The May/June issue of Principal magazine includes a Speaking Out article that reveals the type of preparation the author believes a teacher needs to become a principal.
The author insists that aspiring principals should “earn their stripes” as successful teachers before becoming school administrators, and that extensive teaching experience is a requisite for effective instructional leadership. “How principals acquire the skills they need to become accomplished leaders is dependent on their experiences as teachers,” the author wrote.
Do you agree? How many years of teaching do you feel are appropriate?

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

I don't totally agree with the author that several years of "successful" teaching experience are requisite to becoming a principal. I believe that highly motivated, clearly focused individuals with only a few years of teaching under their belt can become effective building leaders, with the right mentoring and professional development. I've known some great teachers who, when put in a leadership position, fell flat on their face. I don't think standard requisites that are 'one size fits all' have any more business being linked to our vocation than they do in teaching.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

I don't completely agree with the author either. I definitely think the principal needs to have some successful teaching experience, but I think three or four years is enough. Some of the best principals I know only taught for a few years. To me, leadership is a different skill set than classroom teaching.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

I agree that it is incredibly important for an administrator to have teaching experience on a variety of levels. Recognizing truly effective teaching is a skill in and of itself that can only be acquired with quality, 1st hand experiences. The state of PA says 5 years is plenty, but I tend to disagree. I am in my 5th year, just finishing my principal’s certificate and I feel that I may not yet qualified to instruct my colleagues who have 20+ yrs more experience than I have. This is not to say that in a few years my feelings won’t change. I do agree with the other comments that there are SOME who are truly gifted and ARE capable of becoming an administrator at an early age; however, I feel these people are the exception—not the rule. One has to consider the faculty they will be leading as well. Will the faculty put trust into someone with only 5 years of experience?

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

I agree that principals need to have experience in a classroom to be able to observe and make judgements on a teacher's classroom effectiveness. I don't know if 5 years would qualify a principal, but I do feel that teaching at different levels give an administrator more insight into what is effective for that level. I also think that an administrator needs to have an innate leadership quality to be an effevtive leader.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

The ability to effective lead a school as a principal is not something that can be fully taught in a degree program or at a conference for “aspiring principals.” An effective principal has a diversity of skills and the acquisition of those skills can occur in a variety of settings. There is no clear cut way to acquire the necessary skills and because of that, it is important the selection process for principals take into consideration how a person’s experiences have prepared a person for the role.

As a second year principal with only 5 years of classroom experience, I feel that my ability to lead was shaped by far more than those 5 years as a first grade teacher. I look at my experiences as a young man who pumped gas in a full service station and my experience as a non-commissioned officer in the Marine Corps as the foundation of my career in education.

The ability to lead a school in an effective way is important, but one must also look at the ability to evaluate classroom teachers as equally important. Administrator preparation programs should focus more on evaluation of teachers and the business side of running a school. Those skills necessary to communicate effectively and set the tone of a building are skills that will not be learned exclusively in a college classroom.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

Reading the other entries I would have to disagree with the amount of teaching experience an administrator needs to become an effective leader of the school. I am completing my principal papers, with 8 years of teaching experience, and am currently finishing my internship. I feel that to be an effective administrator it really doesn't matter how many years you have taught. Yes, in PA they state that you need 5 years, and I think that is a great guideline, but anything after 5 years should be insignificant. An effective leader possesses the skills needed to lead and facilitate his/her staff members, no matter your years of teaching experience. Are coaches effective leaders? Yes, many are, and they don't have to be a past-athlete of the particular sport they are coaching to be an effective coach. They just need to know their audience and their most effective route to achieve the best from their athletes! With this in mind look at our schools. An effective leader needs to know their audience (staff and students) and plan their leadership style and plan of action from the information that is known. Five years of experience, that is a bonus, but having the character traits of an effective leader ingrained in your personality – that is a lottery winner!

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

I have to agree with the author when she says that principals have complex and challenging jobs, and they must be skilled and experienced in numerous areas. In the principal certification program, we have learned that the profile of today's principal is that of a manager and an instructional leader. It makes sense to me that if teachers are required 4+ years of university training before being considered as qualified to teach, then it makes even more sense to have 4+ years in the classroom before considering a position as an educational leader. I am of the opinion that the time spent in the classroom provides the opportunity to build the skills and knowledge about teaching, instructional leadership, organizational management, and the change process that is crucial to an effective principal. When I worked in the business world, employees were cross trained, learning all aspects of the company, as they moved up the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, there are no short cuts to qualified leadership.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

After reading this article and the posted responses, I feel that all have insightful ideas in becoming an administrator. It sounds like some responders would be confident in stepping into a principal role after only a couple years of teaching, while others would like many years of teaching under their belt. I truly believe that what it comes down to is a person's ability to communicate as a leader and use their teachers and their teachers' experiences to help form the school community. Even if a principal does not have 20 years experience teaching, they will have those teachers in their schools and should use them as a source of knowledge. I don't think that anyone believes that a principal should know everything when stepping into the position. Being confident in your decisions and knowing when to ask for "assistance" from teachers is the key to a good principal. Teachers are willing to give opinions and feedback and principals, no matter what their teaching experience, need to be able to listen and use the feedback effectively.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

