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Why Becoming a Principal is So Rewarding

By James E. Fitzpatrick, Ph.D.

Have you given thought to becoming a principal as the next transition step in your educational career?  Have you ever thought to yourself; “if I were principal, these would be the decisions I would make?”  Have you ever considered that the most influential position in PreK-12 education is that of a building principal?

If these questions resonate with you and you are considering making such a transition, I am pleased to inform you that such a transition will likely be the most rewarding work you will ever do! 

We need great leaders in our schools.  We are living during exciting but challenging times where our students, families and educators truly need leaders who are invested in advancing our learning communities so that our children will reach both their academic and personal potential.

The Importance of Principals

Principals make such a difference in our schools.  They more than anyone else decide who will work in their learning community as educators and support people.  The most important evaluation a principal makes is in the hiring process.  It is so exciting to build a team of educators and staff who share a sense of efficacy and are invested in advancing the teaching and learning in a school.  Regardless of the challenges the principal and staff might face, together they are committed to advancing and achieving success for their learners.  Is this a mission you could envision yourself being a part of as a principal and leader of a vibrant learning community?

I would be remiss if I were not to stress the wonderful opportunities that exist for a principal in promoting collaboration and nurturing relationships among students, staff, families and community leaders.  Perhaps these are the memories I cherish the most as I reflect upon a career of 40 years in education as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent.  The nineteen years I served as principal are the years I felt most needed and most influential.  It was such a “rush” or “high” to lead the team-work in facilitating the collaboration that allows your school to be transformed into a learning community that truly helps students meet their academic and personal potential.  Is this something you too might want to experience?

Preparing to Become a Principal

Well, how do you prepare to make this transition to the role of principal?  Here are some tips:

  1. Do some personal reflection.  Is this a transition you would truly want to make and can you look in the mirror and pledge to yourself that you would be an invested leader?  Any other intentions would not be honorable.
  2. Planning:  There will be a time commitment you must make in earning your Principal Endorsement.  Can you balance your personal and family life in committing to a course of study in preparation to become a principal?

The requirements for the principal endorsement in Illinois have been undergoing continual changes.  Check here to become familiar with the most current requirements. It would also be wise to sit down with a district superintendent, district director of human resources, or a college or university Educational Leadership Department admissions representative to be briefed on the principal endorsement requirements.  The Educational Leadership admissions representative should be able to inform the candidate of admission requirements for a principal preparation program. 

Testing: Illinois requires teacher and principal candidates to take and pass the Test for Academic Proficiency (TAP) before issuing licensure. Become familiar with the testing and competencies you may be expected to demonstrate on exams to obtain a principal endorsement. 

You may find some of the preparation and application work daunting, but I assure you that it is not insurmountable.  I would also submit that in your course of study and preparation, you will find that the instructors and classmates you meet and the books and articles you read will be very worthwhile as you become familiar and prepared for the processes of leadership in becoming a principal.  If you feel you can be an invested leader, then you will become a great principal—so what say you in making this transition?

James Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., is assistant professor, Department of Educational Leadership, National Louis University.

Pursue an Educational Leadership Degree

Do you have aspirations to become a principal? You can prepare by pursuing an Educational Leadership degree at National Louis University. NLU offers a Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) degree and an Educational Specialist (ED.S.) degree.

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