What Makes a Good School Principal (How Does Yours Compare?)

Who Do You Trust and Why?

Have you ever thought about the factors that cause you to trust or distrust a person? What about your school principal? I read a report by the Pew Research Center the other day that looks at individuals in leadership positions.

School principals ranked pretty high in the results, which made me wonder why they ranked where they did. What Makes a Good School Principal (How Does Yours Compare?) will show you what I discovered.

Facts About the Pew Report

The whole premise of this Pew Report is that Americans don’t trust most of the people who hold positions of power and responsibility. I suspect that most of us would give fairly simple answers when asked why we trusted or didn’t trust someone.

However, the report points out that it’s a bit more complicated, as there are several factors that come into play. As we form our opinions of the folks that are supposed to be working for us, we’re actually considering things like:

  • Competence
  • Honesty
  • Benevolence
  • Empathy
  • Openness
  • Integrity
  • Accountability

We each have different points of reference as we reach our conclusions. However, there are some amazing similarities that come together to form a very interesting story of just how we view and rate our K-12 public school principals.

The Main Points

If you take a look at the report, you’ll discover that almost 85% of the people surveyed have a lot of confidence in K-12 public school principals when it comes to:

  • Caring about people
  • Providing fair and accurate information
  • Responsibly handling resources

Eighty-four percent stated that K-12 principals “care about others or ‘people like me’” all or most, or some of the time.

Seventy-nine percent said that K-12 principals “provide fair and accurate info to the public” all or most, or some of the time.

Eighty-one percent agreed that K-12 principals “handle resources responsibly” all or most, or some of the time.

The statistic that I thought was the most interesting is shown in the chart below.

What Makes a Good Principal (How Does Yours Compare?)

As you can see, 72% of the adults surveyed believe that K-12 principals “Do a good job ensuring students develop critical thinking skills.”

That’s generally something classroom teachers are responsible for, so I wanted to see how good principals accomplish that task, and more.

Interviews with School Principals

The best place to start is at the source.

What the Principals Think

As I read through the reports about good principals, I found an interesting variety of examples offered. However, you can distill all of the comments down to three simple points.

Good Principals believe they must be responsible for:

  • The success of the school
  • Building and promoting a strong school community
  • Hiring good people

Good Principals believe they must demonstrate trust and show respect for:

  • Staff
  • Students
  • Parents

Good Principals believe they are responsible for bringing out the best in others by:

  • Treating teachers as professionals
  • Making sure teachers have the necessary resources, including training
  • Developing leaders
  • Providing the environment for teacher leaders to accomplish their tasks
  • Delegating


Remember that statistic that said 84% of the adults surveyed in the Pew Report believed that principals are caring and fair?

The traits we’ve been looking at show a caring and fair person. A person whose life purpose could be defined as being of service to others.

  • Someone who likes to help people solve their problems.
  • Someone who likes helping people discover their true potential.

I think the bottom line here is that principals, the really good ones, are Kingmakers.

What’s a Kingmaker?

The best definition I found is at this Wikipedia site: “A kingmaker is a person or group that has great influence on a royal or political succession, without themselves being a viable candidate.”

This also answers my earlier question about how the principal did something teachers are usually charged with. By hiring good teachers, providing the resources those teachers need to do their jobs, including ongoing training, teachers are able to reach their full potential. This goes a long way in helping to “ensure students develop critical thinking skills.”



Is it safe to say that a good principal is someone who spends his or her days working diligently to help everyone else maximize their potential?

What About Your Principal?

Not all principals get a staff full of high-achieving teachers and support personnel. That’s just not real life.

However, it looks like we do expect every school to have a high-achieving principal.

  • Someone loved by all.
  • Someone who’s the first to arrive at school each day.
  • Someone who’s the last to leave at the end of the day, and maybe goes in on the weekends.

My experience says that’s not real life either.

If I was grading my principals, I’d proudly announce I’ve worked for a couple of A+ individuals. A couple more who did B and C quality work, and one who received a vote of no confidence from the staff.

That’s probably real life!

The goal is to be working toward improvement for both principals and teachers. It just seems reasonable to conclude that the better prepared the staff, the better our students will do.

What About You?

Do you agree with the results on the Pew Report?

Have you worked for a principal like mine who received a no confidence vote?

How did that turn out?  Maybe you’re still dealing with it, and are asking yourself why?

Maybe it’s time for something new.

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2 thoughts on “What Makes a Good School Principal (How Does Yours Compare?)”

  1. This is an excellent post about the qualities and character of what makes a good principal.  I agree with the Pew Research as it is a viable and pretty factual survey resource.  I have always been blessed with good principals when I was growing up in school and also when my kids were in school.  I have the upmost respect for most adminstrators because they have so many hats to bear and so many people to please, students, teachers, other adminstrators, parents, the board, the PTA, and the list goes on and on.  It takes a lot of perserverance and grit to be a good principal.  Thanks for highlighting this research in your post.  It was very informative.


    • Hi Jay,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article.  Since the focus was the Pew Research findings, I didn’t cover the huge list that makes up a principal’s job description.  Thanks for listing many of them.  The job does require a great deal of work and energy.  Those who fill the position of principal deserve our gratitude and thanks.

      Thank you for joining the conversation; I appreciate it!


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