How to Become an Elementary Principal in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an elementary principal. Learn about the education, training and certification requirements, job outlook and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Principal Licensure degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Elementary Principal Do?

Elementary school principals manage the daily activities, including the planning and implementation of academic programs, in elementary schools. They are responsible for overseeing and evaluating staff, budgets and class schedules. They must submit reports on school performance and achievement, and enforce security protocols. It's also expected that they counsel and/or discipline pupils, and meet with their guardians. The following table provides information for this career.

Degree Required Master's degree required by most states
Education Field of Study Education administration or educational leadership
Key Responsibilities Plan educational curricula, ensure school compliance with established guidelines, observe classroom instruction, hire and dismiss employees
Licensure and Certification Teaching license and principal certification
Job Growth (2014-24) 6%* (elementary, middle and high school principals)
Median Salary (2015) $90,410* (elementary, middle and high school principals)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is an Elementary Principal?

Elementary principals serve as leaders, disciplinarians and mentors to students and teachers at their schools, and they also oversee managerial and school support staff members. In essence, elementary principals attempt to maintain environments which are safe and conducive to academic excellence.

Step 1: Research the Career Duties of an Elementary Principal

Part of your duties as an elementary principal will be planning educational curricula and making certain that student learning is in accordance with local, state and national guidelines. You'll visit classrooms to observe the efficacy of teachers' instruction methods, to offer advice on skill-strengthening if needed and to hire or terminate employees. It will be your responsibility to work with other administrators to establish district-wide goals and policies. In addition, you'll plan school budgets and ensure that your school is adequately staffed at any given time.

Step 2: Earn a Degree and Obtain a Teaching Certification

Find an undergraduate teacher education program which has been approved by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. This will prepare you to teach the subject of your choice and for state teaching certification. Requirements for certification vary from state to state and are available through your state's department of education website or through the U.S. Department of Education website. Generally speaking, you'll need a bachelor's degree and some supervised teaching experience to become a certified teacher.

Step 3: Begin Teaching While Pursuing a Graduate Degree

Many states consider prior classroom teaching experience to be a prerequisite to earning certification as a principal. While beginning your career as a teacher, you'll also likely want to consider enrolling in master's degree program in education administration or educational leadership. This type of program will consist of such courses as advanced curriculum design, leadership development, ethical leadership and evaluation and supervision of teaching. Traditional graduate-level educational leadership curricula should include courses on research in education, philosophy of education and lifespan development as well as offering principal internship opportunities.

Step 4: Become Licensed as a School Administrator

As with teachers' licenses, qualifications for obtaining principals' certifications vary. In nearly every state, you'll need some full-time teaching experience and a master's degree. In addition, you'll have to pass a national examination, such as the School Leaders Licensure Assessment which is administered by the Educational Testing Service ( It may also be necessary to take part in a principal mentorship or on-the-job training program.

Step 5: Advance from Teaching into an Administrative Position

Some teachers make a direct jump into the position of principal. Others move more gradually and gain experience in other administrative areas first. Consider first seeking such jobs as assistant principal, curriculum specialist or department chair.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Related careers include instructional coordination and school counseling. Instructional coordinators have some of the same responsibilities that principals do: they develop, implement and evaluate instructional materials. School counselors help students reach their academic goals. These careers also require a master's degree as the minimum education requirement.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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