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The Importance of School Principals

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Principals are involved in every aspect of their school's operations-from assigning students to classes, to evaluating teachers, to enforcing the rules, to making sure the boiler works and the roof doesn't leak. The principal is the school leader and sets the tone for the school climate. As the school leader, the actions of the principal are noticed and interpreted by others as what is important. The school's culture will likely reflect those values (Lashway, Mazzarella, & Grundy, 1997).

A principal is usually held accountable in formal and informal ways for school outcomes by their superintendent, the school board, the staff, and the parents. She serves as an instructional leader, a building manager, an agent of change, a personnel administrator, and a disciplinarian. The principal is responsible for hiring, supervising, and evaluating faculty and staff; providing leadership in curriculum development; and administering the operating budget. He will be called upon to solve academic and social problems, to understand, and to involve parents in school decisions (Anderson, 1991).

An important job of every principal is to become an advocate for what is best for the children in the school. It is a good idea to keep in mind that most principals see themselves as facilitators of learning and teaching. Besides advocating for what is best for children, their role includes supporting the professional development of their teachers.

When parents have questions concerning their child's treatment by a teacher, the principal will more than likely ask parents to speak to the teacher first. If a conflict between the parents and the teacher arises or is not resolved, then it may be best for parents to schedule a joint conference with the principal and the teacher. The principal will likely serve as an intermediary, providing some suggestions or a plan that might be implemented to try to resolve the concern.

Research shows that effective schools have effective leadership. With the advent of school-based decision making councils, parents are becoming increasingly involved in the process of selecting their child's principal. According to Keller (1998), there are several characteristics that are important in providing sound leadership. A good principal:

1.Recognizes teaching and learning as the main business of a school;
2.Communicates the school's mission clearly and consistently to staff members, parents, and students;
3.Fosters standards for teaching and learning that are high and attainable;
4.Provides clear goals and monitors the progress of students toward meeting them;
5.Spends time in classrooms and listening to teachers;
6.Promotes an atmosphere of trust and sharing;
Makes professional staff development a top concern; and
7.Does not tolerate poor teaching.

The effectiveness of a school is directly related to the principal-effective schools have effective principals. Parents can have a positive impact on their children's education by becoming involved in school decision making and by communicating frequently with their children's teachers and principal.


Anderson, Mark. (1991). Principals: How to train, recruit, select, induct, and evaluate leaders for America's schools. Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management. ED 337 843.

Keller, B. (1998, November 11). Principal matters. Education Week.

Lashway, Larry; JoAnn Mazzarella; & Grundy, Thomas. (1997). Portrait of a leader. In Stuart C. Smith & Philip K. Piele (Eds.), School leadership: Handbook for excellence (3rd ed.). Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management.

National Association of Elementary School Principals. (1994). Now we're talking: Keeping in touch with your child's school. Alexandria, VA: NAESP.

Internet resources

National Association of Elementary School Principals
This site profiles suggested qualifications needed to be a principal and the results of a 10-year (1988-1998) study of the elementary school principal. Includes a profile of today's typical elementary school principal.

National Secondary Association of School Principals [NPIN editor's note (5-23-01): this url has changed:]
This site provides information and services for middle school and high school principals.
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