Report: The Making of the Principal: Five Lessons in Leadership Training


Principals: Leadership


Mitgang, L. ; The Wallace Foundation




The Wallace Foundation


States and districts facing pressure to have all children meet high standards have been paying overdue
attention to improving school leadership as a way to advance instruction and drive needed changes
throughout schools.
What will it take to ensure that all public schools have leaders equal to the challenges facing them?
That question has placed fresh urgency on addressing the chronic weaknesses of principal training
programs, criticized for decades as unselective in their admissions, academically weak and poorly con-
nected to school realities. Armed for the first time with compelling, research-validated examples of ef-
fective practices, more districts – especially large urban districts with the most acute needs – have been
investing in raising the quality of pre-service training and providing more rigorous mentoring and
other support to newly hired principals. And more states have been taking steps including tightening
accreditation rules and adopting new standards to push universities and other training providers to
improve their programs.
Some districts, such as Chicago and Denver, have collaborated with willing universities to design bet-
ter training for aspiring principals. Others, such as New York City, Boston and Gwinnett County, Ga.,
have formed their own training academies or are working with non-profit training providers to create
programs suited to their needs. It’s too soon to say for sure, but early evidence suggests payoffs for
schools might include lower principal turnover and higher student performance.
While these signs of heightened attention are encouraging, there is still a long way to go before the
majority of the nation’s aspiring principals get the training they need to succeed. Experience and new
research suggest that heeding the following five lessons could help propel many more districts toward
the goal of having strong leadership in every school:
1. a more selective, probing process for choosing candidates for training is the essen-
tial first step in creating a more capable and diverse corps of future principals.
2. aspiring principals need pre-service training that prepares them to lead improved
instruction and school change, not just manage buildings.
3. Districts should do more to exercise their power to raise the quality of principal
training, so that graduates better meet their needs.
4. States could make better use of their power to influence the quality of leadership
training through standard-setting, program accreditation, principal certification and
financial support for highly qualified candidates.
5. especially in their first years on the job, principals need high-quality mentoring and
professional development tailored to individual and district needs.


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