NAESP and the American Institutes for Research Join Forces to Conduct Leaders We Need Now Study

The study of more than 200 principals aims to pinpoint how their professional lives, priorities, and supports are changing as public schools shift from pandemic response to recovery.

Leaders We Need Now

Alexandria, VA—January 27, 2021—As the nation begins to recover from the global pandemic, we need good information on what principals have done to navigate the crisis and what they plan to do in the months and years ahead. Now more than ever, school principals are vital to student development, school safety, and educational equity. Here’s why:

  • Principals are second only to teachers in their influence on student learning;
  • Principals establish conditions for a strong school culture and trust in schools;
  • Principals strongly influence teachers’ decisions to join or leave schools; and
  • Principals influence teachers’ instructional choices and access to instructional materials.

In 2020, principals were called upon to lead differently. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, saw nearly 75 percent of public schools transition between online, hybrid, and in-person learning. Examples of social injustice coupled with the pandemic put existing inequities into stark relief and renewed school leaders’ social justice efforts.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) have launched the Leaders We Need Now study to provide principals and other leaders information about how principals’ work has changed—and what needs to change—in 2021 and beyond. The study addresses the following key questions:

  • How have principals’ work and priorities changed in 2020?
  • What changes do principals consider indelible, and which ones are temporary?
  • What have principals relied upon to support changes in their practice, and what gaps or challenges have they faced?

The mixed methods study will engage over 200 public elementary school principals from across the U.S. in conversation about their work and the future of the principalship. The study sample will be randomly selected from NAESP’s 17,000 members. The project will release several briefs in spring and summer 2021 that will address how principals’ roles have shifted in response to the global pandemic and renewed calls for social justice.

Funded by The Joyce Foundation, the study will provide actionable information to principals, policymakers, and researchers to inform leadership practices beyond the initial health crisis and support principal professional development and preparation in the future.