The Wallace Foundation supports initiatives to improve leadership in public schools. The Foundation has issued numerous research reports, articles and videos about the nature of the school principal’s role, what makes for an effective principal and how to tie principal effectiveness to improved student achievement. Download the full report of selected publications below.


The Principal Pipeline Podcast: Practitioners Share Lessons from the Field (Intro)

Episode 1: Building the Pipeline

Episode 2: Improving Job Standards and Hiring Pays Off

Episode 3: Districts and Universities Work Together to Improve Preparation

Episode 4: Mentors Support Novice Principals on the Job

Episode 5: States Can Play a Role in Building Principal Pipelines

Episode 6: Shoring Up Two Critical Roles, Assistant Principals and Principal Supervisors

NEW Episode 7: A District Strategy to Improve Student Achievement

NEW Episode 8: Building Principal Pipelines Improves Principal Retention

NEW Episode 9: Measuring the Effectiveness of Principal Pipelines

NEW Episode 10: How Districts Sustained Their Principal Pipelines

Key Resources

What exactly is it that effective principals do that ripples through classrooms and boosts learning, especially in failing schools? Since 2000, The Wallace Foundation, which has supported projects to promote education leadership in 24 states and published 70 reports on the subject (including the Minnesota/Toronto research), has been trying to answer that question. A recently published Wallace Perspective report that takes a look back at the foundation’s research and field experiences finds that five practices in particular seem central to effective school leadership (The Wallace Foundation, 2012):

  1. Shaping a vision of academic success for all students, one based on high standards
  2. Creating a climate hospitable to education in order that safety, a cooperative spirit, and other foundations of fruitful interaction prevail
  3. Cultivating leadership in others so that teachers and other adults assume their part in realizing the school vision
  4. Improving instruction to enable teachers to teach at their best and students to learn at their utmost
  5. Managing people, data and processes to foster school improvement.

When principals put each of these elements in place—and in harmony—principals stand a fighting chance of making a real difference for students.

Key Practice 1: Shaping a Vision of Academic Success for All Students

Design Challenge Statement
How might we employ our school leadership team (SLT) to mobilize our school’s vision of academic success for all students? As part of this design challenge, you’ll work with your team to design a process and/or tool to evaluate SLT actions and decisions on the basis of their contribution to a vision of academic success for all students.

Tool: Collaborative Conversation Guide
Leaders will learn how to use the Collaborative Conversation Guide Prototype to improve their decision-making process. This guide provides an evidence-based framework relative to student outcomes for structuring conversation around key processes, instructional grouping, instructional delivery, and collaborative culture.

Tool: Leadership Team Dashboard
Leaders will learn about the importance of leveraging the capacity of their leadership team. Through the use of a Leadership Team Dashboard, authentic structure and resources will assist leaders in shaping and monitoring a consistent schoolwide vision for student success.

Building Ranks Dimensions
Student-Centeredness; Equity; Communication; Collaborative Leadership; Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment

Key Practice 2: Creating a Climate Hospitable to Education

Design Challenge Statement
How might we provide teachers more leadership opportunities? As part of this design challenge, you’ll work with your team to design products and tools that cultivate opportunities for teacher leadership that enhance a school’s climate and optimize its potential for supporting the educational mission of the school.

Tool: PowerPoint Presentation on Fostering Teacher Leadership
Leaders will learn how to enhance their school’s climate by fostering and developing teacher leadership in the building. This prototype highlights proven, research-based practices in identification of potential leaders; methods for selecting teacher leaders; and ideas for how to train teacher leaders.

Building Ranks Dimensions
Collaborative Leadership, Human Capital Management

Key Practice 3: Cultivating Leadership in Others

Design Challenge Statement
How might we increase teacher collaboration? As part of this design challenge, you’ll work with your team to design tools for promoting teacher collaboration.

Tool: A Roadmap to Effective PLCs
Leaders will learn about an interactive prototype that supports the principal in increasing teacher collaboration during Professional Learning Community (PLC) time to improve student achievement. This prototype features a self-assessment; a diagnostic area of focus; and targeted resources including videos, templates, protocols, and rubrics within each area, which allow leaders to evaluate the progress of the PLC work in their buildings.

Building Ranks Dimensions
Student-Centeredness; Collaborative Leadership; Results-Orientation; Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment; Reflection and Growth

Key Practice 4: Improving Instruction

Design Challenge Statement
How might we develop common understanding of how literacy develops across grade levels? As part of this design challenge, you’ll work with your team to design a tool for promoting deep understanding of literacy acquisition and development across grade levels.

