It’s hard to overstate the importance of principals, as they are the leaders of their schools. After all, they influence every facet of a school’s operations, including academics, culture, finances and grounds. To that end, recent studies show that principals may be even more crucial to a school’s functions than previously believed.
A 2021 study from the Wallace Foundation attempted to synthesize two decades’ worth of research on the effects of principals on their schools. The findings reinforced and even exceeded assumptions about the importance of effective principal leadership. According to the study, “it is difficult to envision an investment in K-12 education with a higher ceiling on its potential return than improving school leadership.” This assertion only underlines the immense value that quality principals can offer to all members of their school community.
An advanced education degree in educational leadership equips school leaders to manage school communities and fulfill the critical role of principal.
The Management Roles of School Principals
Given the broad scope of a principal’s responsibilities and influence, the potential return on investment makes sense. They are responsible for many different areas of operations including leadership, teacher evaluation and student well-being.
This means taking on an almost astonishing number of roles: leader, coach, trainer, mentor, disciplinarian, confidant and parent and community liaison, to name a few. As this post from ThoughtCo. notes, principals are the head of the school, and everyone takes cues from them.
Principals work with faculty and teachers to foster continuous professional development and coach and evaluate teacher performance. Plus, as managers of their faculty, they’re expected to take on all the typical responsibilities of a manager. On the student front, principals are responsible for discipline and assessing and monitoring the well-being of their students, then taking appropriate action.
In many cases, this goes simply beyond enacting discipline. For example, principals must often make risk assessments and work with school social workers to ensure students are safe. They also communicate with parents about student issues to cultivate a strong feedback-learning loop between school and home.
Principals are deeply involved even from a systematic, organizational perspective. They have heavy input on school budgets and finances and strategically manage other resources. Managing faculty is also a major part of the job, not only from a hiring perspective but also for maintaining morale and creating an enriching teaching environment. In fact, the Wallace Foundation study proves that principals directly affect staff retention and growth.
Habits of Effective School Principals
A strong principal can clearly have a major positive effect on their school. But understanding what makes an effective principal is not easy to define.
Principals face various challenges in fulfilling their goals and building a healthy school environment. Time management is perhaps the most daunting of all, given the number of needs that require a principal’s attention daily.
The Wallace Foundation identifies four key areas where quality principals focus their work: “engaging in ‘high-leverage’ instructional activities, such as teacher evaluation and feedback; establishing a productive climate; allowing for collaboration and professional learning communities; and managing personnel and resources strategically.” In the Wallace Foundation research, results showed that principals who effectively cultivated these facets of their schools showed the greatest outcomes.
Finding the Perfect Educational Leadership Program
A program such as the online Master of Science in Education (MSEd.) in Educational Leadership from the University of Southern Maine gives aspiring principals the necessary skills and knowledge to function as successful school leaders in today’s fast-changing education industry. Coursework such as Intro to Educational Leadership, Seminar in School Management and Organizational Behavior teaches students how to apply research-backed instructional techniques, build clear and diverse learning standards and assessments and understand the holistic role of teaching.
Learn more about the University of Southern Maine’s online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program.