they will go to in order to help them solve it.
8- An ability to prioritize
Following on from the previous point, while a principal hears about many different issues even on the same day, they are not all equally as important. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that a principal is able to prioritize the most important issues so that they can be dealt with as swiftly as possible.
9- Be sensitive and empathetic
Throughout a school, there will be students, parents, and staff from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds and situations at home. As a principal, you have to be able to empathize with people even though you may not have experienced what they are experiencing. You need to be able to listen actively and give advice and solutions to help them. A kind, empathetic school principal also comes across as far more approachable. You want staff and students to feel like they are able to come to you with any issue.
10- Be visible
It is extremely important that principals are seen in the corridors and that they directly interact with students, staff, and parents. This once again makes a principal seem far more approachable to both staff and students. It is also extremely valuable for the principal, as it gives them the opportunity to get to know the community that they serve and allows them to better understand them and their needs.
In order to become a good leader, and therefore a good principal, you should not only ensure that you have good communication and IT skills. But that most importantly, you are approachable. Staff and students should feel that they can come to you about any issue and that you will react efficiently and appropriately.
If you have any other skills which you think would be useful for a principal, share them with us in the comments!
Do you want to learn about how to be a successful principal or school leader? Check out our course ‘Leadership and Management in Schools‘ to find out more!