10 Things All Great Principals Do

Knowing the rules can make all the difference

What makes a great principal? It’s a complex job that requires a myriad of skills but there are still some basic principles we can all agree on. Here are 10 ground rules that all principals, no matter which grade levels you lead, should consider:

1. Remember that people and programs make the school.

Everything you do on your campus should be for the students and their success, but do not forget about the teachers and programs that help those students become the best they can be. Support your teachers and programs as much as your teachers and programs support the students.

2. Be personable and lead a balanced life.

Show your staff that, above all, you are a human and not someone to be feared. Laugh, cry, and enjoy with them. Take care of yourself, mind, body, and soul, to be the best version of yourself, personally and professionally.

3. Promote school spirit and school community.

Teamwork makes the dream work, and the principal is the captain of the team.  Engage in conversations with parents whenever possible and make your campus a welcoming place for the community, teachers, and students. Be the biggest cheerleader when it comes to school spirit to encourage participation from all teachers and students.

4. Celebrate the small victories.

Just as positive praise can work wonders for students, teachers love it just as much. Celebrate a teacher having personal perfect attendance; the first class to submit all field trip permission slips; or the most well-behaved class during lunch. There are so many things teachers do that deserve praise. Never overlook the teachers who go beyond what is asked and celebrate them even more during an end-of-year teacher award ceremony.

5. Develop leaders.


The role of administrator has many responsibilities, but one that is often overlooked is mentor, not only to students but to teachers as well. It is especially important to mentor and develop those teacher leaders who look up to you and wish to be in your role someday. An administrator’s task is to hire teachers and, more importantly, to guide the staff, and to retain teachers and help them grow professionally.

6. Know the difference between supervision and friendship.

Be friendly with your teachers but understand that, above all, you are their supervisor. Build relationships without engaging in conversations that will undermine others.

7. Listen.

The best way you can show colleagues that you respect them is to listen.  Listen with the intent to understand and not to reply. Most of the time, students, teachers, and parents answer their own questions as they speak, beginning the internal process of solving an issue just by talking to someone. Give your staff and school families a couple of minutes of your day. One of my favorite quotes says it all, “The first duty of love is to listen.”

8. Understand the dynamic of change.

Change is good–sometimes. Do not change things too quickly; the best changes can be made quarterly or at midyear. Give programs on your campus the chance to develop and then evaluate their usefulness. Most of the time, the idea or program is good, but the execution has room for improvement.

9. Be positive and have a vision.

It is hard to know where you’re going without knowing where you are and what it will take to get there. Your body will respond to anything your mind says, so fill it with positive thoughts. Never ruin a good day by thinking of the bad day you had yesterday.

10. Expect and take accountability–for failures and successes

Always welcome challenges and develop a plan for success. Tackle problems head on. Instead of focusing on the why students are not understanding certain material or why lunch time is not running as smoothly as it should be, tackle the problem. Identify the issue and create a game plan. You are the captain of the ship, and passengers will do what the captain asks. Accept responsibility, adapt, and celebrate or recalibrate accordingly.

What are some of your ground rules for success? Share them in the comments.

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