“The job of a principal was very demanding before COVID and those demands have only increased because of the pandemic. To support leaders effectively, districts and networks need to restructure from the current model to be reflective of current conditions. We can’t continue to pile more and more responsibilities on leaders and still expect them to execute at a high level in all areas of the job.”
— Erin Slack, former principal, UChicago Charter School (Donoghue)
December 9, 2021
As a principal, it goes without saying that you have a seemingly endless number of responsibilities.
From overseeing school operations and finances and fostering relationships with the school community to identifying school successes and challenges and approving curriculum and coaching teachers — it’s up to you to make sure your students have the opportunity to thrive academically. And that doesn’t even include handling all of the unforeseen emergencies that arise each and every day.
The COVID-19 pandemic only made things more difficult. It exacerbated inequities that were already present in our nation’s school system and added an overwhelming number of new stressors on top off what was already an unsustainable job. Preliminary data from the past year show that, as a result, principals retired or resigned at double the pre-pandemic annual rate, which was already a cause for concern within the education sector.
Despite all of the grueling responsibilities, recent research confirms the vast potential of high-impact principals: a principal in the top 75th percentile of effectiveness has the potential to elevate student achievement in reading and math by almost three months.
So how do we provide the necessary support that empowers principals to sustain their important work and continue accelerating student achievement?
As we recover from the pandemic and move forward, we have a unique chance to reimagine how we support school leaders and make their jobs more human-centered and sustainable. And we have an opportunity to honestly put students first in our education system, giving them a diverse cadre of highly effective leaders the reflects the demographics of our schools and is equipped with the tools and resources for setting them up for success.
We are calling on everyone — from families and community leaders to politicians and business leaders — to take action to interrupt the challenges happening in education and the resulting negative effects on leadership sustainability.
In order to achieve a significant shift in principal sustainability, it will take more than band-aid supports and tweaks to a broken education system. We must reconnect with our principals and prioritize support and retention by:
Instituting distributive leadership and succession planning for every school so that every principal is backed up by a strong and supportive team
Employing needs-based funding, staffing, and resource allocation that leads to equity across schools
Creating a pipeline of leaders that reflects our country’s public school demographics and welcomes, includes, and values the experiences and expertise of leaders of color
Offering continuous professional learning for school leaders that helps them grow through the day-to-day challenges of the job
Our students depend on us to retain our best school leaders and train the next generation of great leaders. We all need to be willing to do the hard work of overhauling the entire system if we are going to achieve that goal. The time is now to make vital changes.