The Power of Principals: Why They are so Important to Building Great Schools

Everyone remembers a teacher that inspired them. How many of us remember our principals? Principals are responsible for ensuring our schools are open, that the teachers who inspired us are receiving the support he or she needs, and that our classrooms are environments that will help us learn.

I was inspired by a principal. But, it wasn’t when I was a child; it was when I was a teacher. And that inspiration has guided me to become a principal who continues to adapt and learn based on what I saw worked and didn’t work.

My principal, Jill Myers, inspired me to lead. She helped me become a strong teacher. She opened doors for me in education, challenged me, and supported me. She showed me that strong leadership builds strong schools. What I learned from my principal was that leadership matters.

When I was a first-year teacher in the South Bronx, I almost left the teaching profession. Like many, I was new; I was hopeful and wanted to make a difference. But, I still didn’t know how yet. Great teachers aren’t born – they are nurtured and developed. Great teachers have a mentor that helps them grow.

The strongest model for schools is one in which principals are creative, innovative instructional leaders. They find opportunities for their teachers to lead. They support teachers in their growth and create a safe space for adults to take risks in their learning. As we look at what builds a great school, we need to look at the principal. Who is at the helm? What vision have they set for their communities? How have they developed an environment that fosters learning and creativity?

Our kids need great teachers. And our teachers need great leaders. One can’t exist without the other. Principals bring in opportunities for their communities – they find resources where there weren’t any before. They connect families. They find places for children to thrive both in and outside of the classroom.

As a Principal Ambassador Fellow, I am proud to be able to represent principals in education. With this fellowship, ED recognizes that principals can make a huge difference in a school. This October, for National Principals Month, I urge you to get to know your principal. My hope is that the next generation of students will say that their principal inspired them to lead, and as a result, more great schools will emerge and continue to thrive.

Alicia Pérez-Katz is a 2015 Principal Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education


  1. Having taught at three different schools, and having worked in a professional field for many years before that, I have seen how great an impact a good leader can have on an organization. A good principal supports teachers, and as Chris wrote, allow us to take risks and try new things. (By contrast, a poor principal drains teachers’ energy, which doesn’t help the students.) I am fortunate to be working in a school with a wonderfully supportive culture, led by a principal who respects and listens to teachers.

  2. Our schools need great leaders as well as great parents. Great leaders are key factors in building schools but they require continues support from the parties :government,teachers …

  3. I have had principals who inspired me to build on my strenghths, to take risks by trying an innovative or creative idea and showed appreciation for my contributions to the school community. The best principals remembered what it was like to balance both a personal and professional life as a teacher who was striving to be awesome at both. The best principals were great listeners and not quick to jump to conclusions. They did not take sides but sought to resolve issues while showing respect and support to their staff. They were not micro managers. They hired great teachers and trusted in their instincts. They provided opportunities for articulation with other teachers but did not dictate their use of time or fill afternoons with mindless chatter at unnecessary meetings. They focused on giving their teachers autonomy and real organic decision site based decision and management by encouraging teacher input. They did not pretend to be interested in our ideas! They honored our time, and they thanked us for our extra hours and work. They never took us for granted or treated as less important to the educational equation as the students, parents or themselves. Most of all, my best principals did everything they could to ensure our safety, to provide materials and equipment and to allow us time to prepare lessons and materials. They had their priorities alligned with those of the teachers; go make magic happen in the classroom, and how can I help you?

  4. My high school principal was one of the greatest that ever set foot in Clark County, Nevada. Aldeane Ries was a legend at Chaparral and when she came to Valley High School a few years later, had the daunting task of commandeering a demographic shift in the student population. She came bright eyed, prepared, and had her staff go to parts of California to be ready to teach students that may not have wanted to go to school. Every day she greeted us (by name) and knew how to motivate us. I was lucky to spend quality time in Washington D.C. with her when she and I went to the Museum of Natural History and made fun of the dinosaurs. She’s an amazing principal, and an even more amazing person. After I left Las Vegas and she retired, they named a school after her. It was my experience in high school that actually motivated me to work with children to this day in hopes that I can make her (and my Alma Mater) proud.

  5. What an inspiring article from a teacher. As leaders, we, too, need our inspiration. It is the work of teachers who work hard day in and day out in their classrooms with every student, every day that inspires our work as leaders.

Comments are closed.