Four Priorities to Support the Shifting Principal Profession

NAESP continues to bolster principal leadership after two challenging years

L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE

As I reflect on my time this summer connecting with principals from across the nation at NAESP’s annual Pre-K–8 Principals Conference in Louisville and the various state conferences that I attended, I am reminded of the strength and resilience of our nation’s school leaders.

Even after a period that most will remember as the most challenging of their careers, principals are supremely prepared to regain their footing and lead with grace, understanding what everyone—students, families, educators—has been through and the support they need to recover and thrive.

While principals are focused on helping students with their physical and emotional well-being and academic achievement, we at NAESP are committed to bolstering school leaders and the principal profession. Here are four priorities:

  1. The principal pipeline. To address the looming principal shortage, investments in the educator pipeline should be bolstered by strengthening pre-service preparation, expanding financial incentives, and enhancing support structures to attract new principals into the field and retain those currently leading schools.
  2. Principal preparation and professional development. The frequent disconnect between academic coursework and actual practices emphasizes principals’ need for on-the-job coaching and professional development. Specifically, pre-service, clinical-based practice opportunities should be boosted, and investments in professional development focused on job-embedded and cohort-based learning should be increased to help principals maximize their impact as instructional leaders.
  3. Principal wellness. The cumulative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting not only student mental health, but educator mental health. Solutions include networking and communities of practice; for example, Harmony Inspire offers educators an SEL cohort that can help cope with workplace stressors.
  4. Equity leadership. COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated longstanding inequities in achievement, digital access, and health care and nutrition. School principals are leaders in ensuring culturally responsive learning environments, and they can advance equity by exploring unconscious bias, conducting schoolwide equity audits, reviewing curricula, and promoting staff equity training.

We salute you and the work that you do—in the good times and the most challenging. Visit in October to find out who’s made our list of National Distinguished Principals for 2022, and discover some of the many ways to #ThankAPrincipal.

Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE, is executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.