If you’re considering a management position in education, you may be wondering how to become a school principal. The term principal is actually a shortened term of the full official title, principal teacher. In other English speaking countries, the title varies. A principal, school head, headmaster or headmistress are all the same name. The term headmaster or headmistress is usually associated with private schools in the U.S. and principal with the public schools. Here are a few factors in becoming a school principal.

Duties – Elementary and Middle School Principals

Their most essential role is the overall management and day to day operations of the school. Day to day operations include: supervision of faculty and staff, setting the budget of the school, student discipline, testing coordination, student scheduling, designing a master schedule for the school, assigning faculty teaching assignments, and liaison to the system superintendent and board of education. Many elementary and middle schools have one to two vice or assistant principals working directly under their supervision.

Duties – High School Principals

In a high school, the principal’s role is much greater. High school principals are in charge of the school with the same duties and responsibilities as the elementary and middle school cohorts. For instance, most schools athletic programs may begin in the middle school, but culminate in the high school. The principal of a high school must oversee the athletic department in addition to the other duties. High school principals also schedule staff for athletic competitions and school related functions, such as prom and homecoming. It is typical for a high school principal to have several vice or assistant principals working to assist in the day to day operations of the school.


At a minimum, a principal must have a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. Frequently, many principals have Educational Specialist or Doctorate degrees in Educational Leadership. The principal should have spent a number of years as a classroom teacher before pursuing a leadership role. Teaching experience can vary from physical education to mathematics education to any classroom teaching. Most principals start out as a vice principal for the experience before moving into a principal role. Very rarely if ever will a full principal be hired with no previous leadership experience. It is common for athletic directors to become principals, as they have had experience in budgets and overseeing staff previously.