Thinking About Becoming a Principal?

Everything you need to know about the different kinds of leadership effective principals leverage and what to look for in a principal preparation program.
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Been thinking about becoming a principal? Wondering if you could lead a school? Our schools need strong educators who want to deepen and expand their leadership. It’s not all innate. We know leadership can be learned because we train education leaders all over the country. With more and more educators leaving the field, perhaps this is your moment to step forward.

So what does it take to be a successful school leader?

When New Leaders started, we asked the same question. We wanted to know why some principals saw sustained school improvement and others, not so much. So we examined more than 100 of the highest performing schools in the country. We zeroed in on common practices across the schools—regardless of size, location, or student demographics—and then pinpointed how top leaders contribute to student success.

It turns out transformational school leadership isn’t just one thing. Effective school leaders leverage many different kinds of leadership to drive school improvement and accelerate student learning. They make decisions all day long, big and small, that reflect their values and belief that all children are capable of extraordinary things. As a principal, you’ll need to do the same.

Below is an evidence-based list of the different leadership approaches needed in our schools—and are outlined in depth in New Leaders Transformational Leadership FrameworkTM. Successful school leaders leverage every kind of leadership—from adaptive to instructional, interpersonal to talent management—to remove barriers to student success. 

Think about which kinds of leadership come naturally to you and which present an opportunity for growth:

Instructional Leadership

Setting a vision for effective instruction and high expectations and ensuring all school practices are in line with that vision, including an aligned college-ready curriculum, consistent and high-quality classroom practices that focus on student-centered instruction, and the use of diverse student data to drive instructional improvement.

Equity-Focused Leadership

Continuously dismantling inequitable and exclusionary practices and creating a fully inclusive environment where all children and adults learn at high levels

Adaptive Leadership

Mobilizing others to resolve challenges that require changes in values, beliefs, assumptions, and habits of behavior 

School Culture Leadership

Fostering an intellectual and caring culture of deep learning, inquiry, and curiosity via high expectations, shared accountability, and meaningful stakeholder engagement 

Technical Leadership

Creating and sustaining successful structures and equitable allocation of resources that support learning and culture for all members of the school community 

Distributed Leadership

Building high-performing teams and sharing decision-making with the school community to fuel a sense of collective efficacy 

Resilient Leadership

Demonstrating self-awareness, ongoing learning, and resiliency in the service of continuous improvement 

Armed with that self-knowledge and awareness, you want to find the principal preparation program that is right for you. The best programs are both comprehensive in their approach to all the leadership skills needed and flexible enough to tailor to your learning needs, enabling you to hone in on your strengths and grow in the areas you most need to be an effective school leader. The best programs also include job-embedded opportunities. A residency experience, for example, allows you to apply your coursework and professional learning right away in a real school setting. And one-on-one coaching from leaders offers you actionable feedback to improve. 

Our new National Aspiring Principals Fellowship offers both: a residency experience and coaching in an online principal certification and/or master’s degree program. We’ve integrated our 20+ year research and evidence base with the equity-centered conceptual frameworks of two prestigious historically Black institutions, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College. Together, we’re preparing the next generation of equity-focused leaders. 

Could this be you?

Are you ready to build schools in which students and adults thrive?

Think about it: A teacher impacts 20-30 students. But a principal impacts upwards of 500 students (on average) every year—contributing to up to three additional months of learning for students—and creates the conditions that attract, value, support, and retain effective teachers. Research shows that a strong, equity-minded school leader accounts for about 25% of a school’s impact on student learning. That kind of leadership is transformational.   

If you already have a track record of success in driving student achievement gains, perhaps this is your moment. Answer the call to lead today. 

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