Tool: ProLit: Literacy Integration Tool
Leaders will experience a dashboard of the effective components of literacy integration in all subject areas. Appreciative inquiry serves as the foundation of integrating literacy. Information and ideas on how to use this approach are included, along with videos, rubrics, and other resources for literacy in math. The shell is built for other areas of literacy integration and can be populated by the leader according to their needs.

Building Ranks Dimensions
Equity; Communication; Results-Orientation; Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment; Human Capital Management

Key Practice 5: Managing People, Data, and Practices to Foster School Improvement

Design Challenge Statement
How might we use student work as a data source to plan instruction? As part of this design challenge, you’ll work with your team to design a tool to make efficient and effective analytical use of student work as a mechanism to drive instructional decisions. This tool will focus on instruction planning after the analysis of student work rather than the analysis itself.

Tool: I’ve Analyzed My Data, Now What?
Leaders will experience a planning tool that provides the “so what” after teachers analyze data. The tool will give teachers the resources and support necessary to plan differentiated instruction for their students both individually and collaboratively after data analysis has occurred.

Building Ranks Dimensions: Student-Centeredness; Collaborative Leadership; Results Orientation; Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment; Human Capital Management


How Can State Policy Support Local School Districts as They Develop Principal Pipelines? (October 2021): States can pull a number of policy levers to help school districts develop, support and maintain a large corps of effective school principals.

Navigating Social and Emotional Learning from the Inside Out (October 2021): Looking Inside and Across 33 leading SEL Programs: A Practical Resource for Schools and OST Providers; Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition (Preschool and Elementary Focus)​​​

The Role of Assistant Principals: Evidence and Insights for Advancing School Leadership (April 2021): The number of assistant principals has grown markedly in recent years, and with reconsideration, the AP role could do more to help foster educational equity, school improvement and principal effectiveness.

Every Summer Counts: A Longitudinal Analysis of Outcomes from the National Summer Learning Project (December 2020): Long-term study of summer learning programs finds meaningful benefits over multiple years.

Supports for Social and Emotional Learning in American Schools and Classrooms: Findings from the American Teacher Panel (November 2020): Teachers are confident they can help build students’ social-emotional skills, but say they could use more support to do so, according to a RAND survey.

Using State-level Policy Levers to Promote Principal Quality (November 2020): To improve leadership of their schools, seven states have pulled a number of policy levers, from updating principal job standards to changing administrator licensing.

Changing the Principal Supervisor Role to Better Support Principals: Evidence from the Principal Supervisor Initiative (July 2020): The Principal Supervisor Initiative succeeded in changing the supervisor position so that it centered on developing and evaluating principals to help them promote effective teaching and learning in their schools.

Leading the Change: A Comparison of the Principal Supervisor Role in Principal Supervisor Initiative Districts and Other Urban Districts (July 2020): Six school districts working to focus the principal supervisor job on boosting principals’ instructional leadership were more likely than other districts to set up structures, such as dedicated training, to support the new role.

Trends in Principal Supervisor Leadership and Support (July 2020): Large school districts nationwide are redesigning the principal supervisor job to focus more on principal support.

Taking Stock of Principal Pipelines: What Public School Districts Report Doing and What They Want to Do to Improve School Leadership (June 2020): This report reveals findings from a first-of-its-kind national survey on effective school leadership as it relates to improving education and using a comprehensive principal pipeline.

What the Pandemic Means for Summer Learning-And How Policymakers Can Help (May 2020): This report, co-authored by the RAND Corporation, focuses on summer learning policy in the time of the pandemic.

Sustainability of Principal Pipeline Initiative (February 2019): This study finds that district leaders are pleased with the results of their ongoing principal pipelines.

A New Role Emerges for Principal Supervisors: Evidence from Six Districts in the Principal Supervisor Initiative (July 2018, Report).

What it Takes to Operate and Maintain Principal Pipelines: Costs and Other Resources (July 2017): This report examines the expenditures of six large school districts, all participants in a Wallace Foundation initiative, as they built and operated principal pipelines. Among the chief findings: The cost represented a very small slice of annual district spending—an average of about $5.6 million annually for the districts, or about 0.4 percent of their local annual expenditures.

