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NASBE Analysis Urges Preparation for Principals in Crisis Management


Alexandria, VA—COVID-19 was the longest, most widespread test of principals’ skills in managing schools in crisis conditions. In a new NASBE analysis, Pamela Davis-Vaught, a former principal in a high-poverty community and current member of the Virginia Board of Education, recounts her experience during the pandemic: “It fell on me to help staff process their emotions as they tried to support students.” Despite her preparation and experience, she shares, “I struggled to help staff deal with traumatic situations confronting the families and children they served.”

Leadership preparation programs and state and district leaders all have a role to play in building principals’ capacity to face crises with resilience and lead in ways that best serve students and support and retain teachers, the analysis finds. Crisis leadership and management training is not routinely included in preservice or in-service professional learning for principals. But simply adding more requirements to existing principal standards may only heighten principals’ stress and burnout. To strike a better balance, state leaders should assess their standards against current needs, find alignment with other policies that affect the principal pipeline, and ensure policies are flexible enough to allow district leaders to augment and adapt them.

Several states have taken steps to better support the health of the principal pipeline:

  • The Utah State Board of Education used state funds to create a grant program for districts to improve the principal pipeline for rural and charter schools, provide meaningful job-embedded experiences to school leader candidates, including mentorship for every new school leader, and support for principal supervisors.
  • Colorado’s Principal Leadership Institute gives participants a year-long, job-embedded program of training and coaching by exemplary principals.
  • North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction stood up an advisory committee of principals to advise the state board and state legislators on education legislation during the pandemic.

“The pandemic underscored the extent to which crisis management requires specific skills and dispositions of school leaders, ones that should be nurtured through leader preparation, mentoring, and ongoing professional learning,” Davis-Vaught said. State leaders’ response can support principals to thrive during crises so they can continue serving their students, educators, and communities.

Read and share Preparing School Leaders for Crises.

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