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12 Tips on Hiring Effective Principals

By: Caroline Wynne Date: July 22, 2015

Now Hiring

Principal hiring methods and selection processes are outdated. Over the years limited focus has been placed on principal selection. As the role of the principal has evolved, it appears the methods for selection are still catching up. Many schools have been following the same procedures for decades.

Today’s school principals are leaders who guide schools towards better teaching practices and influence student learning. Research says principals are considered to be the second biggest factor in a school’s performance (student achievement), yet principal selection methods are often an afterthought.

The role of principal is an important one, and attention needs to be paid to the process of finding the right candidate for the job.

The demographics indicate that, on average, of school principals today are around 50 years old. Nearly 99% of new principals are former teachers with more than 14 years of classroom experience.

Superintendents report that hiring principals is challenging for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it’s often difficult to gauge a candidate’s leadership ability in a local school. There are few, if any, reliable instruments to test principals’ abilities, and many times school districts are on a tight timeframe to fill the open positions. Some districts limit the applicant pool and hinder the hiring committee’s ability to attract the best candidates.

Many districts have begun to revise and standardize principal hiring practices to ensure that search committees attract the right talent to the principalship and make informed decisions about future leaders. These districts see that the hiring process really begins long before a vacancy announcement, and continues through succession when the new leader is welcomed to the school.

The following are 12 tips on how to recruit, select, and retain effective principals:

Prepare for Succession. Engage the current school principal, staff, and stakeholders in conversation about your organization’s goals and plans and the leadership transition as important parts of succession planning.

Allow Time. The risk of choosing an ineffective school principal is great when hasty decisions are made. When possible it is best to allow one year from the point of vacancy announcement to recruit, select, and transition a permanent replacement for a school principal.

Set Priorities. Define goals for the school/district and decide what types of knowledge, leadership styles, and attitudes the ideal candidate must possess.

Reconsider the Position. Use information and lessons learned from the previous principal to rewrite, if necessary, the principal job description.

Be Strategic About Recruiting. Formally advertise the position outside of the organization through professional associations and employment services to broaden promotion of the opportunity.

Establish a Reliable Search Committee. A search committee of five to seven members should be convened and consistently engaged in the hiring process.

Conduct a Blind Interview. A blind review of applications eliminates names and significant identifiers from application forms in order to reduce bias.

Screen with Interviews. Interviews provide committee members with a more holistic view of candidates and are effective predictors of future performance.

Visit the School. Have finalists visit the school for a one-day, on-site visit including authentic tasks and interaction with other stakeholders.

Onboarding Process. Once the position has been filled, ease the onboarding process by having current processes and guidelines documented so principals can quickly get caught up to speed.

Support System. Principals should be proactive and take advantage of learning from other principals, for instance through professional learning communities, while at the same time superintendents ensure principals succeed.

Ongoing Learning. Principals should take an active role in their own professional growth, and determining what professional development will benefit them given their individual and school needs.

It is important for school districts to take it upon themselves to strengthen and experiment with principal selection methods for the benefit of student achievement and determining school success.