What Qualities Do I Need to Have in Order to Be a Successful Elementary School Principal?

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Work as an elementary school principal is rewarding in more ways than one. Like classroom teachers, you have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children during the foundational years of their education. However, your position as a leader of the school means you can play a bigger part in establishing the direction of the school as you work to improve students’ performance and wellbeing while using the school’s resources strategically to make the biggest impact. Factors like high salary potential also contribute to the appeal of this occupation. Through their studies in education administration and their own personal attributes, the best elementary school principals develop strong skills in leadership and management, interpersonal communication and decision-making and problem-solving.

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Great Leadership Skills

Principal is, above all, a management role, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This means that skills traditionally associated with managing a business are also valuable in education administration positions. The most important of these skills are leadership abilities. School principals draw on their leadership skills when they perform some of the most crucial tasks of the profession. For example, they observe and evaluate curriculum standards and teaching strategies and work with educators to plan for reaching academic performance goals. Effective principals manage and supervise school personnel, not only to ensure compliance with teaching and employment standards but also to support them to reach their full potential in the classroom.

Of course, there are some crucial differences between managing a massive corporation and leading an elementary school. Although strong, effective principals are strategic in their use of funding and resources and committed to improving pupils’ educational performance in much the same way the manager of a company is committed to improving productivity and the bottom line, elementary school principals are looking at the social and academic performance of children as young as five. Elementary schools aren’t the right settings for cutthroat business leaders. Principals, especially at the lower grade levels, need to inspire, motivate and connect with students – especially those who are struggling academically or behaviorally. They need an approachable personality, an enjoyment of working with children – even challenging ones – and a strong understanding of and belief in the foundations of teaching and learning.

In addition to leadership skills, principals should work to develop other business and management skills, including the human resources skills to recruit and train teachers and support staff and an understanding of how to best allocate a school’s resources.

Strong Interpersonal Skills

Although your leadership and management abilities are crucial to your effectiveness and efficiency in your job as elementary school principal, a big part of success depends on your interpersonal skills. In so many of the tasks a school principal must perform, how you communicate with people and how you make people feel matter.

Strong interpersonal skills lead to strong relationships with students, staff, parents and the larger community. They help school leaders to develop a truly inclusive school atmosphere that welcomes and supports all students, allowing each pupil to achieve his or her potential. Whether you’re hiring teachers or evaluating teachers, meeting with students and their parents regarding disciplinary issues or working with community partners for the benefit of your students, your interpersonal communication skills take your abilities to handle challenges to the next level.

Specifically, the interpersonal communication skills you should strive to develop as you prepare for a principal position include active listening, speaking, reading comprehension, writing, negotiation and persuasion.

Skills in Solving Problems and Making Decisions

The BLS rounds out its summary of the most important qualities for principals with three related abilities: skills in critical thinking, decision-making and problem-solving. It goes without saying that, as the leader of a school, your job as principal will include a great deal of decision-making. Some decisions are small and low-stakes, while others are large and have much more serious consequences. Although you may have other administrative, teaching and support personnel to consult to help you understand different perspectives, many of these decisions will ultimately be your responsibility. In addition to planned decisions about the use of resources and the strategies implemented to reach performance goals, you are also likely to encounter some problems – often unexpectedly.

Underlying both decision-making and problem-solving skills are your critical-thinking skills. Whether you’re weighing the expected choices available to you in a planned-for decision or potential solutions to a tricky and pressing problem that requires immediate attention, thinking logically and critically about your options – and the consequences of taking or not taking each option – can help you reach a decision. After all, as important as it is to pay attention to gut instincts, truly sound decisions are made based on careful, thoughtful examination of data.

To help aspiring principals cultivate these necessary skills, graduate certificates and master’s degree programs in educational leadership often include coursework specifically in data-based decision making and similar topics.

Additional Resources

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