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5 Traits of Great School Principals

Successful educational leadership begins with principals who have the right focus.

Do you remember the first time you were called to the school principal’s office? Maybe you broke a rule. Or maybe the principal wanted to praise you. Whatever the case, no one in the school seemed more important than the school principal. What you may have not realized at the time was how right you were.

Research by Gallup has found that talented principals are essential if schools want to reach higher levels of achievement.* What do principals do to generate this achievement? Broadly speaking, they empower teachers and engage parents. More specifically, they embrace the following five traits.

5 Traits of Great School Principals

  1. They’re Committed to Achieving Performance Outcomes

    School principals have a lot of different interests to navigate. Policy-makers, district administrators, their staff, teachers, students, and parents all have expectations and needs. But there’s one thing that benefits them all: high achievement. The best principals understand the importance of performance outcomes and commit themselves to reaching them. They stake their career success on the school’s success and set a clear path for everyone to follow.

  2. They Maintain Order and Structure

    The best school principals don’t let anything fall through the cracks. They create systems that keep everything moving and delegate tasks in a manner that resolves problems efficiently and effectively. They are not undone by wide-ranging responsibilities or the combination of long-term and short-term challenges. In fact, they thrive on it.

  3. They Promote Accountability

    Getting everyone focused on performance outcomes means making everyone responsible for those outcomes. Great principals set goals for their staff and teachers, evaluate how well those goals are achieved, and dole out appropriate rewards or consequences for results. Everyone is made accountable for some facet of the school’s overall achievement.

  4. They Treat Teachers Like Professionals

    Promoting accountability does not, however, mean dictating expectations or actions. A great principal always involves teachers in developing performance goals, evaluating progress, and, when necessary, altering course. Great school principals recognize that teachers are trained professionals and are the most knowledgeable about what is and isn’t possible in any given classroom.

  5. They Develop Strong Relationships

    Like all leaders, school principals cannot succeed without a good team. In a school, that team includes staff, teachers, students, parents, and the community at large, which is why the best school principals work hard to develop trusting, productive relationships with all groups. These principals are transparent about all policies and decisions that may affect a particular group; they create an open, inviting atmosphere that encourages collaboration; and they do it all with the kind of enthusiasm and positivity that motivates others to act.

How to Become a Principal

There is no one route to becoming a principal. Some start as teachers, others begin on the administrative side, and others come over from academia. However, one of the better ways to put yourself in position to become a principal is to enroll in an education specialist degree program (EdS). Specifically, you should consider an EdS degree focused on educational leadership. Such a degree can help you gain the practical skills and knowledge you need to become an effective school principal.

An EdS degree is a particularly good choice if you are currently working in the education field and do not want to leave or suspend your current job. A number of online universities offer education specialist degree programs that give you the opportunity to complete your coursework at home and on a flexible schedule that can allow you to keep working full time.

Earning an education specialist degree online can help you become a great educational leader—and the kind of principal our schools need.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online EdS in Educational Leadership and Administration (Principal Preparation) degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*Gallup, State of America's Schools: The Path to Winning Again in Education, available for download on the Internet at

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to

Prospective Alabama students: Contact the Teacher Education and Certification Division of the Alabama State Department of Education at 1-334-242-9935 or to verify that these programs qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits.

Prospective Washington state students are advised to contact the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction at 1-360-725-6275 or [email protected] to determine whether Walden’s programs in the field of education are approved for teacher certification or endorsements in Washington state. Additionally, teachers are advised to contact their individual school district as to whether this program may qualify for salary advancement.