New Report Offers Solutions to Strengthen District Support for Principals and Increase Their Effectiveness

April 13, 2021

New Report Offers Solutions to Strengthen District Support for Principals and Increase Their Effectiveness

‘The Untapped Potential of the Principal Supervisor: How Support for School Leaders Should Change’ provides strategies to shift from compliance to coaching

The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) released a report today that offers practical, high-impact solutions to increase support for school principals. The report examines the role of the district principal supervisor and provides ideas for how the position could be more strategically leveraged as a coach to better equip principals as instructional leaders for their school. The strategies are drawn from research and the experiences of NIET partners, and the report provides a reminder of the importance of supporting principals in this moment − when the role is more complex and challenging than ever.

"Given the urgency of addressing student learning needs in light of the pandemic, there has never been a better time for principal supervisors to lean into their role as the head coach of principals," said NIET CEO Dr. Candice McQueen. "Principals need support and coaching that enables them to use the high-impact strategies that research shows have the biggest impact for students." 

Maximizing the impact of principal supervisors will better position schools to continue to adjust to their students' learning needs and the changing school environment. The research is clear: Principals can have a significant impact on student learning outcomes, accelerating annual student learning by more than two months. Yet many lack time to support teaching and learning, and principals often struggle with how to "do it all" while still collaborating with their teachers around how to best meet students' instructional needs. Additionally, while principals are expected to coach and equip their teachers to be more effective, they do not often receive that kind of support themselves. The pandemic has exacerbated the situation.

Most districts have an educator who serves as the principal supervisor, and NIET has found that when that role shifts from a focus on compliance to coaching, supervisors can be a key lever for change. Today's report, The Untapped Potential of the Principal Supervisor: How Support for School Leaders Should Change, provides four strategies that principal supervisors can adopt now to maximize their support for school leaders:

  • Be a visible partner and model being a lead learner. Everyone benefits from having a coach, and principals are no exception. Principal supervisors are uniquely positioned to support principals in reflecting on their mindset and their actions in ways that enable them to grow their capacity as instructional leaders and increase the learning happening in their schools. If supervisors spend time getting to know their principal's school culture and understanding students' strengths and needs, that can make their support even more effective.

  • Develop a common vision and consistently use a shared language that describes expectations for principals around the instructional leadership aspects of their role. Clarity is key to driving improvement. Principal supervisors can help school leaders create and reinforce their vision by strengthening connections between principal practice, classroom teaching, and student work. Additionally, leadership standards provide clarity and focus on what effective leadership looks like and can help to center principals and their supervisors on the key levers for change.

  • Establish a coaching, feedback, and support system that is aligned with expectations in evaluation. Supervisors can and should show principals what it looks like to be an effective coach. This requires being present in schools, observing principals in a variety of different settings, and tying feedback to leadership standards and curriculum. Supervisors should guide conversations by asking reflective questions and addressing instructional challenges.

  • Create opportunities for collaboration and capacity-building. Principals need to identify, engage, and develop other members of their team as leaders in order to more efficiently address everyday challenges and focus on supporting teachers as much as possible. Delegating tasks to teams and providing opportunities for staff to participate on teams is critical, whether selecting or providing training on new learning platforms, assessing student needs, planning and delivering professional learning, or identifying and creating a plan to address student learning gaps. Supervisors can help their district align support to principals to meet these needs.

Leaders in NIET partner districts have been implementing these strategies with positive results.

"Like anything that takes place in a school, it's about establishing trust with the principal and getting them to recognize that it's a partnership," said Dr. Latatia Johnson, federal programs supervisor for Ascension Public Schools, Louisiana. She often visits schools, performs walk-throughs, and reflects with the principals. "I want results for their students and their teachers just like they want results for their students and their teachers. By establishing that partnership, teachers see me as a member of their school community."

In Arizona, Rio Colorado Elementary School Principal Bethany Loucks has helped to train teacher leaders who have stepped into the role of principal. "You have to see potential and focus on strengths," she said. "You find that skill and build on it – sending a teacher to see how other teachers do something, analyzing how that skill advances student learning in the classroom, and presenting on that skill in a collaborative group. I encourage them to be learners themselves. Everyone can teach you something."

Today's release includes a panel discussion at 11 a.m. CT that will feature researchers and state, district, and school leaders on how supervisors can strengthen principals' abilities to provide high-impact instructional support to teachers and develop the leadership capacity of others. To read The Untapped Potential of the Principal Supervisor: How Support for School Leaders Should Change, as well as additional commentary and reflections from educators across the country on the role of the principal supervisor, please visit

About NIET
For 20 years, NIET has partnered with schools, districts, states, and universities to ensure all students have effective educators. Its work has served more than 9,000 schools and has impacted more than 275,000 teachers and 2.75 million students. NIET has trained more than 10,000 administrators and 35,000 teacher leaders. Learn more at