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3 rules to help school principals

Guiding Principals to Success: 3 Essential Rules to Follow

The best principals are more than instructional leaders. They’re people leaders.
3 minutes

Over the past 50 years as an education executive recruiter, I’ve scouted for principals who had the potential to succeed in central office positions and as superintendents. 

My experience has led me to some conclusions about what it takes for a principal to thrive — whether they’re seeking a future in district administration or working to create the best possible school environment for their community. 

Here are three rules I’ve seen principals follow to find success:

1. Principals must be leaders, not simply managers

Forging true partnerships with parents, students, and teachers is an essential skill for success as a principal. While principals are the chief learning officers of their campuses, they must be first and foremost “people leaders.” 

To be an effective leader, principals require strong situational awareness, the ability to foster trust with others, and the power to inspire their teachers, staff and students. What were once considered “soft skills” are now essential for success as a principal.

2. Principals must embrace customer service 

National political polarization can be felt in our schools. In this fragile climate, one misguided tweet or blog post can lead to a crisis. 

There is no single solution to these issues, and they won’t be solved in a day. But there is one key step principals can take at the individual school level to ease concerns and build a brighter future: a focus on delivering superior customer service.

As stated by Maya Angelou, “People may forget what you said to them or what you did for them, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.” 

This is a sentiment successful school principals take to heart. Superior customer service is about more than simply answering parent questions and concerns. It’s about taking time to show you care about your community.

3. In today’s complex environment, principals must find the right tools to help them succeed. 

In my 50 years of doing this work, I have been asked to partner with many solution providers. The first and only one I have embraced is K12 Insight — which provides the only all-in-one, customer experience and intelligence platform built for K-12 schools. 

If schools can master the art and science of delivering superior customer experiences — every day and in every interaction — principals will be able to face challenges with strong community support. 

Because this is easier said than done, it’s critical for principals to embrace platforms like Let’s Talk to streamline communications and save staff time — and, most importantly, demonstrate you are eager to engage with your stakeholders.     

As part of your professional learning and growth, I strongly suggest you connect with K12 Insight to learn how a focus on customer service could impact your school district. 

Request a no-obligation consultation to learn how Let’s Talk can help you streamline communications and save staff time — and, most importantly, show you’re eager to engage with your district community.  

By Gary Ray
Gary Ray has been an education executive leadership recruiter since 1974. His experience working with school districts and boards across the country has helped him develop a rare national perspective that offers insight to education professionals nationwide. He is the president of GR Recruiting.
Originally published November 3, 2022 Last updated January 2, 2024