The Leaders we Need Now: Evolution of the Principalship

How have principals experienced changes in schooling over the last two years? To answer this question, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) launched Leaders We Need Now, a series of research reports on how the unprecedented crises and turmoil in 2020–21 have affected the work of principals and the impact these changes will have on the profession going forward. These reports, produced in partnership with researchers at the GTL Center, elevate school leaders’ voices while providing insights into the pandemic’s effects on the work of school principals.

The second brief in this series was recently released. Evolution of the Principalship: Leaders Explain How the Profession Is Changing Through a Most Difficult Year 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. Principals share how recent crises caused a layering effect of responsibilities and increased roles without support to meet new demands—illuminating why they feel burned out and shortages might be on the horizon.

The first brief in this series featured principals recounting how their schools changed in 2020–21 and reflecting on which changes might endure. The third and final brief, which will be released in early 2022, will detail 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.

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