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Seven Characteristics of a Principal

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Being a school principal is balanced between being rewarding and being challenging. It is a difficult job, and like any job there are people that are just not cut out to handle it. There are certain characteristics of a principal that some people do not possess. Besides the obvious professional requirements needed to become a principal, there are several traits that good principals must possess to do their job effectively. Each of these characteristics manifests themselves in the daily duties of a principal. The best principals possess each of these seven qualities.

  1. A principal must exhibit leadership. This is a characteristic that every principal must possess. The principal is the instructional leader of their building. A good leader has to take responsibility both in the successes and the failures of their school. A good leader puts the needs of others in front of their own. A good leader is always looks to improve their school and then figures out how to make those improvements no matter how difficult it might be. Leadership defines how successful any school is. A school without a leader will likely fail, and a principal who is not a leader will find themselves without a job quickly.

  2. A principal must be adept with people. If you don't like people you shouldn't be a principal. You have to be able to connect with each person that you deal with on a daily basis. You have to find common ground and earn their trust. There are so many groups of people that principals deal with daily including their superintendent, teachers, support staff, parents, students, & community members. Every group requires a different approach and individuals within a group are unique in their own right. You never know what is going to walk into your office next. People come in with a variety of emotions including happiness, sadness, and anger. You have to be able to deal with each of those situations effectively by connecting to the person and showing them that you care about their unique situation. They have to believe that you will do whatever you can make their situation better.

  3. A principal must balance tough love with earned praise. This is especially true with your students and your teachers. You can't be a push over, meaning that you let people get away with mediocrity. You have to set expectations high and hold those you are in charge of to those same standards. This means that there will be times when you have to reprimand people and likely hurt their feelings. It is a part of the job that isn't pleasant, but it is necessary if you want to run an effective school. At the same time, you must offer praise when it is appropriate. Don't forget to tell those teachers who are doing an extraordinary job that you appreciate them. Don't forget to recognize those students who excel in the areas of academics, leadership, and/or citizenship. An outstanding principal can motivate using a combination of both of those approaches.

  4. A principal must be fair and consistent. Nothing can take away your credibility faster than being inconsistent in how you handle similar situations. While no two cases are exactly the same, you have to think about how you have handled other similar situations and continue on that same track. Students in particular know how you handle student discipline, and they make comparisons from one case to the next. If you are not being fair and consistent, they will call you out on it. However, it is understandable that history will influence a principal's decision. For example, if you have a student who has been in multiple fights and compare them to a student who has only had one fight, then you are justified in giving the student with multiple fights a longer suspension. Think all your decisions through, document your reasoning, and be prepared when someone questions or disagrees with it.

  5. A principal must be organized and prepared. Each day presents a unique set of challenges and being organized and prepared is essential to meeting those challenges. You deal with so many variables as a principal that lack of those will lead to ineffectiveness. No day is predictable. This is why being organized and prepared is helpful. Each day you still have to come in with a plan or a to-do list with the understanding that you will probably only get about one-third of those things done. You have to be prepared for just about anything. When your dealing with that many people there is so many unplanned things that can occur. Having policies and procedures in place to deal with situations is part of the necessary planning and preparation to be effective. Organization and preparation will help reduce stress when you are dealing with difficult or unique situations.

  6. A principal must be an excellent listener. You never know when an angry student, a disgruntled parent, or an upset teacher is going to walk into your office. You have to be prepared to deal with those situations and that starts with being an exceptional listener. You can disarm most difficult situations simply by showing them that you care enough to listen to what they want to say. When someone wants to meet with you because they feel wronged in someway, you need to hear them out. It doesn't mean that you let them bash another person continuously. You can be firm on not letting them belittle a teacher or student, but allow them to vent without being disrespectful to another person. Be willing to go the next step in helping them resolve their issue. Sometimes that might be mediating between two students who have had a disagreement. Sometimes it might be talking to a teacher to get their side of a story and then relaying that to the parent. In any case, it all begins with listening.

  7. A principal must be a visionary. Education is ever-evolving. There is always something bigger and better available. If you are not attempting to improve your school, you simply are not doing your job. This will always be an on-going process. Even if you have been at a school for fifteen years, there are still things you can do to improve the overall quality of your school. Each individual component is a working part within the larger framework of the school. Each of those components at least needs oiled every once in a while. You may have to replace a part that is not working. Occasionally we are even able to upgrade an existing part that was doing its job, but something better was developed. You never want to be stale. Even your best teachers can get better. It is your job to see that no one gets comfortable and that everyone is working to improve continuously.

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