Harry Wong
Oct 2017
Vol 14 No 3

Characteristics of a Truly Great Principal

By Teachers.Net Community

From the archives…

The topic on the chatboard was, What are the characteristics of a truly great principal?

Myrt/TX posted:

A good principal takes care of his business. Among these duties includes taking as good of care with his faculty’s needs as the students’ needs.

A bad principal is the one who “grades” your class plans and is negative about everything. A teacher who has taught twice as long as this man has been in education is rather insulted to get an “F” on class plans!!! Another undesirable quality in a principal is to not be available to either students or faculty. A student once asked me where our principal was, that she never saw her. She then asked if she entered and left the building through her window to not be caught!!! The insight of children is so clear and honest!!!!

DEVILish posted:

For students:

  1. Provides direction for students. Acts as a role model and caring adult. Lets students know he/she is a part of their lives, not just a building caretaker.
  2. Establishes, clear, strict, but fair, rules and empowers and supports staff to create an atmosphere in the building so students can learn. Encourages students to “buy-in” to the system by being a part of it, not a function of it.

For staff:

    1. Respects the opinions of senior teachers, but at the same time, does not “cater” to them.
      • Provides an atmosphere which nurtures young teachers and does not allow a system that assigns them the most difficult students which may lead to burnout.

  1. Encourages staff to improve their abilities by providing MEANINGFUL professional development, allowing release time (when available), and allocating resources (financial if available) for conferences, workshops, or materials which help staff become more effective teachers.
  2. Acknowledges efforts of building personnel (“support staff”) and makes them a visible and valuable part of the team.
  3. Is in touch with and concerned with “building morale.”

For parents:

  1. Provides an opportunity for open dialogue/access to parents to foster cooperation at home and in the community.
  2. Visibility at school events (sports, banquets, concerts, etc..)
  3. Visibility in the community (whenever possible.)


  1. A good listener
  2. Unafraid to make “big” decisions
  3. Strong communication skills
  4. Tireless
  5. A motivator (As teachers, we can all look back to that one teacher we had that inspired us to go beyond the call of duty. Even as adults, we need an occasional “push” from time to time.)

While all of these are well intended, it would be unfair to judge someone (as principal) unless he or she is given the authority to do these things by the district. Without district support, the principal is severely limited in what he or she may accomplish. Too often, I have seen principals come to the school with great ideas and good intentions, only to have them beaten down by district politics. Principals hired to do a job need to have support at the top.

jme posted:

  1. His primary concern is the needs of the students, and he encourages and supports the teachers’ efforts to best serve those needs.
  2. He is fair — consistent but also able to address individual needs.
  3. He sees what is really going on, giving the “big talkers” the approval they seem to crave, but also acknowledging what the “real workers” actually do. He oils all wheels, not just the squeakiest ones.
  4. He makes a point of acknowledging all the hard work done by students, faculty, and staff, AND he works as hard himself. He expects a lot from himself and from everyone else.
  5. He is visible and accessible to students, parents, faculty, staff, and community.
  6. He has the ability to determine what fights are worth fighting, and he fights those fights with all he has. He also knows when it’s time to give up and go on to other battles.
  7. He likes his job and his school and his community, and he likes his students, faculty, and staff.
  8. He makes expectations and consequences clear.
  9. He practices open, two-way communication — as much as possible, he tells us what is going on, and he listens to what we have to say. He doesn’t have just a few pets who know what’s going on and have input into his decisions.
  10. He doesn’t believe in “busy work” — for students or for teachers.
  11. He isn’t afraid to “tell it like it is” when is necessary, but does so with diplomacy.
  12. He supports ALL extracurricular activities, not just the ones he personally is interested in.

Donna music/TN posted:

Characteristics of a truly great principal:
Strength and Confidence-has the ability to do what is needed, even if it bucks the trends, and to ride out changes without bending in the wind.

Willing and able to back the teachers, but keeps an open mind.

Willing and able to discipline where needed

Able to keep discipline and fear separate

My current principal is all of this. He is extremely supportive of the faculty, and sees this as his role-so he deals FIRST with parents who have complaints, listens to their side, then discusses with us if needed. He doesn’t take the parents side automatically, nor does he take the teacher’s rather, he judges the complaint, handles it at his level if possible, and serves as an intermediary if needed.

He is respected and loved by the children, and while he is a firm disciplinarian if needed, he is also their biggest cheerleader. Students don’t fear him-but they also don’t want to go to the office when there is a problem, because they know that he will handle it, and, worse, that he’ll be disappointed in them.

He is also able to buck trends in administration, and to say “OK, I know we’re not doing well (he came into a school which had been failing badly). Tell me what you think the school needs.” And to listen to teachers and then go to the upper management and say, “This is what my teachers and I have decided to do to improve the school, and we need x to do it,” even if what he is requesting is unpopular. He’s also willing to say “Look, the low test scores didn’t happen overnight. It is going to take more than a few months to make up the deficit.”

He avoids long meetings, allows freedom in the training we take by letting us take classes/workshops and use flex-time on in-service days. He wants us to do our jobs-but he also doesn’t want us to sit back and do nothing. You can’t get away with showing videos just to fill time, but if you can justify an activity educationally, he’ll accept it-no scripted programs or “it has to be in the textbook.”

cdms posted:

A good principal is a leader with an open door (and mind) policy. He/She is willing to listen, respect, and support parents, students, and staff alike!

A not so good principal doesn’t know the school address (after 3 years of being on the campus).

MarjoryT responded:

  • Same set of rules for every student.
  • Lets students and teachers see him work on the school – he often pulls students out of class to work on the school facility or move – this really builds school spirit!
  • Wants teachers to try new techniques – just show him the plan first.
  • Extremely willing to go one-on-one with parents – generally wants to be present at beginning of meeting.
  • Extremely willing to bring police, court, family into situation to correct problems.
  • Enthusiastic about every employee and every student (and himself).
  • You always know if you have screwed up – he tells you to your face and not to the crowd.

gypsy responded:

We just lost our principal, who I loved. He resigned because the staff and board would not get behind him. He wanted change and had specific plans to get it. I learned through all this that people really, really like the status quo. Most of the staff at my school is happy to see him go.

I think he was good because:

  1. He allowed me to teach and didn’t think I needed to have silly “units” written out. He knew I knew my material and by virtue of my teaching and rapport with kids would get them to think and learn. So he stayed out of my way, encouraged me, and supported me when the “hens started pecking”.
  2. He believes in academics. He knows that we can’t just “pass” kids along. He believes in standards. No wishy washy stuff. He was not “touchy feely.” He was a straight shooter to the students and the staff. Many people can’t handle it but I respect it greatly.
  3. He believes in fairness. Kids get pretty even punishments. They know that they can’t make him roll over, but that he will listen carefully to them and explain why he is doling out whatever consequence it is that they are getting. Also, under his tutelage, we came up with a great point system for discipline that is clear and easy to enforce.
  4. He doesn’t always jump to blame the teacher. If I put a kid out of my room, the old principal used to semi blame me. I don’t do this often, and if I do, it’s for good reason. This principal backed me 100 percent. If I sent a kid down, the kid stayed there, and had a “private interview” with “the boss.”
  5. He didn’t drive us nuts with unnecessary paperwork and red tape. Most of that stuff is lip service and he knew it.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 1st, 2011 and is filed under *ISSUES, December 2011, Teachers.Net Community. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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