This month, principals will have more than football victories to celebrate. NASSP, along with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the American Federation of School Administrators, have declared October National Principals Month. NASSP launched this initiative in 2008 as a way to call attention to the important role principals play in advancing student success. Over the years it has evolved into a highly anticipated celebration throughout the education community, the policy community, and the nation.

Demystifing Your Work

While principals receive well-deserved accolades for their work during the monthlong celebration, the most impactful and long-lasting effects come from your own efforts to demystify your work and share with a larger audience exactly what a principal does and why it matters so much.

To that end, there is no substitute for observing your work firsthand. We at NASSP regularly share the important conclusions from The Wallace Foundation’s research that principal leadership is second only to instruction in school-based factors that affect student achievement. We take every opportunity to remind policymakers and general audiences that no documented incidence of sustained school turnaround took place absent an effective leader. But those words, powerful though they are, take us only so far. People really get it only when they see it.

The Shadow Experience

In 2012, with the enthusiastic support of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, we introduced a shadowing event at the U.S. Department of Education (ED). During a week in October, 40 high-ranking officials spent a day shadowing principals throughout the Washington, D.C., area. In a debriefing session with the secretary, ED staffers revealed that they ended their day more exhausted than ever and far wiser about how their policies look once they are implemented.

Secretary Duncan was so taken with the experience that he directed his staff to act on a recommendation by one of the shadowed principals. It outlined that the Department of Education should create a principal-in-residence program so the department could get regular “reality checks” on policies they were seeking to enact. 

Several months later, Secretary Duncan announced the creation of the Principal Ambassador Fellowship program at NASSP’s national conference Ignite in 2013. The program continues to pay dividends in a diversity of voices involved in creating policy.

Suffice it to say that no letter-writing campaign would have had the same effect; only a firsthand experience could produce such a result. ED plans to repeat the shadowing experience this month—as they have each October since 2012—and we encourage you to expand the shadowing experience in your local area. 

Invite your members of Congress, state legislators, and other policymakers to spend a day, or even a few hours, accompanying you through a school day to see the diversity of quick-response and deliberative activities that make up your day. You will find instructions at but-spoiler alert—it begins with a simple command: ask. 

Happy National Principals Month! We look forward to celebrating and advocating with you. 

Amanda Karhuse is director of advocacy at NASSP.

For additional information on the Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program, visit or follow @usedgov on Twitter.