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The Principal Thing

Principal leadership is a hot topic in education these days. We spend a lot of time talking about teacher effectiveness, but successful schools also require excellent principals, who can (among other things) set a culture in the school for student success and provide strong adult leadership that both supports and drives effective teaching. (And I'll admit that, as the daughter of a now-retired high school principal, I've got a bit of a soft spot for principals :).

In a new policy brief published by the Foundation for Child Development, I look specifically at the importance of principals for creating quality Prek-3rd early learning schools. In many ways, the skills principals need to be effective are the same across grade levels: Principals need to be strong instructional leaders, they need strong adult leadership skills, and they need to be able to effectively recruit, select, and manage high-quality human capital. But to be effective in early childhood and elementary settings, principals also need a deep knowledge of young children's development and how they learn. Unfortunately, the way we currently select, prepare, and structure the jobs of principals falls short on both counts. In particular, even though many schools today include pre-k students, elementary principals often don't have any background or knowledge about effective instruction for preschoolers--and that undermines their ability to fully take advantage of pre-k to improve longer term learning.

This policy brief looks at why effective instructional leadership matters in the early grades, what it looks like, how the current system falls short, and some steps policymakers and practitioners can take to improve.

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