Perspective: Building Principal Pipelines: A Job That Urban Districts Can Do (July 2017): How can school districts build a pipeline of effective school principals? This updated Wallace Perspective summarizes lessons learned about pipelines over the course of the initiative. It describes the four components of the pipelines: job standards for principals, high-quality pre-service training, rigorous hiring procedures, and tightly aligned on-the-job performance evaluation and support.

Leader Tracking Systems: Turning Data into Information for School Leadership (July 2017): A look at data systems to improve school leadership offers hard-won insights gathered from six school districts that are building these systems to assist in everything from principal hiring to principal training.

School Leadership Interventions Under the Every Student Succeeds Act: Evidence Review (Updated December 2016): The RAND Corporation conducted a synthesis of the evidence base on school-leadership interventions to better inform the rollout of those interventions under ESSA. This report is intended to help federal, state, and district education policymakers understand and implement school-leadership improvement efforts that are consistent with ESSA.

Building a Stronger Principalship Vol 5: The Principal Pipeline Initiative in Action (October 2016): This report is the last in a series of studies examining the implementation of Wallace’s Principal Pipeline Initiative. In 2011, six large school districts each set out to develop a large corps of highly qualified school principals. After five years, according to this report, they have much to show for their efforts, having succeeded in putting into place four key components of a pipeline to the principalship.

Building Principal Pipelines: A Job That Urban Districts Can Do (October 2016): Principals can make a big difference in the quality of the education students receive. That statement is not just a platitude. Research over the past decade or so has established that school leadership is second only to teaching among school-related influences on student learning, accounting for about one quarter of total school effects.

Learning from Summer: Effects of Voluntary Summer Learning Programs on Low-Income Urban Youth (September 2016): The largest study of summer learning finds that students with high attendance in free, five- to six-week, voluntary summer learning programs experienced educationally meaningful benefits in math and reading.

Improving State Evaluation of Principal Preparation Programs (February 2016): Intended for state officials involved in the assessment and approval of university and other programs to train future school principals, this report describes five design principles for effective program evaluation. The report also describes how two states, Illinois and Delaware, have approached evaluation, and provides a tool from its model-development work, an assessment that states can use to determine their degree of readiness for building a stronger system to evaluate principal preparation programs.

Improving University Principal Preparation Programs: Five Themes From the Field (February 2016): What is the state of university-based principal preparation programs? How are these essential training grounds of future school leaders viewed—by themselves as well as by the school districts that hire their graduates? Do the programs need to improve? If so, by what means? This publication seeks to help answer those questions by bringing together findings from four reports commissioned by The Wallace Foundation to inform its development of a potential new initiative regarding university-based principal training.

Building a Stronger Principalship: Volume 4. Evaluating and Supporting Principals (January 2016):This report is the fourth in a series of studies examining six districts’ experiences in The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative, a six-year effort designed to help these districts build larger pools of strong principals and then study the results. It explores the districts’ work to change their approach to principal performance evaluation so that it focuses on working with principals, especially novices, to grow into their jobs and concentrate on improving teaching and learning in their classrooms.

Building Principal Pipelines: A Strategy to Strengthen Education Leadership (November 2015): School leadership is second only to teaching among school influences on student success, according to research. What can a school district do to produce a large and steady supply of top-notch school principals—and support their effective supervision? This Wallace Update describes two related Wallace Foundation initiatives seeking answers to that question.

Developing Excellent School Principals to Advance Teaching and Learning: Considerations for State Policy (September 2015): School principals are “invaluable multipliers of teaching and learning in the nation’s schools,” according to this report by political scientist Paul Manna, but to date it’s been unclear what state policymakers could do to boost their effectiveness. Drawing from sources including the experiences of states that have focused on developing stronger principal policy, this report aims to fill that gap by offering guidance in the form of three sets of considerations for those who want to take action.

Making Time for Instructional Leadership: Volume 1.  The Evolution of the SAM Process (July 2015): Describes the School Administration Manager (SAM) process, an approach that about 700 schools around the nation are using to direct more of principals’ time and effort to improve teaching and learning in classrooms. Principals often find themselves mired in matters of day-to-day administration and have little time to cultivate better teaching. The SAM process is designed to free up principals’ time so they can focus on improving instruction in classrooms.

Making Time for Instructional Leadership: Volume 2. The Feasibility of a Randomized Control Trial of the SAM Process (July 2015): This report finds the SAM process could be replicated in a large enough number of schools, with enough fidelity to a theoretical model, that a randomized controlled trial would be a meaningful test of its impact.

Making Time for Instructional Leadership: Volume 3. Appendices. (July 2015): This report includes 10 appendices referred to in the first two volumes of the series.

