Principal Preparation

Principals’ leadership is a critical factor in schools’ success, and school leader preparation programs play a key role in facilitating that success. Specific strategies and resources can support the growth of a strong pipeline of principals who are able to lead teaching and learning in today’s schools.

Understanding principal preparation programs and their benchmarks for quality is a critical aspect of AACTE’s current work. With support from The Wallace Foundation, AACTE engages higher education and PK-12 partners in research, professional development opportunities, and collaborative initiatives focused on strengthening the quality and effectiveness of principal preparation programs.

AACTE is committed to supporting its members in delivering high-quality school leader preparation programs.


The University Principal Preparation Initiative Podcast

The University Principal Preparation Initiative (UPPI) PodcastThis podcast chronicles the multi-year principal program redesign initiative undertaken by the Wallace Foundation: The University Principal Preparation Initiative (UPPI), in which seven principal preparation programs were partnered with districts, state policymakers, and a mentor program. The AACTE Presents: The University Principal Preparation Initiative, highlights key insights and innovations from several of those programs through interviews with UPPI directors and prep program consumers at both the student and district levels. This podcast is designed to inspire learning opportunities and educational partnerships among AACTE members and stakeholders, to create highly trained and qualified principals who will influence and shape their learning communities.

Episode 1: Why Focus on Principals?

School leadership is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning, according to research. The Wallace Foundation’s Knowledge Center on School Leadership includes decades of research and institutional knowledge on the principalship, and with the ever present focus on improving schools in our country, the findings from its multi-year initiative to redesign principal preparation programs couldn’t be more timely. In this first episode, AACTE talks to Rochelle Herring, a senior program officer in education at The Wallace Foundation, with extensive experience working with school districts in various roles about they “why” behind investing in the principalship as an effective and strategic way to multiply positive student outcomes. Read the full report of the Launch of the University Principal Pipeline Initiative (UPPI) .


Episode 2: Gaps in the Journey to Becoming a Principal

While the role of the principal remains essential, it has evolved over time. Throughout its evolvement, preparation programs, districts and state policy makers have worked in silos, creating gaps between the skills learned in an educator leadership program and what a principal actually does at their job. In this episode, we learn what the research says about what the gaps between “learning” and “doing” are and how to address them. Then we hear about how those findings are seen and implemented through the eyes of one of the University Principal Preparation Initiative’s project director, Tim Drake, an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy at NC State University. Drake completed his Ph.D. in education policy studies at Vanderbilt University, and he has an M.Ed. in international education policy and management from Vanderbilt and a B.A. in history teaching from Brigham Young University. He studies the policies and practices that influence the effectiveness of school leaders. Specifically, Drake works at the intersection of research, policy, and practice to inform the ways in which school leaders are trained and supported. His current research projects include educator data use, leadership preparation and development, early grades/pre-K leadership, and turnaround school leadership.


AACTE’s Wallace Foundation Grant

The Wallace Foundation logoExcellent school leadership is essential to school quality, educator satisfaction, and teacher effectiveness. The Wallace Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports efforts nationwide to improve school leadership, has awarded AACTE grants to serve as a communications partner for these initiatives. In this role, AACTE engages in disseminating research and other resources about education leadership as well as the promising practices emerging from the initiatives. AACTE has hosted webinars, organized sessions at the Annual Meeting, assisted in research efforts, and published blogs and other materials related to this work. The research report from the Rand Corporation, Principal Pipelines: A Feasible, Affordable, and Effective Way for Districts to Improve Schools, released in April 2019, found that newly placed principals in pipeline-district schools outperformed comparison schools in other districts.

Principal Pipeline Initiative

In 2010, The Wallace Foundation, launched the Principal Pipeline Initiative. This 6-year investment provided grants to six school districts—Prince Georges County (MD), Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC), Denver (CO), New York City, Hillsborough (FL), and Gwinnett County (GA)—to strengthen their local systems’ ability to prepare, hire, and continually develop a strong corps of school leaders. AACTE received a grant to serve as one of the Wallace communications partners for the initiative. In this role, AACTE engaged in disseminating research and other resources about education leadership as well as the promising practices emerging from the initiative.

University Preparation Program Initiative

The Wallace Foundation announced a major new initiative in 2016 to support the redesign of higher education-based programs for preparing school leaders. Investing $47 million over 5 years, the University Preparation Program Initiative brings together selected institutions and school districts to share best practices and develop more effective principal training.

The initiative builds on 15 years of Wallace-funded programming and research on school leadership, including the Principal Pipeline Initiative. AACTE also was one of four organizations tapped by Wallace to conduct surveys, literature reviews, and other work to inform the new initiative, summarized in the report Improving University Principal Preparation Programs: Five Themes From the Field, released at the 2016 AACTE Annual Meeting. The report Launching a Redesign of University Principal Preparation for Change, released in October 2018, describes the first year of the effort and how universities and their partners succeeded in establishing strong working relationships and being planning a redesign of their programs.

School Leadership Resources

Several organizations and associations provide resources for research, guidance, and tools that you can use to develop your school leadership course work and ensure programs are effective at meeting the needs of today’s PK-12 learners.

The Wallace Foundation – School Leadership More than a decade’s worth of school leadership research.

University Council for Educational Administration This consortium of higher education institutions is committed to advancing the preparation and practices of effective educational leaders.

Center for Educational Leadership – University of Washington This center provides support to staff at every level of a school district to improve the principal pipeline.

National Association of Elementary School Principals NAESP supports elementary school principals with professional development opportunities.

National Association of Secondary School Principals NASSP provides resources and professional development to school leaders in middle schools and high schools.

Principal Preparation Webinars

What Should High-Quality Principal Preparation Programs Look Like
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From Teacher to Principal: Educational Leadership Tracking System
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Successful University and District Partnerships for Preparing Principals
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The Challenges and Successes of Principal Recruitment and Retention
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