How the online MEd in Educational Leadership can prepare you for principalship

February 11, 2019 · 7 min read · By ASU Online

Good schools are built on the strength of their staff: principals, counselors, support staff and the like. Similarly, a good school district relies on support from strong directors and educational coordinators. These individuals provide the resources teachers need to assist their students and, in some cases, are also responsible for the school’s administrative structure, budgets and goals.


According to a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a strong principal can help a student achieve greater success in as little as one school year. Clearly, schools leaders are highly influential people, and it takes a specific person with the right skills and background to be successful.

An online master’s degree in educational leadership can help teachers, school counselors and other individuals with a background in education earn the knowledge and skills necessary to become effective, supportive principals, administrators, and other educational leaders. These programs cover subjects such as leadership, planning, communication, critical thinking, setting goals and many others. Students of these master’s programs can graduate ready to complete the requirements for state licensure.

Read on to see how online educational leadership programs can help you become a school administrator.

Prepare for a well-paying, in-demand career.

Principalship is one of the more lucrative careers in the K-12 environment. According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, principals of both public and private schools earned an average salary of $94,390 in 2017. In comparison, the average salaries for high school, middle school and elementary school teachers were $59,170, $57,720 and $56,900, respectively.

To provide a more comprehensive overview of how this field has changed, the NCES studied evolving trends in public and private school principal demographics and qualifications from the 1987-88 school year to the 2011-12 school year. Published in 2016, this research found that all principals earned higher salaries during the 2011-12 school year than in 1987-88 after adjusting for inflation. Per that data, the average salary for public elementary school principals increased from $80,600 to $92,600 over that time frame, while the salary for secondary school principals increased from $87,700 to $96,900.

In addition, the report showed that earning a master’s degree in educational leadership or education administration appears more critical to success in this field than ever — especially if you are new to the profession. For the 2011-12 school year, 67 percent of new public school principals had a master’s degree, compared to 53 percent of principals already in the field.

Finally, the BLS predicted the number of principal jobs will grow at a rate of 8 percent between 2016 and 2026.

Aside from a promising job outlook and a higher salary, becoming a principal can provide you with the pride of being an educational leader. These roles are very important to the success of schools, students and teachers. As such, they require a comprehensive set of skills that can be attained through higher education, helping principals to navigate the many intricacies of school administration.

Earn the skills to become a successful school leader

There are certain skills necessary to be an effective K-12 principal. These include:

  • Decision-making: As a principal, you will be responsible for the entire operation of a school. You must be able to analyze and coordinate a number of factors to set up the best possible outcomes. Such decisions can include spending, budgeting, hiring, disciplinary actions and more.
  • Critical thinking: Although the level of your involvement in curriculum creation may vary, such knowledge is helpful for analyzing testing methods and outcomes. You must be able to think critically to see if any administrative changes are necessary.
  • Communication: As a principal, you will be in constant contact with teachers, staff, parents and students. Each group requires a different style of communication.
  • Relationship building: Every student has unique interests and concerns, which sometimes conflict with those of their parents and teachers. In addition, school boards have their own goals and benchmarks. You will need to understand how to develop positive relationships with all groups involved. Interpersonal skills allow you to establish, nurture and sustain authentic relationships across various groups (for example, between teachers and parents) while still maintaining open communication with school boards.
  • Leadership: During your career, you’ll need to help guide your school through certain hardships (such as budget restraints) and, in some cases, make difficult decisions. It’s important that you engage in effective, constructive dialogue with teachers, parents and students when these situations arise. Not only will you be responsible for establishing school policies, but you will have to motivate staff to achieve set goals.
  • Problem-solving: It will be your job as principal to anticipate and resolve issues if and when they arise. Such issues could include policy changes, politics or resource constraints. Therefore, you must know how to analyze any problems, then develop and implement solutions.

Online educational leadership programs can help you develop these skills and more. A robust program includes classes and coursework on facilitating innovative education strategies in schools, analyzing data to reinforce student success, supporting and evaluating teachers and networking with peers and leaders to support schools.

The standard career path for principals

Most principals enter the field with a master’s degree in educational leadership or education administration. Their chosen degree program typically covers essentials such as management, setting goals, budget creation and parent communication.

To enter into a master’s of education program, you will generally need a bachelor’s in education, counseling or a similar field. Also, note that nearly all states require public school principals to become licensed as school administrators. The specific requirements vary by state, but most mandate a master’s degree.

While a master’s degree in educational leadership doesn’t automatically grant you the license you need, such programs do set the foundation necessary for licensure. They can also help you develop the knowledge needed to pass required tests.

Private school principals may not need a state license, but a master’s degree still helps them prepare for the role. It can also put them at the same educational level as others who may be competing for the position. If you’re interested in private school, a master’s degree in educational leadership can still be beneficial for that reason and for the education it provides.

Along with a master’s degree and professional license, the BLS found principals have an average of five or more years of work experience in a related occupation such as teaching, school counseling, curriculum development and more. The DOE’s research found this number to be slightly higher: public school principals averaged 7.2 years of experience while those at private schools averaged 10.8.

Earning a master’s in educational leadership online

As many principal hopefuls have full-time education jobs, the idea of leaving work to enter a full-time degree can be a challenge for some. At best, it presents scheduling issues, but it’s also likely that the lack of professional presence and experience can be detrimental to your future career. Luckily, Arizona State University offers a two-year online Master of Education in Educational Leadership (Principalship) program. Provided by the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, this program can prepare students to attain principal certification in Arizona and other states (interested individuals should refer to their state’s licensing requirements to ensure the ASU Online program is right for them).

Specifically, the ASU Online MEd in Educational Leadership (Principalship) program includes courses on topics such as:

  • School finances
  • Connecting with schools, families and communities
  • Leadership in curriculum and assessment
  • Educational administration performance

As a leader, you’ll play an integral part in steering a school or school district toward its ultimate goal: student success. A degree in educational leadership from ASU Online can be your next step on the path to this rewarding career. With this program, you can learn the skills needed to build effective, supportive relationships between parents, teachers, students and other administrators. Given that the number of school leaders with a master’s degree has increased, making the field more competitive, enrolling in the ASU program can give you a much-needed advantage.

If you’re interested, learn more about the MEd in Educational Leadership (Principalship) program from ASU Online.


Trends in Public and Private School Principal Demographics and Qualifications - 1987-88 to 2011-12 by the National Center for Education Statistics
Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals: Occupational Outlook Handbook by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
High School Teachers: Occupational Outlook Handbook by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Middle School Teachers: Occupational Outlook Handbook by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: Occupational Outlook Handbook by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
ASU Online – Master’s in Education Leadership Principalship (MEd)

A school principal meeting with a child and parent.
Educators meeting in a school classroom.


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