Qualities of an Excellent Elementary School Principal

by Lee Grayson

Elementary principals must show strong leadership, but also have other important skills and talents to make the once-in-a-lifetime experience the best it can be for early learners. The Wallace Foundation, a nonprofit focused on education and school leadership, notes that principals must manage buildings and budgets, but also ensure teaching excellence and demonstrate quality leadership to the school and the community.

Grounded Theorist

School principals at all education levels have state-issued credentials certifying the administrator has the background training and upper-division coursework to guide the school, but excellent elementary principals have additional certifications and training. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook reports elementary principals need a master's degree as an entry-level education, but quality elementary-level principals have additional certifications. Advanced certifications from the National Association of Elementary School Principals and state principal associations demonstrate the principal recognizes the importance of specialized training in important areas related to student services and school operations. A study reported in the "Journal of Leadership for Effective and Equitable Organizations" found principals with a sound education background hired effective classroom teachers.

Effective Communicator

Principals must communicate with people in the community, parents, students and teachers. The head administrator also represents the school to the public and to committee members conducting formal evaluations of the school's curriculum and education success during accreditation reviews. Elementary school principals frequently meet with parents and students to discuss attendance and classroom discipline problems. The school head must also meet with faculty and staff on a regular basic to build school moral while at the same time promoting changes to make the school operate more effectively. Young students must see the principal as a friend and inspiration, and kids need to feel the principal is open to discuss any issue students face.

Classroom Guru

Excellent principals have elementary-classroom experience to understand the problems teachers face. State frameworks and core curriculum designs specify standards for each grade level, and principals must know these standards by heart. School administrators review staff on a regular basis and quality principals have the ability to recognize curriculum matching with state standards and make unit and lesson plan suggestions to improve classroom instruction. Excellent principals belong to professional education associations and organizations and read scholarly journals about leadership and education to assist classroom teachers and other administrators in curriculum design and execution.

Coach and Mentor

The best principals have the ability to adapt to changing situations and volunteer as a mentor to both new and seasoned staff members. The National Association of Elementary School Principals notes experienced administrators "provide a crucial support system" that includes a mentor relationship that involves offering counsel and advice. Kathleen Trail, editor at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, describes an excellent elementary principal as one who sets attainable goals for the school and coaches the staff to meet the benchmarks.

About the Author

*I have written chapters and articles for Oxford and Harvard University Presses, ABC-CLIO, and others. Arcadia Press published two of my local history texts and I have also written for numerous "article sites," including Pagewise in 2002. My "How to become a...real estate agent" is available as an online text from a Canadian publisher. *I taught writing courses at a branch campus of Indiana University. *I held a California real estate license and have remodeled four of my own homes and advised others on financing homes, repairing credit to qualify for loans, and managing construction (including meeting local, state, and federal regulations for restoration and development grants). *I served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer and wrote nearly $75,000 in small education grants (under $1,000). *My travels include frequent road trips in Canada, Mexico, U.S., and Europe. I attended school at Cambridge University and used this as a base to explore the UK and Europe.

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