Elementary, middle, and high school principals are responsible for managing all school operations. They manage daily school activities, coordinate curricula, and oversee teachers and other school staff to provide a safe and productive learning environment for students.


Elementary, middle, and high school principals typically do the following:

  • Manage school activities and staff, including teachers and support personnel
  • Establish and oversee class schedules
  • Counsel and discipline students
  • Mentor teachers in managing students’ behavior
  • Evaluate teachers’ performance
  • Meet with parents and teachers to discuss students’ progress and behavior
  • Assess and prepare reports on test scores and other student achievement data
  • Organize professional development programs and workshops for staff
  • Manage the school’s budget, order school supplies, and schedule maintenance
  • Establish and coordinate security procedures for students, staff, and visitors

Elementary, middle, and high school principals manage the overall operation of schools, including building maintenance and cafeteria services. They set and oversee academic goals and ensure that teachers have the equipment and resources necessary to meet these goals. In public schools, principals also implement standards and programs set by a school district, state, or federal regulations. They evaluate and prepare reports on their school performance based on these standards by assessing student achievement and teacher performance. Principals may establish and oversee additional programs in their school, such as counseling, special education programs, and before- and after-school child care programs.

Principals serve as the public face of their school. They meet with superintendents, legislators, and members of the community to request or explain funding for their schools. They also address the concerns of parents and members of the community.

The duties of principals vary by the size of the school and district. In larger schools and districts, principals have additional resources and staff to help them achieve goals. For example, large school districts often have instructional coordinators who help with data analysis and with teachers’ professional development. Principals in small school districts may need to assume these and other duties themselves. In addition, they may be required to oversee the hiring process of all staff in their school, including teachers, custodians, and cafeteria workers. In larger districts, staff may perform some of these duties.

Many schools have assistant principals that help principals with school administration. Principals typically assign specific administrative duties to their assistants. In some school districts, assistant principals are hired to handle a specific subject area, such as literacy or math. Assistant principals may be assigned to handle student safety and discipline. They provide student academic counseling and enforce disciplinary or attendance rules. Assistant principals may also coordinate buses or supervise building and grounds maintenance.

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Work Environment

Elementary, middle, and high school principals held about 231,500 jobs in 2012.

Principals work in public or private elementary, middle, and high schools. Some work in public magnet and charter schools. Others work in private religious and secular schools.

Elementary, middle, and high school principals hold leadership positions with significant responsibility. Working with students may be rewarding. However, coordinating and interacting with faculty, parents, students, community members, and state and local policymakers can be demanding. Principals’ work can sometimes be stressful because they are accountable for schools meeting state and federal standards for student performance and teacher qualification.

Work Schedules

Principals typically work full time. They may work in the evening to meet parents and other members of the community and to attend school functions, such as concerts and athletic events.

Many principals work year-round and do not have summers off, even if students are not in school. During the summer, principals prepare for the upcoming school year, schedule building maintenance, order school supplies, or hire teachers and staff.

Education and Training

Most schools require elementary, middle, and high school principals to have a master’s degree in education administration or leadership. Most principals also have work experience as teachers.


Principals typically need a master’s degree in education leadership or education administration. These master’s degree programs prepare future principals to manage teachers and staff, prepare and manage budgets, set goals, and work with parents and the community.

To enter these programs, candidates typically need a bachelor’s degree in education, school counseling, or a related field.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Candidates for the position of principal usually need work experience as a teacher. For more information on how to become a teacher, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most states require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators. Licensure requirements vary from state to state, but most require a master’s degree. In addition, some require candidates to pass a test and take continuing education classes to maintain their license. Working with a mentor may be required, as well. Some states have alternative programs for candidates who do not have a degree in education administration or leadership. Most states require principals to pass a background check as part of their certification.

Principals in private schools are not required to have a state-issued license.


An assistant principal can advance to become a principal. Some principals advance to become superintendents, which may require completion of additional education. Others become instructional coordinators.

Personality and Interests

Elementary, middle, and high school principals typically have an interest in the Helping, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Helping or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as an elementary, middle, and high school principal, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Elementary, middle, and high school principals should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Principals must communicate effectively with students, teachers, and parents. For example, when dealing with student disciplinary or academic issues, they consult with and listen to parents and teachers to understand the problem.

Critical-thinking skills. Principals analyze student test results and testing procedures to determine any improvements to help students achieve better results.

Decision-making skills. Because principals are responsible for students, staff members, and the overall operation of the school, they consider many factors when making decisions. For example, they consider the safety of students and staff when making a recommendation to close a school before a snowstorm.

Interpersonal skills. Because principals work with teachers, parents, and superintendants, they must be able to develop positive working relationships with them.

Leadership skills. Principals set educational goals and establish policies and procedures for the school. They need to be able to motivate teachers and other staff to achieve set goals.

Problem-solving skills. Teachers, students, and other staff members report problems to the principal. Principals need to be able to analyze problems, and develop and implement solutions.


The median annual wage for elementary, middle, and high school principals was $87,760 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $58,530, and the top 10 percent earned more than $130,810.

Principals typically work full time. They may work in the evening to meet parents and other members of the community and to attend school functions, such as concerts and athletic events.

Principals work year-round and do not have summers off, even if students are not in school. During the summer, principals prepare for the upcoming school year, schedule building maintenance, order school supplies, or hire teachers and staff.

Job Outlook

Employment of elementary, middle, and high school principals is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be driven by increases in school enrollments.

From 2012 to 2022, the number of students enrolled in schools is projected to increase. Some additional schools may open to accommodate these students, resulting in a need for assistant principals and principals.

However, despite expected increases in enrollment, employment growth of school principals will depend on state and local budgets. Budget deficits may delay the building or opening of new schools. In addition, some school districts plan to consolidate and close some schools within their districts, thereby limiting employment growth.                               

Job Prospects

Job opportunities will vary by region of the country. Because population and student enrollments are projected to grow faster in the South and West, job opportunities for principals may be better in those parts of the country. In the Midwest, enrollment is expected to remain steady, and enrollment in the Northeast is expected to decline.

For More Information

For more information on elementary, middle, and high school principals, visit

National Association of Elementary School Principals

National Association of Secondary School Principals


Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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This information is taken directly from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truity does not editorialize the information, including changing information that our readers believe is inaccurate, because we consider the BLS to be the authority on occupational information. However, if you would like to correct a typo or other technical error, you can reach us at help@truity.com.

I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).

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