School Leadership

Strong school leadership is widely recognized as pivotal for school improvement. Particularly critical are principals who foster a culture of learning, manage a complex web of responsibilities, and inspire teachers and students to do their best work. As demands for accountability have grown, policy makers have increasingly turned to principals to carry out programs and policies designed to lift achievement. Often these new assignments add demanding and time-consuming duties to the already full days of school leaders. Never simple, the principal’s job is now at risk of becoming so taxing that conscientious principals will eventually burn out and quit.

The role of school leaders has changed enormously in recent decades, with the focus shifting from building management to instructional leadership. Principals do not work in a vacuum. They are at the heart of overlapping networks of support. They support teachers and other staff at their schools – as a trainer, mentor, and resource manager, to name a few activities -- and work collaboratively with them to create a productive culture. Leaders and leadership teams also reach out to families and other stakeholders in their communities to facilitate understanding and support for their schools. Leaders also need support from their districts along with sufficient budgetary and instructional flexibility, as appropriate, to try innovative ideas and respond to the specific needs of their students and communities. States also can provide support by being mindful of the workload of principals when adopting new policies and providing clear, evidence-based standards for licensure, evaluation, and training. Trust and buy-in are crucial at all levels of these inter-relationships.

A growing body of high-quality research is identifying the characteristics of successful principals and leadership models and the circumstances in which they are most likely to thrive. States and districts can draw on these findings when considering policies that will affect the job descriptions and workloads of school leaders.

The link below leads to a policy brief on the changing role of principals and highlights of recent research into the demands of the job.

Stressing Out Superman: Increasing Job Requirements Risks Pushing Principals to the Brink