When I ask principals about their formative influences, they often mention mentors, their professional learning community, and even the principals they had as students. Conspicuously absent from that list is their university principal preparation program. Principal candidates rarely see a clear connection between the academic work of principal preparation and the principal’s professional life, relegating that master’s degree to little more than a hoop they have to jump through to get the job. As a result, we miss an opportunity to deeply understand the research foundations upon which effective leadership is built.

That is why NASSP is proud to participate in a project to bridge that disconnect between academia and practice. As part of its deep commitment to improving school leadership, The Wallace Foundation launched the University Principal Preparation Initiative (UPPI) in July 2016. The four-year, $48.5 million initiative supports principal prep redesign at seven universities according to evidence-based principles and practices—and here’s the important part—in cooperation with their district and state partners and mentor programs. Research by RAND on the first year of UPPI implementation reveals themes that will certainly resonate with principals who have engaged in their own school renewal initiatives:

  • Develop a vision. The process of re-envisioning the program provides an opportunity to examine and define guiding aspirations for the program, assess where development is needed, and begin to foster partnerships necessary for carrying out the work.
  • Select partners intentionally, and develop strong relationships early on to encourage commitment and progress. Make sure partners share your vision, are willing to pursue it, and will keep lines of communication open.
  • Be patient. Effecting change requires time, patience, and commitment to a process that may seem painfully slow at times.

We all know the challenges of a change process. But we also know the success that comes with renewal that is well-led and well-executed. We are optimistic for the prospects of the UPPI project, and NASSP looks forward to sharing its positive results in the coming years.

JoAnn Bartoletti
Executive Director, NASSP