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.

Preparing and Sustaining School Principals

AACTE brings you our second podcast dedicated to
supporting the often-unsung heroes in our education system; our principals. With support from the Wallace Foundation, this podcast will dig into research from the Wallace’s Knowledge Center for School Leadership through interviews with researchers like Linda Darling-Hammond, Ed.D., as well as the practitioners and principal preparation leaders who are implementing findings from that research to good use. Over the next five episodes, we will discuss topics like how to prepare principals to be equitable in a climate of censorship, what type of preparation matters when principals are called to be crisis leaders, and how principal candidates view their preparation and future roles as school and community leaders.

Episode 1 – What Makes an Effective Principal?

The Wallace Foundation’s Knowledge Center on School Leadership released a report, Developing Effective Principals: What Kind of Learning Matters, synthesizing two decades of research on principal pre-service preparation and professional development. In this episode, we discuss the critical themes of the report with experts and practitioners, including lead author Linda Darling-Hammond, all of whom emphasize the importance of equity and diversity throughout principal preparation and how students, families, communities, and districts benefit when it’s centered.

Episode 2 – What Do School Districts Need in their Principal Pipelines?

Explore the unique skills needed for principals in rural and mixed districts in this episode of AACTE PRESENTS: Presents and Sustaining School Principals.  District leaders highlight their challenges, chief amongst them hiring and retaining trained principalsLearn about successful programs preventing burnout, including an aspiring administrator initiative, gain insights from one superintendent’s experiences in a small rural district, and reflect on applications of principal pipeline research like the Wallace Foundation and Policy Study Associate’s Report: Planning and Developing Principal Pipelines: Approaches, Opportunities, and Challenges.  For resources related to principal pipelines, reference this episode’s show notes 


Revolutionizing Education Through School Leadership Research

Revolutionizing Education Through School Leadership ResearchSchool leadership is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning, and school leader preparation programs play a key role in facilitating that success. As the leading voice in educator preparation, AACTE, with support from the Wallace Foundation, 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. This new podcast series, which highlights cutting edge research from the Wallace Foundation’s Knowledge Center on School Leadership, is one of those collaborative initiatives.

Episode 1: How Do Principals Affect Student and Schools?

In the first episode, AACTE speaks with the lead author of the Wallace commissioned report, How Principals Affect Students and Schools: A Systematic Synthesis of Two Decades of Research. Released in February 2021, this report summarizes the connection between school leadership and school outcomes, as evidenced by research advances that haven’t been properly synthesized since 2004. Lead author, Jason Grissom, a Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Public Policy and Education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, walks through the major landscape shifts in the past 20 years, with key insights into how preparation programs can be effective, equitable leaders.

Episode 2: How Do Assistant Principals Affect Student and Schools?

AACTE speaks with lead author, Ellen Goldring, of the Wallace commissioned report released in April 2021, The Role of Assistant Principals: Evidence and Insights for Advancing School Leadership. In AACTE’s conversation with Goldring, she discusses how the role of AP has evolved, and therefore, how educator preparation professionals should evolve their training of them. The current climate expects principals to be superhuman if they are to be effective, which is why it is more important than ever to rethink how to position APs to drive student achievement and equitable school culture.

Episode 3: State Policy Affecting School Leadership Pipelines

AACTE spoke with the Paul Manna, author of the Wallace commissioned report released in October 2021, How Can State Policy Support Local School Districts as They Develop Principal Pipelines?. Manna is an Isabelle and Jerome E. Hyman Distinguished University Professor and the director of public policy at William & Mary University. In this episode, he summarizes the state policy levers that can be pulled to improve principal pipelines and preparation programs and the extent to which they are effectively being used.

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.

View all episodes.


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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