What Makes a Good Principal?

While the teachers may be the people with whom your child interacts most at school, the principal plays a critical role that impacts your child's experience in countless ways. It takes a diverse skill set to be a strong principal, including expertise in leadership, education, management and communication. Here are five elements of a good principal.

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1. Be a Leader

A principal's top priority is to act as a leader for the school. A good principal inspires the teachers, staff and students to work together to excel. This involves team-building, but also challenging the school community with aggressive but realistic goals.

For example, an elementary school principal may rally the school behind a fund-raising goal, acting as both the person who establishes the goal and the one who cheerleads the community to meet the target. As with any leader, sometimes this means letting others rise to the occasion and take the glory. That may mean deferring credit to those the principal inspired, rather than basking in the limelight.

2. Provide Support in Every Direction

A principal is often called upon to mediate conflicts. A good principal stands behind his or her teachers and staff, defending them to parents. He or she also is a patient listener and a judicious decider when two members of the team have a conflict. With students, a principal should take an active role in learning students' names, recognizing when a student needs support and proactively stepping in to help whenever necessary.

3. Be a Staff Architect

For a good principal, it's not enough to keep the school running. A good principal looks for opportunities to develop his or her teaching staff and make them strong educators. This may include helping them attend professional development conferences. At some schools, this requires helping teachers identify useful opportunities and being supportive by providing a substitute teacher. Being a staff architect can also include fostering peer advising and class auditing by fellow teachers or the principal.

4. Control the Clock

A principal's day may be comprised of a series of meetings. A good principal uses this time efficiently and respects the time of those around him or her. For example, full staff meetings should be constructive and brief. Since the lives of teachers are often harried, it's critical to avoid any bureaucratic wastes of time.

Conversely, a good principal is cognizant of when extra time is necessary. There may be a student in crisis or a teacher in need of counseling. In these situations, a good principal is willing to take the time the situation requires to listen and do what's right.

5. Own the Results

It can be easy for a principal to blame low test scores on inadequate teachers or underperforming students. A good principal, however, owns the school's results, regardless of his or her direct control over them. This can mean getting his or her hands dirty in the pursuit of success. Like a ship captain, a school principal is expected to take ultimate responsibility for failures. It's the principal's duty to know what went wrong and to not rest until he or she discovers how to improve the next time.

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