Leaders We Need Now

This first-of-its-kind research shows the impact of the unprecedented crises of 2020–2021 on the principal profession and what principals need to help students and schools recover and succeed.

About the Series

In 2020–2021, school leaders confronted unprecedented turmoil and ambiguity as they responded to the pandemic, social injustice, and increased demands to address inequity. To better understand how those crises have changed the profession and how to meet the new needs of principals and schools, NAESP and the NAESP Foundation asked the American Institutes for Research to conduct focus groups of NAESP members between April and June 2021. The findings from the 36 focus groups with a geographically representative sample of 188 principals are included in a series of three briefs.

In the three briefs, principals recount how their schools changed in 2020–2021, speculate about which changes might endure, and identify new challenges associated with the changes; describe how the events of 2020–2021 shaped the priorities of their profession and what the principalship may look like in the future; and specify what their schools need from policymakers as they continue to grapple with the effects and aftershocks of the events of 2020 and early 2021. An executive summary, as well as the first two briefs, Leaders in the Tumult and Evolution of the Principalship, are available to download below. The third and final brief is set to be released in early 2022.

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Brief 1

Leaders in 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.

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Brief 2

Evolution of the Principalship: Leaders Tell Us How the Profession Is Changing Through a Most Difficult Year

The second brief examines the shifting priorities that confronted principals in 2020–21, including addressing the mental health needs of students and staff, managing multiple crises simultaneously, and communicating with increasingly politicized communities during a time of ambiguity and uncertainty.

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Brief 3

Principals’ Perspectives on Policy: What Education Leaders Seek Through Policy

The final brief details the policy actions that principals say are needed to address these new realities, help schools reset after the 2021–22 school year, support students, and build better schools for the years to come. The brief is accompanied by a short guide on the principal’s role in shaping policy.

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