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Principal Professional Development: New Opportunities for a Renewed State Focus
Feb 2017

The Issue
Again and again, states and districts have focused on teachers rather than principals when making policy and allotting funds and resources for professional development and support.

Principals’ groups and other educators have long lamented that school leaders are often absent from the policymaking process or included as afterthoughts. But many aspects of learning are influenced by the quality of a school’s leader. After all, principals recruit, retain, and support quality teachers, and research shows that quality teachers are the most important element in student success. School leaders influence student learning, the strength of the teachers, and the health of the school environment. And it is the principal who leads and oversees change at the school level. Principals’ continuous improvement and learning is important for student and teacher learning, policy implementation, and cultivating healthy and supportive school communities.

There has never been a more perfect time to spotlight principals and their professional learning. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers new opportunities for districts and states to reconsider the way they develop and support school principals. In addition, the new Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) provide a set of foundational principles of what school leaders should know and be able to do that states and districts can look to as a framework to guide their own school leadership policy and practice. The PSEL standards, released in October 2015, updated the previous set of school leadership standards (i.e., the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium [ISLLC]), which had not been updated since 2008, and represent the latest evidence about how and in what ways effective leadership contributes to teaching and learning.

The Research
Research about the importance of school leaders for teaching and learning is compelling. But for principals to be effective and continue to grow, they need access to ongoing, high-quality professional learning. And we know that today’s principals have too few opportunities to hone their craft and focus on improving key practices for teaching and learning.

Research is still emerging (particularly research with strong methodological techniques) on how principals influence teaching and learning. However, collectively, studies discussed in this brief point to the important role of school principals.

The Options
Policymakers should rethink ways to develop and support their school principals through research-based, on-the-job training—aligned to what they need to do their jobs every day. This brief offers two entry point options for states to consider—the new PSEL standards and the new principal training opportunities in ESSA.

The PSEL standards emphasize what principals need to know to build effective staffs and advance student learning. ESSA provides numerous, specific opportunities for states and districts to use Title funds to support principals’ ongoing training and development. 

View the full brief.

Further reading:
New, Needed Principals' Standards Are Coming. Now What?
How can new standards have the strongest effect on school leadership?



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