To illustrate the importance of achieving the goal of helping each student succeed, NASSP has shifted the focus of its Breaking Ranks series and published Building Ranks, K–12: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective School Leaders, which is designed to expand the rubric to include the leadership domains and dimensions for achieving student success.

“Building Ranks narrows the lens to focus on you—the leader of not just any school, but your own school—and on the unique context in which your school operates,” says NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “Its charge is to help you develop and enhance the impact that you, as principal, can have in your school and in the learning community it serves informed by the real-world experiences of principals in the field.”

Building Ranks is grounded in best practices and aligned with the National Policy Board for Educational Administration’s Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) and other educational leadership standards. However, Bartoletti explains, Building Ranks also challenges principals and other school leaders to push beyond the standards. “That means acknowledging the need to educate and ensure the well-being of the whole child by fostering and sustaining an environment responsive to a school’s and community’s specific needs. It also means rethinking that environment in the context of a changing global environment and creating structures that allow innovation and entrepreneurship to become foundational elements of your school,” she adds.

Building Ranks is not a one-size-fits-all framework or a linear step-by-step process. Instead, it is a highly flexible tool that will help principals and others lead not just any school, but their specific school community. It combines elements of both theory and practice, as informed by the real-world experiences of successful school leaders. And it offers a comprehensive range of specific leadership practices, strategies, and actions that principals and other school leaders can choose from to serve the needs of their own learning community.

Building Ranks is designed to meet specific needs:

Section 1 offers a definition of what successful school leadership looks like in today’s challenging contexts and provides an overview of the Building Ranks framework.

Sections 2 and 3 detail the multiple leadership dimensions of the building culture and leading learning domains. For each dimension, these sections include:

  • A definition and a “why” statement that tells how each dimension helps school leaders build the rationale for a strong school culture
  • An explanation of the dimension’s relevance
  • Strategies that show how school leaders can use the dimension as a lever to build culture and lead learning, including:
    • What the strategy looks like in practice, with examples from the field
    • Steps and additional actions leaders can take, along with key resources
    • Questions for reflection
  • How each dimension fits in the Building Ranks framework
  • Additional resources, including tools, recommended readings, and videos

School leaders can use Building Ranks in several ways, including:

  • Serving as a way to help you understand the elements of successful school leadership and anchor you in the Building Ranks framework
  • Referring to specific leadership dimensions for practical advice, strategies for specific areas of growth, and connections to other skills and dimensions
  • Delving into the descriptions of different dimensions at different times as events and ongoing reflection reveal new opportunities for personal growth
  • Fulfilling ongoing continuous improvement and self-reflection needs as you return regularly for additional insights into your practice, with or without the support of a coach or instructional supervisor
  • Building the collective leadership capacity of your learning community as part of book study, reflection, or professional development activities for leadership team members or other emerging leaders

In developing the Building Ranks framework, NASSP started with the “why”—the purpose of school leadership, a theme reinforced throughout the book. Leaders who want to encourage desired behaviors and outcomes more effectively must start with the “why,” rather than explaining the “what.” By focusing on the common purpose—preparing each child, across all grade levels and school types, for success in a global community—school leaders stay energized and engaged.

As illustrated in Figure 1, the Building Ranks Logic Model, the framework builds on that shared purpose. School leaders operate through two essential domains—building and sustaining a healthy culture and leading learning with their specific communities—each of which has discrete dimensions that, when applied deliberately, enable them to support and lead the adults who prepare and nurture your students.

Building culture (see Figure 2), focuses on these key elements:


  • Wellness
  • Equity
  • Relationships
  • Communication
  • Ethics
  • Global-mindedness

As far as leading learning is concerned (see Figure 3, above), the critical components include:

  • Vision and mission
  • Collaborative leadership
  • Result-orientation
  • Curriculum, instruction, and assessment
  • Innovation
  • Human capital management
  • Strategic management
  • Reflection and growth

For more information or to purchase Building Ranks, visit




Michael Levin-Epstein is senior editor of Principal Leadership.