I believe that a Principal's job is 50% Instructional Leader and 50% Building Manager. In order for a Principal to have valid evaluations in the eyes of his/her staff, one must have a good amount of teaching experience. Now, that is not to say that there is a set amount of time one must spend in the classroom. However, it is important to become familiar with all the aspects of the classroom in order to prescribe the correct advice in the evaluative and mentoring process.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

I see the value of a prinicpal having experience in the classroom. However, I don't believe that one can give a time frame for everyone. I have been teaching for six years and am currently finishing my principal's papers. I enjoy teaching too much to make the move anytime in the near future. But that is just my choice.
I believe that two key skills of an effective prinicpal are good leadership skills and a good understanding of the district's curriculum.
We all have experienced teachers who have twenty years or more in teaching, and I ask does that make them all good teachers? I think the same policy is applicable when considering years of experience for a principal.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

The author does not give a specific amount of time a person should teach before becoming an administrator, she simply says they must have "successful experience in classroom instruction." Certainly there are good teachers with 30 years of experience, who would make lousy principals and those with five years who would make excellent principals. However, as a generalization, having successful teaching experience is valuable, it provides credibility. Experience helps the principal to understand what good teaching is, how students learn and creates empathy for both. Consider that research shows it takes ten years to become a master teacher. Perhaps if administrative salaries were more competitive teachers would choose to spend more time in the classroom. I am a teacher with more then ten years of experience, I am training to be a principal. My motivation is to do what is best for kids and grow professionally. I also believe I have the skill set for administration. At best I will make a lateral salary move. Of course teachers move into administration early in their career, that is the only way it is economically feasible.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

I love reading all of the comments! I can understand that people are all differentin their varying deegrees of natural leadership ability. On the same token, some teachers come into the profession after years of experience in another leadership field that certinally could qualify them for an administrative posotion. However, looking back on my early experiences as aneducator and where I am today, I can certinally see the valuable experiences and understanding for students and staff that I have gained. I don't know how many years constitutes "earned" stripes but I would think on average 4 or 5 would be the amount of time you would want to have. I'd like to think if your going into administation you'd like to be familiar with the educational system so that you can do the job to the best of your ability.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

I often question how I will react to my first position as an administrator. While part of me is ready for the challenge, the other part of me is continually working to refine the teacher in me. With that said, I agree with other posts that have listed the idea that a particular number of years of experience does not necessarily give a magic wand to the individual seeking a leadership role. There are so many factors, mostly intangible, that will set the stage for a successful role as an instructional leader. Sure, it is a good idea to thoroughly understand and appreciate the demands of the classroom; however, leadership skills paired with an understanding of instruction, assessment, and curriculum will help make an instructional leader successful.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

I really had to think about this question when I read it. I do agree that experience in the classroom is important, however, I don't feel that a principal needs to have 15 years of teaching to be able to handle the demands of being a principal. I am currently in a principal certification program and I have 14 years teaching experience. But there are people in my cohort with only 5 or 6 years of teaching experience. Does this mean I will do a better job? Not necessarily. I agree with Lori who commented that experience in teaching does help prinicpals to understand what good teaching is. Especially if that principal was successful at teaching. However, I also agree with Matt's comments that those skills necessary to communicate effectively and set the tone of a building aren't learned in the classroom. A lot of this comes from the individual and their leadership style. So I think experience is important, however I don't think it is key. Nor do I think the more years experience as a teacher, the better the administrator.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

There is a collegue of mine that has decided to go get his principal papers; in my opinion, this is a huge mistake on his part. He is one of the best teachers I have ever seen; I feel that some teachers are meant to do just that - teach. We live in a society that constantly revolves around money and advancement; true, most administrators do make more money but hopefully they are in the profession not for the money, but because that is what they want to do. COnsidering this, I do feel that there are some teachers who were meant to become principals; not that they are bad teachers, but their talents are better suited for the role of a principal. I question myself sometimes as to where my talents would better fit - the classroom or the office? Different answers every time. I agree with Charmayne that just because a person has more years teaching, does not mean they will be a better administrator.

re: What Does It Take to Become a Principal?

Every principal needs to have significant, successful experience in the classroom. The number of years necessary for an individual to be credible and effective as an instructional leader will be largely up to the individual, as some are simply ready earlier than others. The truth is, the principalship is much, much more than instructional leadership - it is hiring and supervising instructional and non-instructional personnel, public relations, curriculum development, test administration, facilities management, scheduling, supervising students, supervising busses and other transportation, and in middle school, athletics - and more. So, even though an individual may have an excellent grasp of instruction, there is so much more to the principalship which simply requires seasoning and experience.

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