Sage Advice: Leaders of Learning

What makes a great school principal?

What makes a great school principal?
Photo of a woman sitting with kids
Credit: Getty Images

Great principals have the wisdom of Solomon, the humor of Jack Benny, the heart of Mother Teresa, the patience of Job, the financial acumen of Midas, and the grace of Ginger Rogers.

Anna L. Pilloton

Executive director
Marin Teaching Network
Larkspur, California

A great school principal knows how to listen but also how to articulate a vision. A great principal knows how to lead but isn't afraid to empower staff, community members, and even students without micromanaging them, and he allows them to get out front and risk making a difference. Most of all, a truly great principal is a great teacher -- someone with a passion for content, the ability to inspire others to expand their horizons, and a dedication to continued growth on her own part.

Edward A. Mainzer

School and college counselor
Arts and Technology High School
New York City

A great school principal is in the halls almost every morning to greet staff and students. She has her finger on the pulse of the school because she talks to teachers and students regularly. She is approachable and has a positive attitude and a sincere interest in creating a community of teachers who want to give their best to students every day. A great principal continually recognizes successes throughout the school and conveys her expectations regularly by sharing current information. I am proud to say that I work for a great principal!

Nellie Ingersoll

McCleskey Middle School
Marietta, Georgia

I've been fortunate to have had some great principals in my 31 years of teaching. What I've witnessed is the importance of their confidence in and support of their staff. A great principal needs to be in the boat, paddling with the staff, not barking orders from the shore. Understanding that teachers have a life other than teaching helps a principal see teachers as individuals. And finally, a great principal realizes that some decisions need to be made alone rather than collaboratively.

Lisa Heaton

Gifted and talented teacher
Willow Creek Elementary School
Centennial, Colorado

There is a distinct difference between a good principal and a great principal. A good principal makes decisions, whereas a great one stands behind those decisions. A great principal is not afraid of confrontations with parents or teachers but is willing to admit an error if you can show him why it's an error. A great principal is fair and listens to both sides before making a decision. A great principal is someone who is willing to take a stand for what is right, even if it means being unpopular. A great principal treats all teachers with respect and is nondiscriminatory when making decisions. A great principal should have an open mind and an open-door policy.

Allen Perry

Fifth-grade teacher
Roswell, New Mexico

Passion is key! As a 13-year veteran administrator -- with seven years of that as a middle school assistant principal and six years as an elementary school principal -- I can honestly say that a person has to be passionate to work long hours; to manage staff, students, and parents; to do paperwork; and to keep a building "afloat" day to day. Our teaching staffs deserve to be treated as professionals. A principal needs to communicate well and be fair, firm, and consistent with staff, students, and parents at all times.

Karen Mida

Edgemont Elementary School
Belleville, Michigan
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Oct 2009: The Waldorf Way
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Principal/ Florida Virtual School

What makes a Great Principal from virtual perspective

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A great school principal is a flexible leader who positively influences behaviors which foster the environment for student learning and growth. A great school principal finds a balance between what’s good for staff, what’s good for students, and what is good for their district. A great school principal is as comfortable playing the “bad cop” as the “good cop”. A great school principal empowers others to maximize their strengths and trusts good judgment. A great school principal is a mentor, a coach, and a leader whose attitude must be contagious to continue to promote enthusiasm and morale. A great school principal never settles for good and will continue to influence and coach others to be great, also.

Richard Kellough (not verified)

Re: what makes a great principal

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Of the above comments, the one I like best is that of Edward Mainzer. He got right to the core of it. Congrats.

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