How Can I Become a Principal in an Elementary School?

Explore the career requirements for an elementary school principal. Get the facts about education, licensing requirements, job duties, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this career is right for you. Schools offering Elementary Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Elementary School Principal?

An elementary school principal manages the teachers, staff, policies and curriculum of their school. This includes but is not limited to daily school activities, coordinating curricula, overseeing staff, and providing a productive learning environment. They also are in charge of maintaining buildings and cafeteria services. While additional duties may vary according to school and district, they are the public face of the school, acting as a representative to superintendents, legislators, and members of the community. Take a look at the following chart to give you an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree; master's degree or doctorate preferred
Education Field of Study Elementary education
Teacher education program
Education administration
Licensure All states require licensing; many require continuing education to maintain the license
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6%*
Median Annual Wage (May 2015) $90,410*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of an Elementary School Principal?

As the principal of an elementary school, you're effectively the manager of the institution. Much in the same way that businesses have managers to oversee day-to-day operations, you're responsible for hiring teaching staff, reviewing teachers, setting school-wide policies, creating mission statements and motivating staff. You'll need to work with teachers and teaching staff to set curricula for classrooms and ensure that students meet academic goals.

You'll also perform administrative duties, such as setting budgets and securing finances from the local community. As one of the most public faces of the school, you'll address any budget issues, hiring decisions or policies with the public or school board. From the perspective of student management, you'll usually rely on teachers, counselors and your vice principal to handle disciplinary, social or academic issues, though you'll need to be familiar with any major problems.

How Can I Obtain a Position?

A few different academic and career paths could lead you to become an elementary school principal. To gain practical experience and a thorough familiarity with the elementary school environment, you could begin as a certified teacher. In order to become a teacher, you'll generally need to earn a bachelor's degree, as well as complete a teacher education program. With sufficient experience, you could move directly into an administrative position or choose to sample different roles, such as student counselor, office support or teaching specialist, before applying for a principal assignment.

If you're already in a teaching position at an elementary school, you could opt to earn a graduate degree in the field of educational administration. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most school principals have a master's or doctoral degree ( A graduate degree not only enhances your opportunities to advance into an administrative role, but broadens your qualifications for faculty positions to include high school or college teaching jobs.

What Educational Program Should I Complete?

Though you might be able to work your way into a principal position with a bachelor's degree and teaching experience, you'll accelerate your career advancement with at least a master's degree in education administration. You can also find schools that offer tuition assistance, stipends and work-study opportunities while you earn a doctoral degree. Advanced degree programs give you uninterrupted time to research best practices and potential improvements you can implement when working as an elementary school principal.

Graduate courses cover topics in school budgeting, finance, personnel management, legal regulations and politics within the school system. You'll gain an understanding of how to develop curricula, work with teachers, evaluate student development and communicate with a local community. Many master's degree programs are offered online, and some allow you to focus on elementary school administration and practices.

Do I Need To Obtain a License?

All states require elementary school principals to become licensed, though the type and requirements vary. At a minimum, you'll need a bachelor's degree, though many states require or strongly suggest you earn a graduate degree. If you already have a teaching license, it might be sufficient for moving into a school principal position, or you could be required to earn an administrative license through the school board. Many states also mandate continuing education for elementary school administrators to maintain the license.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Many principals begin as school teachers in order to familiarize themselves with teachers, students, and curriculum. Some also prefer to work or teach at different levels such as high school or secondary. For the K-12 levels, a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for teacher positions, along with licensure for working in public schools. Librarians and instructional coordinators also work in schools, though librarians assist students with research and help develop literacy rather than teaching, and instructional coordinators develop the school's curriculum. Both of these jobs require a master's degree.

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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