Wanted: A Great Principal

As my school begins the process of hiring a new principal, here is an open letter highlighting the traits we hope to find in our new leader.

Dear Potential Principals,

Thanks for applying to work at our school! We are excited to meet you and excited that you have expressed an interest in becoming our leader. We understand that the next few weeks will be rather busy with the multi-layered interview process, and school and community visits. We are excited to see what you bring to the table.

Because, here’s the thing, you are applying for a position that is going to be really hard to fill.

It isn’t that our staff and students are difficult to work with; it’s that we are saying goodbye to a principal we are having a hard time imagining life without.  

Our retiring principal, Pam, is the perfect fusion of no nonsense leadership and compassion. She is the perfect blend of realism and affect. She will be sorely missed

So, in the interest of full disclosure, here are a few of the things we’ve come to expect of our principal. We don’t want to scare you away, but we want you to know that the bar has been set rather high. 

A great principal will lead by example

When our state adopted a new teacher evaluation system this past year, Pam volunteered to be one of the first administrators to be evaluated using the state rubrics. She wanted to see what it would feel like for herself so she could offer her insights about the process and help us understand what it would be like for us.

She willingly broke down the traditional barriers between a principal and her staff to show us how to take risks, which ultimately helped us to feel safer in a time of uncertainty.

A great principal will be as transparent as she can be

In Pam’s first year with us, our district suffered the greatest budget cut to date.  Instead of working the numbers out in isolation, she chose to be very transparent in her strategizing. She shared updates as often as she could and even allowed us to have input into various aspects of the process.

As she worked to make sure that our school could operate within the limitations that were set before us, she told us, and then showed us, that her greatest priority was her staff. She worked tirelessly to maintain our jobs through creative, solutions-oriented thinking and advocacy efforts.

In a time that could have been divisive and damaging to our school, we became a team under Pam’s leadership, working together to achieve the common goal of being the best school we could be, even in times of financial difficulty.

A great principal will collaborate

Pam came into our school eager to help us play to our strengths. Rather than having an agenda of self-glorification, she worked exhaustively to make what we do better. In all aspects of our system, she’s rolled up her sleeves to grapple towards greatness alongside us. 

She wasn’t afraid of strong voices. She celebrated good ideas and encouraged us to envision a great future for our students and ourselves. Because of this, our school is filled with teacher leaders working hard to change not only our school, but also our system, into something better.

Most importantly, though, she models the expectation that we should work hard when we’re at work, and be present in our personal lives when we aren’t. She sets high expectations for our professionalism, but also treats us like professionals who can be trusted to work hard while maintaining a balanced life.

A great principal will not be afraid to show how she feels about her staff, students, and community

Pam has led our school with enthusiasm and love, a fact that she publically announces as often as she gets the chance. She genuinely cares about each of us. 

When, over the course of her tenure, we suffered loss in our community, Pam cried with us. When we became the highest-ranking school in our district for graduation rates, Pam was our greatest cheerleader. She is often the first to laugh with us at the absurd challenges of our jobs or offer us chocolate when our day has been notably laughter free. Her door is almost always open and her heart is nearly always on her sleeve. 

A great principal will inspire

Ultimately, we are inspired to be better at what we do because we see Pam working so hard to be the best at what she does. All of the students know her well because she spends time in classrooms, hallways and at extracurricular events. She is the most engaged member of our school and is just as sad about leaving us as we are about her leaving. We wish her well in her retirement, but mourn the fact that we won’t be greeted each morning by her smile and support.

So, potential principals, we hope that this list inspires you as much as Pam has inspired us. We know that you will bring your own unique strengths to our school and are hopeful that we will be able to add to our list of character traits embodied by a great principal once you join our team.

Good luck with the interview process and we look forward to working with one of you next year!

The staff and students of Horizon High School

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  • Anonymous

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVE this letter

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVE this letter! It speaks volumes about your school.

    • @megfretz


      I avoided reading this because I knew it would make me cry. It did. Thank you for putting my thoughts on paper Jessica. 

  • Chris


    If only more building principals could be like Pam.  She is not only a great principal but a great human being.  The two should never be exclusive of one another but to often are.

  • Anil Kumar

    Thank you for the post…

    Dear Jessica Keigan

    Just the other day I created a kind of miniture version of your 'Wanted a Great Principal'. I should have waited until I came across your brilliant piece. 

    While I was reading it, I could clearly feel the kind of person and professional Ms. Pam and what kind of environment prevails in the Horizon High School. 

    I have been a Principal myself and don't think I can replace Ms. Pam. You school has been very lucky to have her. 

    Here is wishing you get someone to step into her shoes. 

    Ani Kumar


  • Jorge

    Wanted: A Great Principal

    Thank you for sharing!


  • Katie J.


    Great piece, Jessica! I worked for Pam and she sure does rock! In all the ways you described and more 🙂

  • Katie J.


    Great piece, Jessica! I worked for Pam and she sure does rock! In all the ways you described and more 🙂

  • eracio

    It sets the bar higher to

    It sets the bar higher to become even a greater leader and school. That's what education is all about. 

  • Kathy

    Pam is the real deal

    I have known your principal for over 25 years and, trust me, she is as caring and encouraging and fabulous with her family and friends as she is in her role as a principal. I have never known anyone to pour so much of herself into the success of those around her, never feeling the need to be the center of attention.  I am so proud to be her friend and so, so happy you wrote this about her. She deserves every accolade that will come her way.

  • Anoymous


    It resonates the culture of your wonderful school! Yur principal laid the foundation of a school culture where transparency and being in others' shoes have prority!

  • Laura Funk

    I mean she just cant leave

    No seriously, big shoes to fill :0)  Great article Jessica!  

  • Greg Whitby

    one addition in job position

    Fantastic with one addition a great principal knows what good learning and teaching is, what it looks like in practice, how to evaluate and discuss it and finally celebrate it