Special Edition: ExtraOrdinary Districts Need Extraordinary School Leaders. How Do We Get More of Them?

One of the key lessons that emerged in Education Trust’s podcast, “ExtraOrdinary Districts,” is that improvement requires leadership at the school level.

This, of course, has been well established in the research literature. But that just raises the next question: If principals are key to school and district improvement, then how do we ensure that principals are prepared to improve schools so that all children — no matter their background — learn and succeed?

That is the subject of a fascinating conversation among three leaders of principal preparation programs and the executive director of the University Council of Educational Administration, who discuss how to create more “extraordinary school leaders.”

Introduction by Karin Chenoweth, host, ExtraOrdinary Districts.

Moderator: Michelle Young, Executive Director, University Council of Educational Administration


  • Ann O’Doherty, Director, Danforth Educational Leadership Program, University of Washington
  • Terrance Green, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, University of Texas-Austin
  • Steven Tozer, Director, Center for Urban Education Leadership, University of Illinois-Chicago

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A Few Highlights from the Podcast:

Ann Dougherty
Associate Dean of Professional Studies and Director of the Danforth Educational Leadership Program at the University of Washington

“The question we began with was, ‘What do principals need to know and be able to do to deliver on equity for each and every student?’ It isn’t enough that people learn in our program. It isn’t enough that they receive a principal certificate. What I want to know is that they are making a difference in the learning lives of students.”

“How are you engaging with your entire community around the idea that learning — deep learning, critical thinking, problem solving, high cognitive demand learning — is what is needed for each and every child in a building, not just for some children. So how do you work toward that as a leader and build in the systems that are needed for that?”

Terrance L. Green
Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, University of Texas-Austin

“We do the work … because we know empirically that school leaders matter and that they can make a difference and the inequities in our schools are not deterministic but rather they’re opportunistic — they are opportunities to transform and make the world more equitable.”

“We have our students conduct an equity audit … disaggregating data around race, around language, ability, and gender — which becomes eye-opening for a lot of our students and the principals they are working with. We try to get them to anchor the work they are doing based on the inequities they see according to the data. So after they do the equity audit, they come up with a three to five-year plan: How are we going to eliminate these inequities?”

Steve Tozer
Director, Center for Urban Education Leadership, University of Illinois-Chicago

“We know that well-prepared school leaders can dramatically improve student learning outcomes. But at the same time we know that most school leaders do not …. We will not get the student learning outcomes that students are capable of unless we put the school leaders in place who can create the conditions for learning that really good school leaders know how to create.”

“The kinds of principals we need are not simply instructional leaders; they have to be change agents. They have to be folks who can change institutions. They have to change the culture, and the climate, and the structures, and the systems in their schools. Because if they don’t do that, they won’t get the fundamental changes in teacher practice that are necessary to really move student achievement dramatically.”

Michelle D. Young
Executive Director, University Council of Educational Administration

“Over the last decade researchers have demonstrated that quality leadership preparation matters, and they have been able to identify key program elements that contribute to quality.”

The Wallace Foundation

The Wallace Foundation has important resources on principal preparation programs and on principal leadership, including A Bold Move to Better Prepare Principals: The Illinois Story, which includes a video about the University of Illinois-Chicago’s leadership preparation program.

The ExtraOrdinary Districts podcast was made possible with a grant from The Wallace Foundation.