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Position Description:  elementary school principal

The position of the elementary school principal exists to provide leadership and expertise for the purpose of educating children in an ever-changing world. It is both broad based and functional. The broad leadership aspect shapes the quality and character of the institutions, while the functional leadership defines the performance within that institution. Principals influence school cultures by building a vision, stimulating innovation, and encouraging performance. They “make things happen” and ensure that the organization’s tasks are accomplished.

A principal must have knowledge of educational administration based on academic disciplines as well as applied professional practice. Although the educational administration field relies on a number of disciplines for concepts and methods, it depends upon practice in school settings for focus and relevance.

The job role and responsibilities exist regardless of the type of principalship, school size, or its geographic location. While there are degrees of commonality among schools, the role of the elementary school principal must, of necessity, be shaped by the conditions of the particular situation in which the principal functions.

The role of the principal has become increasingly more demanding. Currently role expectations for principals include building manager, instructional leader, community and public relations guru, fundraiser, and visionary along with legislation proposing contractual ties to the academic success of each child. (Farkas, Johnson, Duffett, & Foleno, 2001).

Once viewed as simply a school manager, the principal remains a point person on facilities oversight. The responsibilities gradually have increased and today the principal is responsible for instructional improvement, staff development, curriculum design, development and implementation of site-based decision-making plans, and complex discipline and school safety issues. Current and future principals will have to understand how to deal with an ever-widening scope of issues, including diversity, emerging research findings on brain functioning, technology, community relations, and competition from charter schools (Ferradino, 2001).

The elementary school principalship is one of the most difficult professions for which to establish a set on continuous guidelines because of ever-changing social, political, and community issues as well as research evidence that pushes the profession to continually reinvent itself. This position description for elementary school principals is intended to provide a resource model to principals throughout the state of Minnesota to aid them in developing their own local position descriptions. It is recognized that these local efforts must take place within the scope of existing school board policies. This resource model is conceived within the framework of federal laws and the state statutes that pertain to education.

The responsibilities of the principalship fall within five major areas:
1. Educational Leadership
2. Communication
3. School and Community Relations
4. Interaction with Students
5. Other Management Issues

The philosophy expressed in this position description is taken from Standards for What Principals Should Know and Be Able to Do (NAESP, 2002); and from research presented in the NCREL policy issues publications.

Educational Leadership
The elementary school principal will:

  • demonstrate ethical and professional standards;
  • facilitate the vision of shared leadership at the school site;
  • provide learner-centered leadership for staff and students;
  • oversee the daily operations to meet building and student goals;
  • understand the dynamics of change and the change process;
  • demonstrate and allow for creativity;
  • work to hire and retain high-quality staff and provide appropriate supervision that will ensure professional growth;
  • develop and follow a personal professional growth plan; and
  • monitor student learning.

The elementary school principal will work with staff to:

  • develop a building vision that sets high expectations for students and staff;
  • use multiple sources of data to develop a plan for the improvement of student achievement;
  • provide appropriate educational opportunities for all students;
  • plan and implement staff development opportunities for all staff members; and
  • align and implement National/State standards and assessments within the curriculum.

The elementary school principal will:

  • clearly articulate the school’s vision and mission;
  • communicate to the appropriate audience in an effective and timely manner using a variety of methods;
  • develop and maintain an atmosphere of openness, confidentiality, and trust;
  • be clear and concise in written and oral language, using authentic common language, understandable to all stakeholders, with correct grammar;
  • adapt communication style to meet the needs of the audience;
  • demonstrate a willingness to work together to reach resolution;
  • use appropriate cultural and gender-based norms in communication; and
  • use humor generously and appropriately.

School/Community Relations
The elementary school principal will:

  • maintain a positive school climate and school morale;
  • model shared leadership and decision-making strategies;
  • exemplify a positive relationship with staff, students, parents (families), and community;
  • develop collaborative efforts between the school and community;
  • engage the community to build greater ownership for the work of the school;
  • encourage and develop parent/guardian involvement/partnerships; and
  • deal effectively with the media.

Interaction with Students
The elementary school principal will:

  • develop and implement a positive, effective student management system;
  • maintain a safe learning environment for all students;
  • create and foster a community of learners; and
  • work to see that the needs–enrichment, remediation, special education–of all students are being met.

Other Management Issues
The elementary school principal will:

  • prioritize issues that arise on a daily basis;
  • develop and implement effective student discipline plans;
  • develop and implement building emergency plans;
  • work with district and building staff to develop building budgets for the effective use of resources;
  • be aware of legal policies regarding, but not limited to, documentation and record retention, data privacy, and IDEA;
  • develop plans for securing and allocating financial and human resources and assure that resources are used to meet high standards;
  • manage the physical plant operation and planning;
  • be aware of the bargaining units’ contracts;
  • work with student transportation; and
  • work with staff to develop building schedules.

Adopted:  MESPA Board of Directors
May 7, 2004

Farkas, S., Johnson, J., Duffett, A. & Foleno, F. (with Foley, P.) (2001). Trying to stay ahead of the game: Superintendents and principals talk about school leadership. New York: Public Agenda. Retrieved July 12, 2003 from

Ferrandino, V. L. (2001, February). Challenges for 21st century elementary school principals. Phi Delta Kappa, 82(6), 440-442.

National Association of Elementary School Principals (2002). Standards for what principals should know and be able to do. Alexandria, VA: NAESP.

Get Acrobat Reader  Core_Leadership_Competencies.pdf  
Detailed matrix aligning courses and other required experiences with 13 core leadership competencies required for all Minnesota education administrators.


Core Leadership Competencies
Minnesota licensure for all education administrators requires core leadership competencies in 13 categories:
  • Leadership
  • Organizational Management
  • Diversity Leadership
  • Policy and Law
  • Political Influence and Governance
  • Communication
  • Community Relations
  • Curriculum Planning and Development for the Success of All Learners
  • Instructional Management for the Success of All Learners
  • Human Resources Management
  • Values and Ethics of Leadership
  • Judgment and Problem Analysis
  • Safety and Security
Additional competencies are required for principals in:  Instructional Leadership, Monitoring Student Learning, and K-12 Leadership.

For a detailed matrix aligning courses and other required experiences with core leadership competencies, scroll to the document below. The document is from the Minnesota Licensure Program Approval Process on the Minnesota Board of School Administrators Web site.