Building a Stronger Principalship: Volume 1. Six Districts Begin the Pipeline Initiative (July 2013): Look at what six districts are doing to create new principal pipelines that are grounded in strong leadership standards, pre-service training, selective hiring procedures, and on-the-job evaluation and support. This first report of an ongoing evaluation of The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative describes the six participating school districts’ plans and activities during the first year of their grants. The evaluation, conducted by Policy Studies Associates and the RAND Corporation, is intended to inform policymakers and practitioners about the process of carrying out new policies and practices for school leadership.

Building a Stronger Principalship: Volume 2. Cultivating Talent Through a Principal Pipeline (December 2013): This report reveals that all six participating districts in the Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline initiative have partnered with external programs for leader preparation. Meanwhile, novice leaders are supported by coaches—and those coaches, mentors, and supervisors all get assistance to build their capacity. This is the second report in an ongoing series that evaluates the activities of participating districts in the foundation’s initiative.

Building a Stronger Principalship: Volume 3. Districts Taking Charge of the Principal Pipeline (January 2015): This report focuses on implementation of all components of the initiative as of 2014 and its four interrelated areas of district policy and practice: leader standards, preservice preparation, selective hiring and placement, and evaluation and support. This is the third report tracing the activities of six districts that agreed to adopt and implement the Wallace Foundation’s initiative-specific approaches to improve school leader recruitment and retention.

The Central Office Transformation Toolkit (November 2013):This report adds to existing resources for superintendents to provide support for new principals. The three tools designed by education researchers at the University of Washington are meant to help. Two focus on the redesign of central offices in ways that foster effective leadership in schools. The last is an aid for principal supervisors seeking to develop the instructional capabilities of the principals they oversee. Download the full report here.

Rethinking Leadership: The Changing Role of Principal Supervisors (October 2013): Corcoran et al. look at the six districts participating in The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative. Part I presents a description of the organizational structure and general features of the various principal supervisory systems, including the roles, selection, staffing, professional development, and evaluation of principal supervisors, as well as the preparation, selection, support, and evaluation of principals. Part II provides recommendations for building more effective principal supervisors. Based on the survey results and observations from the site visits, these recommendations identify those structures and practices that are most likelyto result in stronger school leaders and higher student achievement.

Districts Matter: Cultivating the Principals Urban Schools Need (February 2013): The Wallace Foundation distills insights from school leadership projects and major studies supported by the foundation since 2000 to highlight key district actions to boost school leadership, including drawing up meaningful job descriptions and mentoring novice principals.

The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning (January 2013): This Wallace Perspective summarizes a decade of foundation research and work in school leadership to identify what it is that effective school principals do. It concludes that they carry out five key actions particularly well, including shaping a vision of academic success for all students and cultivating leadership in others.

The Making of a Principal: Five Lessons in Leadership Training (June 2012): This report draws on a decade of work by the Wallace Foundation and identifies ways that preservice and in-service training can be enhanced to further develop strong leadership in every school. This report focuses on candidate selection, emphasizing instructional leadership—and including high-quality mentoring and individualized professional development.

How Leadership Influences Student Learning (2004): This Wallace Foundation report shows that leadership is second only to teaching among school influences on student success, and its impact is greatest in schools with the greatest need, according to this landmark examination of the evidence on school leadership.


Harris, K. & Frieler, J. (September 2017). A new approach: Design thinking methodology is being utilized effectively by The Wallace Foundation. Principal Leadership, Vol. 18 n1, pp. 47-49Browne, D. (May 2017). The role of nonacademic skills in academic outcomes. Principal Leadership, Vol.19 n9, pp. 40-43Cummins, H.J. (January/February 2015). Best Practices in Action. Principal, v94 n3 pp. 26-29

Nine Principals Share their Successful Strategies for School Leadership., S. (January 2015). Making Space for New Leaders. Principal Leadership, v15 n5 p24-27.

Cultivating assistant principal talent ensures that school districts can benefit from a steady stream of well-prepared instructional leaders.

Syed, S. (October 2014). Beyond Buses, Boilers, and Books. JSD the Learning Forward Journal, v35 n5 p46-49.School districts are experimenting with several strategies to build up the role of principals’ managers in the central office as a means to improve principal effectiveness and provide instructional support.

Gil, J. (December 2013). Stories from the Field: Making Room for the Principal Supervisors. Wallace Foundation.Despite tight budgets, Denver Public Schools has hired more people to coach and evaluate leaders. Here’s how the district did it.

