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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.
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.
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.
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.
2016 Salary Information for Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals
Elementary, middle, and high school principals earned a median annual salary of $92,510 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, elementary, middle, and high school principals earned a 25th percentile salary of $73,710, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $114,950, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 251,300 people were employed in the U.S. as elementary, middle, and high school principals.
- National Association of Elementary School Principals: Beyond Qualified -- Highly Effective Principals in Elementary and Middle Schools
- National Association of Elementary School Principals: National Mentor Training and Certification Program
- Wallace Foundation: The Making of a Principal -- Five Lessons in Leadership Training
- Journal of Leadership for Effective and Equitable Organizations: Do Principals with Stronger Academic Backgrounds Hire Better Teachers? Policy Implications for Improving High-Poverty Schools; Bruce D. Baker, et al.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals
- Career Trend: Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals
Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.
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