Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus: Principals as Early Childhood Instructional Leaders

August 30th, 2016 | by SRC

The quality of leadership enacted by principals and school leadership teams is one of the most important indicators of classroom quality and effectiveness of early childhood educators in a school environment. As more and more early learning programs are located within school district and elementary school contexts, schools are challenged to go beyond academics, making sure to adequately address the social, emotional and mental health needs of their youngest learners and families. Principals and school leaders must sit in the driver’s seat – and not let the pigeon drive the bus.


Principals are lynchpins for early learning success – they set the tone for priorities and policies inside and outside the school community. Unfortunately, it is common for elementary school principals to enter their role with little or no formal training in early education or child development. A survey from NAESP (National Association of Elementary School Principals) shows many new elementary school principals don’t feel confident in their knowledge of early education. In 2015, NAESP polled a group of over 1,000 first and second-year principals from across the country to provide insights on the day-to-day realities of the job. Only one in five principals feel well-trained in instructional methods for early education, despite the fact that 53 percent of them have Pre-K programs in their schools. These findings show that, many principals may not feel equipped to give specific feedback to help PreK-3rd grade teachers improve their instruction.Dont-let-the-pigeon-drive-4-300x278

In addition, principals in New America’s 2015 focus groups on principal leadership said that the most important part of their job is helping teachers provide high-quality instruction. However, many principals had no experience in early childhood and expressed concerns over how little their preparation programs equip them to be instructional leaders for the early grades. Their formal training tends to focus on the management and budgeting side of their jobs. Principals revealed that for the most part, they learned everything else on the job.

Successful leadership in early learning requires knowledge, skills and successful behaviors around child development, teaching and learning, and instructional leadership . SRC’s early learning leadership development model supports principals in driving the bus, creating a comprehensive plan for the needs, priorities, and contexts unique to their route. Contact us to find out more…

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