headshot of Gail ConnellyGail Connelly has been executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) since 2006. In this month’s questionnaire, we asked her about the most important traits of effective principals, how NASSP and NAESP can collaborate, and her favorite movies.

What are the most important traits of effective principals?

The role of principal has never been more complex, requiring new and enhanced traits for principals to be effective. Traits of effective principals include shaping and sharing a vision of success for all students—socially, emotionally, physically, and academically; modeling learning and creating a culture of high expectations for teachers and students; welcoming and engaging all stakeholders; leading collaboratively in making decisions to advance learning goals; building the capacity of teachers and staff by cultivating leadership and good teaching practices to improve instruction; stating goals and expectations clearly for students, staff, and parents; and offering meaningful feedback and praise to teachers, staff, and students.

What’s been the biggest surprise about your job?

The enormous complexity involved with running a national nonprofit organization during recessionary and turbulent times, and the intense energy needed to overcome resistance to change. 

What do great principals do differently in terms of motivating teachers?

Great principals take responsibility for school success; they lead teaching and learning, and they build a strong school community that includes hiring, developing, and retaining excellent teachers. They motivate teachers by creating conditions that minimize distractions, afford ample opportunities for collaboration with their peers, create and cultivate leadership opportunities, and provide ongoing and constructive feedback that inspires and ensures success. Great principals are inclusive and build a culture of collaboration with teachers and teacher leaders.

What are your favorite movies?

The Way We Were, All the President’s Men, The Color Purple, and The Godfather I, II, and III. I’m drawn to the personal motivations, political intrigues, moral dilemmas, and power struggles explored to varying degrees in each of these movies that offer lessons for living and leading judiciously and compassionately.

How can NASSP and NAESP work together to advance both organizations?

Determining mutually beneficial goals and developing a shared agenda through a truly collaborative process is the best way for our associations to work together. As the leading professional organizations that serve our nation’s school principals, NAESP and NASSP are currently working in close collaboration to provide comprehensive support for all preK–12 educational leaders in the areas of advocacy, public relations, professional development, and membership. The recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, including the law’s unprecedented support for principals, reflects the strength of our combined advocacy for principals, schools, and students.