Better Principal Prep Vital to School Improvement

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Just as teachers are the most important in-school factor influencing whether students achieve at high levels, so are principals pivotal to the way teachers practice and the level at which they perform their duty to their students. As the nation celebrates National Principals Month this October, it is important to recognize the relationship between effective school leadership and elevating student performance. A new report from The Wallace Foundation considers this relationship and offers suggestions for how best to prepare principals to provide the leadership schools need. The Wallace Foundation is sponsoring several sessions on school leadership at this year’s Ed Trust National Conference, Nov. 8-9, in Washington, D.C.

In The Making of the Principal: Five Lessons in Leadership Training, Wallace points out the traditional weakness of principal training programs, which have been “criticized for decades as unselective in their admissions, academically weak, and poorly connected to school realities.” In counterpoint, the report names districts where “research-validated examples of effective practices” have encouraged the districts to invest in improving the quality of pre-service training, and formalizing mentoring and other support. Some states have opted to make accreditation rules more stringent and are now prodding institutions to improve their training programs.

The five factors identified by Wallace research that positively shape the professional qualifications of aspiring principals include:

  • Increased selectivity in choosing candidates
  • Pre-service training in leading improved instruction and school change
  • Greater use of district influence to raise the quality of principal training programs
  • States setting higher standards, tightening program accreditation rules, certifying principals, and providing financial support for highly qualified candidates
  • Implementing high-quality mentoring and professional development, especially for new principals.

In recognition of how important it is to support principals in their efforts to provide high-quality school leadership, this year’s Ed Trust National Conference  features sessions designed to help them think about preparation, hiring strategies, retention strategies for top teachers, and implementing rigorous teacher evaluation systems.

Principals are key to creating a work environment that facilitates good teaching and learning, but they must bring more to their work than just a collection of skills. As authors Karin Chenoweth and Christina Theokas note in their book Getting It Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools, these instructional leaders play a huge role in setting “the vision that all children can learn,” and supporting teachers in identifying how that can be accomplished.

—Anneliese M. Bruner