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What School Principals Do—and How to Become One

From elementary school to high school, every school principal’s job is unique. However, one thing many have in common is the EdS degree they hold.

Leading a school is no easy task. But principals are up for the job, thanks to a wealth of experience and the right education.

From what principals do to how to become a principal, we’ve pulled together information you need to know about this essential school administrator position.

What School Principals Do—and How to Become One

What do principals do?

Better yet, what don’t they do? From curriculum leader and negotiator to community liaison and staff developer, school principals do a little bit of everything, all jam-packed into very busy days.

  • Management

    Whether it’s elementary, middle, or high school, comprehensive management is on the docket of daily activities for school principals. All school operations fall under the auspices of this school administrator, from activities, staff, and curriculum to school facilities, budget, and supplies.

  • Strategic vision

    From meeting state test requirements to spearheading extracurricular student enrichment, principals must establish strategic vision for the schools they lead. They set goals, identify priorities, and help establish curricula that align with federal and state requirements as well as parental expectations.

  • Inspiration

    While it might not be immediately apparent as a daily responsibility, school principals also act as cheerleaders—for not only the teachers they manage, but staff and students as well. Principals set the tone for their schools. As such, it’s their duty to motivate those they lead, and create an environment that inspires creativity and academic success.

  • Discipline and counseling

    From setting up a system of consequences for misbehavior to counseling students after an incident, then discussing the details and consequences with parents, student discipline is a main responsibility of any school principal. It’s not all handing out punishments, though. Principals also counsel students to investigate why they’re struggling in the first place, then work out a plan for improvement or intervention, if necessary.

  • Outreach and representation

    Whether it’s talking to parents or the media, giving updates at school board meetings, or participating in discussions with superintendents, legislators, and members of the community, principals serve as the public face of their schools. As such, they must be comfortable speaking with a range of people, always ready to answer questions and address a range of issues on the spot.

  • Performance and development

    School principals, most of whom have extensive teaching experience, are also charged with ensuring that teachers are fully engaging students while aligning their lessons to the mandated curriculum. Principals also provide ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers to strengthen their skills and remain abreast of the latest developments in their field.

How to become a principal

Since a school principal is in a leadership role, significant experience as a teacher, and often as an assistant or vice principal, is required, as is additional education, including a master’s in education or a post-master’s degree with a focus on leadership and administration. Oftentimes, an EdS (education specialist) degree in educational leadership and administration provides an ideal transition between educator and leader.

EdS degree programs can equip those interested in becoming school principals with the real-world knowledge necessary to successfully lead elementary, middle, and high schools, including skills in leadership, communication, decision-making, critical thinking, communication, and more.

EdS degree—online or on campus?

Many education professionals find that online education specialist degree programs conveniently fit into their busy schedules. Without the need to travel to a brick-and-mortar institution, online EdS degree programs offer aspiring school principals the freedom to earn their degree in a flexible format that enables them to study on their own schedule, all from the comfort of home.

Ready to boost your career with an education specialist degree? Learn how Walden University’s online EdS degree program in educational leadership and administration can help prepare you for a career as a school principal, without the need to travel to class.

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.