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15 Interview Questions Any School Principal Should Be Able to Answer
Adobe Stock / seanlockephotography
Laura Berlinsky-Schine
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Principals serve a vital role in their schools and communities. They’re arguably the most forward-facing position among school employees, and their job comes with a lot of pressure. 

They’re tasked with carrying forth the mission of the community, meeting the demands of parents, finding and supporting the most talented teachers, educating students and, most importantly, creating a safe and effective learning environment for everyone. 

It’s an enormous feat, and not everyone is up to the challenge. So, how do you find the ones who are? Here are 15 interview questions that will help you find the best leader for your school. Plus, if you’re a candidate for principalship, find out the best way to answer these questions.

Questions about policy.

1. How will you support and contribute to our school’s improvement plan?

Tips for answering:

  • Summarize the improvement plan to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework and know about the objectives.
  • Find ways that you can add to it without dismissing the work that’s already been done — you should augment the mission of the plan and school.
  • Use concrete examples.

Sample answer: “I admire what you’ve done with X, Y and Z, and based on what I’ve learned about the school, I think the best course of action would be to expand the advanced course offerings for students.”

2. Did you ever have to make a choice that received backlash? What happened, and what did you do?

Tips for answering:

  • Focus more on how you handled the decision than the decision itself — this is a question about how you think on your feet and handle difficult situations.
  • Walk the interviewers through your thought process to demonstrate your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

Sample answer: “As principal of X High School, I tightened the dress code restrictions. The students were unhappy, so I welcomed a representative from each class to meet with me to present their case. Ultimately, we reached a compromise.”

Questions about working with students.

3. What’s your philosophy on discipline?

Tips for answering:

  • Strike a balance between being a pushover and being too authoritarian.

Sample answer: “It’s important to hear the student — or teacher — out before coming to any decisions. I make it a policy to listen to both sides. If punishment is warranted, I try to come up with one that’s constructive and will help the student grow, such as writing a letter of apology for disrupting a class.” 

4. Describe a time you dealt with a situation that demanded sensitivity and understanding.

Tips for answering:

  • Acknowledge that principals are often tasked with dealing with this type of situation.
  • Be specific.
  • Show empathy, and describe any experience or education you have that has helped you approach these situations in a sensitive way.

Sample answer: “At my last school, there was a bullying problem. Working with the guidance counselor, I coordinated assemblies on creating a more inclusive atmosphere and instituted an open-door policy and a way for students to report incidents and voice feelings anonymously.”

5. How do you balance parent complaints and criticisms with your responsibility to the school?

Tips for answering:

  • Remember that your ultimate responsibility is to the school and its community — but that parents are part of that. 
  • Acknowledge that their opinions may be valid.

Sample answer: “I would acknowledge and welcome their perspectives and invite them to discuss their concerns in person. However, I would remind them that my responsibility is to the school and try to reach a compromise that satisfies both perspectives.”

6. On a similar note, how would you handle a parent request that went against your philosophy as an educator?

Tips for answering:

  • Be firm but polite.

Sample answer: “I would remind them of the school’s mission and my own as an educator, while being polite and acknowledging their perspective.”

7. How do you deal with difficult students?

Tips for answering:

  • Be careful with your language — acknowledge that the student may be dealing with outside issues and circumstances.

Sample answer: “The first step would be to meet with the student to see where they’re coming from. A lot of the time, the difficulties they present may be due to outside circumstances. If warranted, I would involve the parents.”

8. How do you see your role with regard to students?

Tips for answering:

  • This really depends on your personal philosophy, so answer honestly.

Sample answer: “I see myself as an educator first and foremost. As principal, I consider myself a leader, role model and advocate for students.”

Questions about working with teachers.

9. How do you help teachers develop professionally?

Tips for answering:

  • Be specific: what opportunities have you offered in the past?
  • Describe your role as a mentor.

Sample answer: “As a former teacher, I know how important it is to encourage and support educators, including new and experienced teachers. In the past, along with serving as an informal mentor, I’ve instituted a mentorship program in which veteran teachers work with newcomers. I’ve also allocated funding to teachers who want to attend conferences and workshops.”

10. Have you ever reprimanded a teacher? What did you do?

Tips for answering: 

  • Acknowledge that this is a difficult but sometimes necessary step.

Sample answer: “At my last school, a teacher let their frustration get to them and yelled at a class. I spoke with the teacher, and it turned out they were dealing with personal issues that affected their teaching. The teacher delivered an apology to the class, and I sat in on their classes for the next month, until it was clear that it was a one-time occurrence.”

11. How do you recruit new teachers?

Tips for answering:

  • Acknowledge the problem.
  • Acknowledge that it’s not up to you entirely, but you appreciate playing a role in the process.

Sample answer: “The teacher shortage is a huge problem, and it shouldn’t be considering all the talented educators out there. As part of the hiring team, I’d want to emphasize diversity as well as incentivize qualified candidates to choose this school by highlighting that we offer X, Y and Z. I’d also want to invest in professional development resources to retain teachers.”

General questions.

12. What would you prioritize as principal?

Tips for answering:

  • Research the school and its current priorities.
  • Emphasize efforts to which you could contribute.
  • Avoid speaking negatively about current priorities.

Sample answer: “I know that you’re currently building up your extracurricular programming. That would be one priority for me as principal — incentivizing more students to participate. I’d also want to focus on recruiting a more diverse faculty. I admire how you’ve done X, Y and Z already, and I’d want to build on those efforts.”

13. What would you change about this school?

Tips for answering:

  • Again, do your homework to know as much as possible about the school.
  • Frame your answer in a positive — don’t be negative about their current efforts, but focus on how you’d improve things.

Sample answer: “I admire the work you’ve done to build up your humanities programs, and I think the same dedication could be applied to your math and science curricula. Given how much STEM careers are emphasized today, I think we could build a stronger reputation as a school that develops future leaders in these fields.”

14. How do you see your role as a principal?

Tips for answering: 

  • Emphasize teamwork and leadership simultaneously.
  • Use examples.

Sample answer: “I see myself as a leader in the school community but also a team player. I make it a policy to welcome the opinions and voices of everyone, including teachers and students. At my previous school, I had an anonymous suggestion box and had teachers take turns running meetings.”

15. How do you emphasize diversity?

Tips for answering:

  • Mention both teachers and students.
  • Explain why diversity is important.

Sample answer: “Our main goal as educators is to help students grow, and exposure to different perspectives and backgrounds is a huge part of that. Diversity should be a priority at any school. One of the ways I’ve tried to support and promote it in the past is by incorporating days to celebrate different cultures and backgrounds, where students and teachers share traditions and experiences with one another.”

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