Leadership Development for School Leaders


To offer recommendations which build or strengthen the capacity of aspiring and practicing leaders to lead high performing schools.


In this age of increased accountability, research has taught us that school leaders are crucial to improving instruction and raising student achievement. Effective school leaders focus their work on the core issues of teaching and learning and school improvement. Many school districts face a severe shortage of educational leaders as a result of many factors, including retirement and principals choosing to leave the profession due to job pressures and lack of incentives. Additionally, many potential leaders are choosing not to apply for openings, thus creating a shallow applicant pool.

NASSP Guiding Principles

Successful schools require leaders who are able to perform at optimum levels, and who have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to meet complex challenges.

NASSP has more than 30 years of experience in the development of leadership assessment and development centers and has integrated the best research and best practice on leadership development into workshops, training, and resources. NASSP’s Breaking Ranks series offers specific recommendations, strategies, and multiple tools to principals, assistant principals, and leadership teams to assist them in improving their practice and ultimately improving student performance.

The National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA), of which NASSP is a part, developed the Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008. These policy standards are designed to serve as a broad set of national guidelines that states can use as a model for developing or updating their own standards. These standards provide guidance and insights about the traits, functions of work, and responsibilities of school leaders.

The NPBEA also supports the Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC). The ELCC, based at NASSP, refines the policy standards into granular program standards that are used to review the educational leadership programs and convey national recognition to college and university educational leadership programs. This is a partnership between practitioners and professors to improve the preparation and readiness of school leaders.

Recommendations for State Policymakers

  • Fund sustained leadership development to improve teaching that results in increased student achievement.
  • Tie leadership development programs to the attainment of national, state, and local standards and student achievement.
  • Tie leadership development to meaningful assessment of leadership capacity including knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Diagnosing a leader’s strengths and improvement needs is required for meaningful professional development that results in changed behavior.
  • Provide principals with multiple opportunities to undertake the study of pedagogy and to refine their leadership and management skills directly tied to improving teaching and learning.
  • Remove age and seniority barriers to state licensure eligibility
  • Align graduate level programs and courses with state and school district professional development programs.

Recommendations for District Leaders

  • Annually allocate districts funds for leadership development for every principal and assistant principal.
  • Allocate districts funds for training prospective principals and examine and implement “grow your own principal” programs.
  • Provide professional development activities that help beginning principals create professional learning communities in their schools.
  • Provide district funding and opportunities to engage principals and assistant principals in ongoing, sustained, job embedded leadership development that focuses on knowledge, skills, and dispositions that will improve a principal’s or assistant principal’s ability to lead and manage middle level and high schools in an optimal fashion.
  • Provide training to enable beginning principals to involve parents in their child’s education, especially parents of limited English proficient and immigrant children; provide training on how to understand and use data and assessments to improve and personalize classroom practice and student learning.
  • Provide beginning principals training in implementing schoolwide adolescent literacy and mathematical initiatives.
  • Develop and implement initiatives to promote retention of highly qualified principals, particularly within elementary, middle level and high schools with a high percentage of low-achieving students, including programs that provide—
    • principal mentoring from exemplary principals or superintendents;
    • induction and support for principals during their first 3 years of employment as principals;
    • incentives, including financial incentives, to principals who have a record of improving the academic achievement of all students, but particularly students from economically disadvantaged families, students from racial and ethnic minority groups, and students with disabilities.


Institute for Educational Leadership. (2000). Leadership for student learning: Reinventing the principalship. Washington, DC: Author.

Wallace Foundation. (2003). Beyond the pipeline: Getting the principals we need, where they are needed most. New York : Author.

Murphy, J., Elliot, S. N., Goldring, E., Porter, A. C. (2006). Learning-centered leadership: A conceptual foundation. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University.

Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008. As Adopted by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration. (2008).


Approved by the NASSP Board of Directors May 6, 2000
Revised May 9, 2009