Six key competencies for effective Pre-K-3 principals

Focusing on the Pre-K-3 early learning continuum is crucial

principals-NAESPProviding personalized learning environments and ensuring developmentally-appropriate teaching are just two of six competencies principals need to support teaching and learning during the transition from birth and preschool to grades K-3.

The competencies come from Leading Pre-K-3 Learning Communities, a report from the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and are an attempt to show principals and policymakers how much children benefit from education and learning from age 3 through the third grade. In order to take full advantage of this rich learning window, principals must focus on closing academic and opportunity gaps.

Child development in the Pre-K years must also be highlighted moving forward. “By bringing Pre-K expectations in line with those in kindergarten and the early school years, principals provide a coherent, related set of developmentally-appropriate experiences during the first critical years of schooling,” according to the report.

(Next page: Six competencies for Pre-K-3 principals)

The guide emphasizes the need to fill in the gap between prekindergarten programs and K-3 learning and aims to help principals align leadership efforts to that need.

It outlines six competencies principals should have as they try to meet these early learning goals:

1. Embrace the Pre-K-3 early learning continuum

“Effective principals help their learning communities define a Pre-K-3 continuum that transends the boundaries of preschool and elementary school to create a seamless learning experience for children from age three to grade three,” according to the report.

Strategies include a learning community engaged in understanding the importance of and transitions within the early learning continuum; funding, resources, and governance are aligned to support the Pre-K-3 framework; and the concept of learning community includes collaboration with all stakeholders.

2. Ensure developmentally-appropriate teaching

Because students develop and hone foundational skills during these early years of education, high-quality teaching is especially important.

Strategies include aligning standards, curriculum, instruction, and age-appropriate assessments to create a consistent framework throughout the learning experience; offering a comprehensive curriculum; and creating professional communities of practice to empower teachers as they learn and focus on instruction.

3. Provide personalized learning environments

Students have individual learning needs, and personalized learning with technology addresses those varying learning styles while engaging students and giving their learning real-world relevance.

Strategies include promoting blended learning environments in age-appropriate manners; enabling technology tools for learning and providing instructional leadership for using technology effectively; and helping teachers understand how to effectively use technology to promote personalized learning.

4. Use multiple measures of assessment to guide student learning growth

Assessments serve to improve teaching and learning, and effective principals must ensure that teachers understand the purpose and potential behind assessments.

Strategies include ensuring the entire learning community understands why and how assessments are used; supporting teachers as they use different assessments; and having meetings with stakeholders about assessment data.

5. Build professional capacity across the learning community

“Effective principals build collaborative working environments that support the professional growth of all who work in them,” the authors note in the report. “They know that in order to improve the learning of children, every member of the learning community must be continually learning, including all teachers–and principals themselves.”

Strategies include building professional knowledge about age- and developmentally-appropriate learning; and supporting continuous job-embedded professional development.

6. Make schools a hub of Pre-K-3 learning for families and communities

Principals must recognize that in order for young children to thrive and learn, thay must be supported not only in school, but at home and in the community, too.

Strategies include cultivating a sense of shared responsibility for each student’s learning; and offering out-of-school and summer learning programs.

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Laura Ascione

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