Characteristics of a Highly Effective Principal

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Derek Schuelein

The job of a school principal is gratifying and challenging in equal measure. It’s a challenging job, and like any other employment, some people aren’t up to the task. Specific attributes of a highly effective principle are lacking in some individuals. Aside from the apparent professional criteria for being a principal, outstanding principals possess a few characteristics that enable them to accomplish their work well. These traits are evident in a principal’s day-to-day responsibilities.


The building’s instructional leader is the principal. A good leader must accept responsibility for her school’s triumphs and shortcomings. A good leader prioritizes the needs of others over her own. An excellent leader always seeks ways to enhance her school and then figure out how to do so, no matter how challenging it may be. Any school’s success is determined by its leadership. A school without a strong leader will almost certainly fail, and a principal who isn’t a leader will swiftly lose her job.


Education is constantly changing. Something more significant and better is always available. You are not performing well if you are not working to enhance your school. This is always going to be a work in progress. However, there are still things you can do to improve the overall quality of your school, even if you’ve been there for 15 years.

Each component is an integral part of the school’s overall structure. Now and then, each of those components should be lubricated. You may need to replace a broken piece. You may be able to upgrade an existing part that was already doing its job since something better has been produced. However, you should avoid being stale at all costs. Even the finest teachers can improve. You must make sure that no one becomes complacent and that everyone is constantly striving to better.

Fair and Consistent 

Nothing can erode your credibility faster than a lack of consistency in how you handle comparable situations. While no two circumstances are identical, you must consider how you have taken similar problems in the past and stay on the same path.

Students, in particular, are aware of how you manage student discipline and make comparisons between cases. They will call you out if you are not fair and consistent. However, it is logical that a principal’s decision will be influenced by history. For example, if you compare a student who has been in several fights to a student who has only had one fight, you may justify giving the student with multiple conflicts a longer suspension. Consider all of your options, write down your reasons, and be ready if someone challenges or disagrees with you.

About the Author

Derek Schuelein

Derek Schuelein is a passionate high school educator and principal for high schools in the U.S.

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