Every large institution needs strong, compelling leaders to shape and guide goals, objectives, and direction, and America's schools are no different. Many people see schools as fast-paced, hectic environments that require vision and leadership to operate effectively.
Efficient principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders are key to advancing the goals and needs of America's schools. But not just anyone can wake up one day and decide to become the leader of a school.
Before becoming leaders, potential school principals must prove they have the ability to lead in times of struggle, and provide the support and constructive criticism necessary to improve the teaching strategies of their faculty members.
Administrator certification is a way for potential principals to show they've applied themselves and have gained the knowledge necessary to lead their schools to prosperity.
Principal Certification Requirements by State
What is Principal/Administrative certification?
Like many professions, certification shows that an individual is prepared to face challenges and use their knowledge in a variety of situations.
For school administrators, the certification process tests a potential school principal on their organizational skills and instructional knowledge. Through certification, a potential principal proves they are effective agents of positive growth and change in their schools.
The certification process is different for each state, but most states require an in-depth analysis of a potential principal's background, as well as exams that test his or her knowledge of running a school. For more information on your state's certification process, visit the state certification requirements map.
But in order to earn certification, what exactly should potential school leaders learn?
Certification demonstrates that a principal will ensure that all students learn and achieve, increasing the motivation and prestige of the student body.
To effectively inspire their students, principals must have a complete knowledge of the leadership skills involved in planning the direction and goals of a school. During the certification process, potential principals must prove their understanding of leadership, and how their clear vision of a school inspires and engages teachers to realize the school goals.
In establishing goals, potential principals must demonstrate an ability to use various types of information, such as demographic data, school climate, school inventory, student achievement data, and emerging issues affecting education to develop a school vision and create a plan to implement that vision.
Certified principals know how to facilitate the development of these plans in a way that clearly states the school's objectives, and then aligns financial, human, and material resources to support them.
The certification process asks potential principals to explain their communication strategies and collaboration plans with the school. A significant part of a principal's job is to communicate plans and ideas to faculty, parents, and students, so they must demonstrate knowledge of interpersonal skills.
Potential principals must demonstrate ways of implementing comprehensive community relation plans, with respect to how to communicate and work effectively with diverse groups in the school community to ensure equal opportunities for success.
Because they will work directly with teachers, potential principals must also have a comprehensive understanding of how to design and implement curriculum and teaching strategies.
In addition to being a strong leader, principals must themselves be effective teachers. During certification, potential principals are tested on their knowledge of motivation theory, teaching and learning theories, and principles of curriculum development.
By understanding learning and teaching theories, principals are prepared to impart these educational philosophies on their teachers, analyzing and interpreting classroom issues. By evaluating these issues and applying their knowledge of teaching strategies, principals are most prepared to bring change and improvement to the classroom setting.
Certification also tests a potential principal's ability to assess and implement a staff evaluation and development system.
Through promotion of critical thinking and problem-solving skills with their staff, principals recognize strengths and weaknesses in their teachers. During the certification process, potential principals must identify ways of identifying these strengths and weaknesses and using critical thinking to improve these.
Potential principals must identify a number of the supervisory models they will use to monitor their staff. These include peer coaching models, developmental models, and how structural factors like class scheduling might be adjusted to improve classroom efficacy.
The certification process also requires potential principals to understand the legal and ethical guidelines related to leading a school.
This includes knowledge of laws and regulations that affect policy implementation, and potential barriers to a school's vision. They must understand how these regulations and laws will affect the students, faculty, and administration of a school.
They should also identify how to enact their school plans under financial constraints, and answer questions about how to realistically move forward.
Becoming a school administrator
The road to becoming a school administrator is challenging and demanding, but rewarding as you see your school vision come to fruition. For more information on how to become a certified school administrator, visit the map of state teaching/administrator licensing requirements.
What makes a "good" principal?
Some people believe that certain individuals are natural-born leaders, and that this born leadership carries them through their careers. But the reality is that leadership is often learned over time, and developed through experience, perseverance, and dedication.
For school principals, there are a number of leadership skills that mature over time through interaction with teachers.
In “Effective Instructional Leadership: Teachers' Perspectives On How Principals Promote Teaching and Learning in Schools,” published in The Journal of Educational Administration, researchers examined what characterizes a good principal.
In the study, authors Joseph Blase and Jo Blase surveyed over 800 teachers who identified what they said were marks of effective principals. Many of the teachers responded that principals who promoted reflection in teachers provided the most help and inspired improvement in the teachers.
The first characteristic of an effective principal is making suggestions. Principals who listen, share experiences, and use examples when talking to teachers are thought to improve teacher motivation, self-esteem, and sense of job security. Teachers appreciate a principal's views on teaching methods and take suggestions to heart.
Teachers also noted that principals who gave feedback to be most helpful in improving the school climate. The researchers write that principals are able to “hold up a mirror” to teachers and act as critical friends who engage in “thoughtful disclosure” with teachers. Feedback is generally concerned with classroom behavior, and leads to increased teacher reflection, innovation, and instructional variety.
Researchers discovered that teachers love to watch effective principals demonstrate teaching techniques in the classroom, modeling positive interactions with students and trying new methods. One teacher reported that watching a principal teach was “a joy” and said that she valued his insights to teaching.
Teachers also appreciate when principals use a questioning approach with teachers, soliciting teachers' advice about instructional matters. Principals who directly involve teachers in planning and organizing curriculum goals improve teachers' motivation and efficacy.
Finally, giving praise was cited as one of the most important aspects of effective principals. Principals must encourage praise that focuses on specific and concrete teaching behaviors, so teachers know what behavior works.