Leaders in the Tumult: Schooling Innovations and New Perspectives From a Year Interrupted

In this brief, principals recount how their schools changed in 2020–21 and reflect on which changes might endure.

What We Learned

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Of the innovations put in place to respond to the crises, principals say they will continue to use flexible staffing practices to hire and retain staff, including school nurses and school counselors; build partnerships with community and government agencies to help schools recover and strengthen mental health supports; and scale the use of remote instructional technology to supplement and extend learning.

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Ongoing challenges cited by principals include anticipated educator shortages due to low morale and early retirements, diversifying the teacher and principal pipeline, and healing fractured communities.

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Principals report that they had to shift priorities to respond to the crises and that they felt underprepared and undersupported for some of these responsibilities. They spent more time handling operations and management, providing a community of care for students, fostering professional community for teachers and staff, and meaningfully engaging families.

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As they work to help schools and students recover, principals report that they need policy support for more funding for school mental health supports; investing in the educator workforce to address potential shortages; reformulating accountability metrics to assess how well schools are supporting the whole child; ensuring that long-term school funding streams are in place to address ongoing social justice efforts and pandemic recovery; and updating principal preparation and professional learning so they are better prepared to manage change and uncertainty in the future.