As principals and assistant principals prepare for the upcoming school year, the 2021 National Principals Conference (NPC21) provides a time for renewal, engagement, community, and great professional learning from fellow school leaders. The July 14–16 event is virtual and will feature networking, expert-led courses, and breakout sessions. Keynote speakers will address equity, innovation, and wellness: the conference’s three program strands.  


This past year, racial justice protests have prompted an examination of biases and systemic racism in our institutions, including K–12 schools. How to ensure equitable educational opportunities and foster inclusive learning environments have become pressing concerns for school leaders seeking guidance.

Our Equity keynote speaker, Dena Simmons, EdD, can help.  The founder of LiberatED—an anti-racist approach to social-emotional learning and healing, Dr. Simmons is the former assistant director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. She has extensive experience supporting schools to use the power of emotions to create a more compassionate and just society. A former educator, teacher educator, diversity facilitator, and curriculum developer, she is the author of numerous articles on social justice pedagogy, diversity, emotional intelligence, and bullying in schools. She has delivered two TEDx talks, a TED talk on Broadway, as well as presentations at the White House, the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit, and the United Nations.

For community members to thrive, Dr. Simmons says they must feel comfortable to be who they are, and that school leadership, instruction, and assessment must foster psychological and emotional safety. In her keynote session Wednesday, July 14, “From Striving to Surviving: Creating Equitable Environments,” she will discuss how the intersection of emotionally intelligent and culturally relevant practices can create equitable and welcoming learning communities for everyone.


The education landscape underwent significant transformation in response to the pandemic, calling into question traditional education practices such as grading and assessment. What will such practices look like as educators move forward? How can they be improved to better serve our students and schools?

Our Innovation keynote speaker, Joe Feldman, has worked in education for over 20 years as a teacher, principal, and district administrator. He is the founder and CEO of Crescendo Education Group, which supports K–12 schools, districts, and colleges and universities to improve grading and assessment practices. Crescendo has partnered with the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of Independent Schools, and Stanford University’s Challenge Success. Feldman is the author of Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms.

In his keynote session Thursday, July 15, “Grading for Equity: What Is It, and What Does It Mean Post-Pandemic?,” Feldman will provide a brief overview of the history of grading in this country and how the continued use of traditional assessment practices negatively impacts teaching and learning, raises stress levels, and perpetuates achievement disparities. He will also introduce a framework for equitable grading and explain its benefits for teachers and students.


Whether schools offered virtual, hybrid, or in-person learning this past year, wellness was a top priority for school leaders. While ensuring the social and emotional health of students and staff as well as their physical safety amid COVID-19, principals and assistant principals likely overlooked the need to prioritize their own self-care. 

Our Wellness keynote speaker, Elena Aguilar, is a writer, leader, teacher, coach, and podcaster. She is the author of six highly acclaimed books: The Art of CoachingThe Art of Coaching TeamsOnward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in EducatorsThe Onward WorkbookCoaching for Equity, and The Art of Coaching Workbook. She is also a frequent contributor to Edutopia, ASCD’s Educational Leadership, and Education Week. Aguilar is the founder and president of Bright Morning Consulting, an organization committed to helping individuals and organizations create the conditions for transformation to build a more just and equitable world. She is also a certified mindfulness meditation teacher.

During times of crisis and uncertainty, leadership that is courageous, responsive, and emotionally attuned to others is needed. In her Friday, July 16 session, “How to Foster Leadership and Resilience in These Times,” Aguilar will explore what leaders can say and do to embody this kind of leadership and how they can draw on their internal reserves of strength to lead in this way. 

Learn more about our three keynote speakers, and plan to attend the virtual 2021 National Principals Conference, featuring 50+ concurrent sessions on equity, innovation, and wellness. Together, we will collectively refine our practice with the knowledge and strategies that effective leaders need—so register today!

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