K12 Recruitment Group - 5 Qualities That Make a Great K12 School Principal

What defines a great K-12 school principal? Some might argue that the answers are largely subjective. However, the following facts are great indicators that a school is being run by a great principal:

  • A good percentage of students are performing well in their grade level subject areas.
  • A good percentage of the class graduate and the class has a general strong average to above-average performance.
  • A good number of students are admitted into good colleges and universities
  • Little to no cases of indiscipline among the students and teachers.

The principal, together with the school’s leadership board, play a critical role in setting the right climate and attitude for effective learning. That in the long term affects the institution’s reputation. When led the right way, schools become successful incubators not just for learning but developing other social skills for the students, the teaching staff, and non-teaching staff.

The position of the principal, like any other leadership position, comes with its fair share of challenges. Thus, it is not a job for just anyone. In fact, very few individuals possess the right leadership skills, temperament, and aptitude to lead a school successfully.

Below we have listed five qualities that make a great K-12 principal:

  1. Strong Leadership

A principal that does not let things fall through the crack, by putting in place monitoring and evaluation system, often lead the school to great success. The systems they put in place should lead to tasks being executed efficiently, problems resolved swiftly and amicably. They need to articulate the school’s goals and visions into achievable, measurable, and time-bound course of action.

They need to be on top of things, but at the same time be careful not to suffocate those beneath them. They need to have visionary ideas on how to overcome problems and inspire their team to follow the laid down path of action. They must have the necessary interpersonal skills to quickly connect with people and get them to see a better approach to things.

The principal must also be well organized. As it is not enough to come up with great plans. A great plan must be met by an equally great flow of events and matched with resources.

2. Committed to Educational Excellence

Ideally, the principal’s mantra in life should be ‘aim for the star, and in case of a miss, land on the moon.’ A good school principal should be working towards the best possible results for any of their school’s undertaking. The drive for high excellence needs to be inertly within them as part of their nature.

They should be proactive in putting in place measures designed to achieve the best results possible. That should be the case not just in the academic affairs of the school, but also in other extra curriculum activities such as the school sports teams, teachers’ teaching performance, security at the institution, drama, and arts, among other activities.

Of course, it would be impossible for one individual to spearhead all these goals. The principal can, however, identify individuals within their board members and teaching staff with the right traits to delegate some of these goals.

3. Maintain Order and Structure

We see and hear too much news of unrest and chaos at schools. Either a student walked in with a gun and shot people in their masses, drugs, and guns being peddled within the premises of learning institutions, and a complete breakdown of law and order in schools. Often, such news is the result of failed leadership at the given schools.

A school principal and by extent the management board should not let things fall through the cracks. They need to put in place systems for monitoring and evaluation that could rapidly pick up cases of things going out of order.

However, it should not mean that the school leadership should be hovering over the heads of the students, teachers, and non-teaching staff at the institution. Rather, they should have a collective and inclusive approach where everyone feels their right to fundamental freedoms are not being infringed upon. While at the same time, law and order being observed by all.

4. Keep Staff Motivated

There is a fine line between strong leadership and dictatorship. Principals should be firm in their leadership, but at the same time not blocking out the views of other stakeholders in the school’s affairs. Their leadership should pay ears to the interest, complaints, and views aired by other stakeholders. Take them into account, and modify their policies in case they infringe on certain stakeholders.

If the staff feel the institution’s leadership is too dominating and deaf to their concerns. They will lose the morale to execute their job to the best of their ability. The net effect of that is drop-in students’ performance, increased cases of teachers absentia, and eventually high staff turnovers.

A principal must have a listening ear to the staff at the institution. That must be followed up by appropriate reactions to the aired views and concerns. It sometimes involves checking on the staff remuneration, the safety of their work environment, provision of necessary resources for execution of work, and appreciation (recognition) for their contribution to the institution.

5. Establish Strong Professional Relationships

A school is a team comprising of the principals, board members, teachers, non-teaching staff, students, parents, and the outside community. There are very many aspects that come into play to make a learning institution not just successful academically but also safe, secure, clean, and have a generally good reputation.

Just like any other team, what makes or breaks their quest for success is the team members’ willingness to corporate and drive towards a common goal. For that to happen, the leader of the team (the principal) needs to form a strong relationship with all the players in their team. So that they can inspire them to work towards the given common goal; or at least face little to no friction from the team members.

That can only be achieved if the principal has the ability to quickly and easily form a relationship with the people around them.


Being a principal of any institution is no mean feat. It requires a leader with the right leadership acumen to steer the institution to success. The above-mentioned traits are some of the most important characters required of a good school principal.


Article provided by, K-12 Recruitment Group – a recruiting firm focused exclusively on filling K-12 administrative leadership positions throughout the USA


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