Qualities of a Good Principal

Principals have difficult jobs. As the face and head of the school, they are responsible for the education that each student under their care receives and they set the tone of the school. They decide on staffing decisions and student discipline issues week in and week out. So what qualities should a good principal exhibit? Following is a list of nine characteristics that effective school leaders should possess.

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Provides Support

Principle with students behind, close-up
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Good teachers need to feel supported. They need to believe that when they have an issue in their classroom, they will get the help that they need. According to a survey of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, a third of the over 300 teachers who resigned in 1997-1998 did so due to lack of administrative support. This situation has not changed that much in the past decade. This is not to say that principals should blindly back teachers without using their own judgment. Obviously, teachers are human beings who make mistakes too. Nonetheless, the overall feeling from the principal should be one of belief and support.

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Highly Visible

A good principal must be seen. He or she must be out in the hallways, interacting with students, participating in pep rallies, and attending sports matches. Their presence must be such that students know who they are and also feel comfortable approaching and interacting with them.

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Effective Listener

Much of what principal will have to do with their time is listen to others: assistant principals, teachers, students, parents, and staff. Therefore, they need to learn and practice active listening skills every single day. They need to be present in each conversation despite the other hundred or so things that are calling for their attention. They also need to actually hear what is being said to them before coming up with their own response.

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Problem Solver

Problem-solving is the core of the principal's job. In many cases, new principals come into a school particularly because of the issues it is facing. It might be that the school's test scores are really low, that it has a high number of discipline issues, or that it is facing financial issues due to poor leadership by the previous administrator. New or established, any principal will be asked to help with quite of a number of difficult and challenging situations each day. Therefore, they need to hone their problem-solving skills by learning to prioritize and provide concrete steps to solve the issues at hand.

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Empowers Others

A good principal, just like a good CEO or another executive, should want to give their employees a sense of empowerment. Business management classes in college often point to companies like Harley-Davidson and Toyota who empower their employees to offer solutions to problems and even stop line production if a quality issue is noted. While teachers are typically in charge of their own classrooms, many feel powerless to affect the ethos of the school. Principals need to be open and responsive to teacher suggestions for school improvement.

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Has a Clear Vision

A principal is the leader of the school. Ultimately, they have the responsibility for everything that goes on in the school. Their attitude and vision need to be loud and clear. They might find it useful to create their own vision statement which they post for all to see and must consistently enforce their own educational philosophy into the school setting.

One principal described his own first day on the job at a low performing school. He walked into the office and waited a few minutes to see what the receptionist staff located behind a high counter would do. It took quite a bit of time for them to even acknowledge his presence. Right then and there, he decided that his first act as principal would be to remove that high counter. His vision was one of an open environment where students and parents felt invited in, part of the community. Removing that counter was an important first step towards achieving this vision.

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Fair and Consistent

Just like an effective teacher, principals must be fair and consistent. They need to have the same rules and procedures for all staff and students. They cannot show favoritism. They cannot allow their personal feelings or loyalties to cloud their judgment.

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Administrators must be discreet. They deal with sensitive issues each day including:

  • Health issues of students and staff
  • Difficult home situations for students
  • Hiring and firing decisions
  • Teacher evaluations
  • Disciplinary issues with staff
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A good administrator must be dedicated to the school and the belief that all decisions must be made in terms of the best interests of the students. A principal needs to embody school spirit. Just like being highly visible, it needs to be obvious to students that the principal loves the school and has their best interests at heart. Principals should normally be the first to arrive and the last to leave the school. This type of dedication can be difficult to maintain but pays enormous dividends with staff, students, and society at large.