Syed, S. (October 2013). Leading School through Major Change. Principal Leadership, v14 n2 p30-33.A Wallace Foundation study finds five practices that will help principals lead their schools through implementing new standards.

Mendels, P., Mitgang, L.D. (April 2013). Creating Strong Principals. Educational Leadership, v70 n7 p22-26.

The Wallace Foundation reports on dozens of districtwide efforts that are aiming to make school leaders more effective.

Gil, J. (December 2012). Strength Training: Aspiring Principals Need Fortified Programs to Prepare Them for the Challenges They Face. JSD the Learning Forward Journal, v33 n6 p24-31.

This articles argues for principal training programs that are selective, comprehensive and support principals beyond their graduation dates.

Mendels. P. (June 2012). Principals in the Pipeline: Districts Construct a Framework to Develop School Leadership. JSD the Learning Forward Journal, v33 n3 p48-52.

Six school districts are participating in an initiative funded by The Wallace Foundation to ensure that a large corps of school leaders is properly trained, hired, and developed on the job.

Mendels, P. (February 2012). The Effective Principal. Five Practices that Shape Instructional Leadership. JSD the Learning Forward Journal, v33 n1 p54-58.

After reviewing its body of research and field experiences, The Wallace Foundation pinpoints five practices central to effective school leadership.

The Role of Nonacademic Outcomes: Boston Public Schools Share the Importance of Social-emotional Learning on Student Achievement, Daniel Brown, May 2017


A Bold Move to Better Prepare Principals: The Illinois Story (October 2016). This is a four-part video series that explores Illinois’ actions to revamp the way school principals are prepared. The series begins with the tale of how the state of Illinois and its partners, including universities, districts and teachers’ unions, accomplished this change. Two of the videos profile exemplary preparation programs at the University of Illinois at Chicago and New Leaders Chicago, which helped to inspire the higher standards and whose graduates effectively lead Chicago public schools. The final video features Chicago principals who describe how their training programs prepared them for the real demands of their jobs.

State Policy to Develop Excellent Principals: A Washington Brief(2015). How can state policy improve the effectiveness of school principals? Educators, including New York State’s commissioner of education gathered in Washington, D.C., on November 3, 2015, to discuss a major Wallace Foundation report that seeks to answer that question. Keynote speaker Paul Manna, professor of government and public policy at the College of William & Mary and the author of the report, Developing Excellent School Principals to Advance Teaching and Learning: Considerations for State Policy, summarized key findings from his research. He described three matters policymakers must understand before taking action: principals’ place on their state’s policy agenda; six possible levers that could trigger change; and their state’s unique context, including the ways in which key education-related institutions interact.

School Leadership in Action: Principal Practices (2015). This video series follows 10 principals in four metropolitan areas through their workdays, showing how they use five practices of effective school leadership to improve teaching and learning in their classrooms. The practices, described in The School Principal as Leader, are based on more than a decade of Wallace-supported research to identify what successful principals do.

Six Superintendents’ Experiences Building Principal Pipelines (2015). Six large school districts have been participating since 2011 in The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative, a six-year effort to train, hire and support talented principals. In this series of eight videos, the superintendents of these districts discuss details of their effort, lessons they have learned and advice they can offer to other districts. Many of the experiences they recount are detailed in a January 2015 report about the initiative, one in a series by independent researchers evaluating the effort.

The Principal Story Learning Guide. (May 2014). This web-based professional learning guide uses excerpts from the award-winning PBS documentary film, The Principal Story, to illustrate the five practices. The guide is intended to help those who prepare and support aspiring and current principals probe these essential practices. Use this facilitator guide to explore options for using these tools.

Wallace Foundation Videos: “Great School Leadership in Action.” (April 2013). These videos ask, “What makes for an effective principal?” And they answer: Five practices, done well. Listen as 13 school leaders talk about how they have put those practices to work. Identified by local administrators for their efforts to boost teaching and learning, often under difficult circumstances, the principals come from districts receiving Wallace Foundation grants to improve school leadership.

THE PRINCIPAL STORY (September 2009) – a critically-acclaimed PBS documentary that follows two school leaders determined to make successes of the difficult schools they lead – with specially-prepared materials to help users promote excellence among principals. Videos and conversation guides can be used by principals, state or district officials, policymakers and concerned parents.

For additional resources from the Wallace Foundation, visit their website.