What’s Next? Knowing When to Move Up or Move On

A successful career in the principalship can lead to multiple opportunities beyond it.

This article is part of a series focusing on The Principal Pipeline, brought to you with support from The Wallace Foundation.

November, 2016, Volume 40, Issue 3

Being a school principal used to be a job you kept for life—or at least until you became the superintendent. But with increased turnover within schools there’s a good chance this job may become the start of a new career.

The skills you learn as a principal or assistant principal can be transferred to a number of management-related jobs, either in or out of the education field. In addition to the superintendency and other district administration jobs, NAESP members have found their callings in other fields such as education consulting, curriculum design and publishing, public service and elected offices, higher education, and association management (Read this article in the May/June edition of Principal magazine for stories on how some NAESP members have made the transition).

So if you’re thinking of moving into a higher-level education administration job, or looking at other careers, what skills can you hone now to improve your competencies?

Maximize Your Current Role

Principal magazine recently asked several current and former principals for advice. Above all, they said, be aware of opportunities to learn new skills, push your boundaries, and learn about the operations of other types of organizations.

There are several desired skills from the principalship that are valuable across sectors: data management, communications and community engagement, business management, leadership and public speaking.

“Pay attention to what makes organizations work well at high levels,” says Steve Tozer, a professor in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Those skills will be the most transferable for jobs both inside of and outside education.”

Above all, networking inside and outside your field is a must—you never know where your next opportunity may arise.

“Begin developing your network early on,” says Mark Terry, deputy executive director of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association and a former principal. “Join organizations and make connections. People will begin offering your opportunities that will open up your world and new possibilities for employment.”

Other principals recommend getting involved in your community organizations, such as the local Lions Club or Rotary Club, which will help even if you decide not to leave your current job.

And Laurel Schmidt, a former teacher and principal who now works as an education consultant, recommends writing and speaking engagements: “Check out events focused on your areas of strength and interest and submit applications to speak,” she says. Publications such as association journals and online blogs often look for new authors with expertise, and publishing will help get your name to a broader audience.

Copyright © 2016. National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy.