For: School Administrators, Teachers

Resource Type(s): Curriculum, Professional Development

Grade Band: Elementary, High School, Middle School

Subject(s): All Subjects

Recognizing that kids need to learn to think flexibly, creatively, and critically in a rapidly changing world, states across the country committed to new college- and career-ready standards. Yet performance on new standards-aligned tests indicates that many schools are struggling to reach this higher bar. Principals are the lynchpins to overcoming this challenge, but they also need new knowledge and skills to succeed.

New Leaders’ report includes success stories and strategies gleaned from principals who lead progress in moving students toward college and career readiness. The leadership being observed at these schools is called “ambitious leadership.”

Companion materials include resources to help principals enact ambitious instructional practices in their schools, and policy guidance that government officials can employ to strengthen school leadership.

Six case studies also provide an in-depth look at how ambitious leaders positioned their schools and students for success. These cover topics ranging from vision-setting and curriculum selection to coaching and professional development that helped teachers reach higher standards.


Ambitious leaders implemented a set of six key instructional leadership practices. Principals executed these practices at high levels of intensity and quality, with a sharp focus on alignment to college- and career-ready expectations.

Ambitious leaders drew on three types of critical knowledge. Principals understood: (1) the demands of college- and career-ready standards and assessments; (2) the components of challenging, standards-aligned instruction; and (3) high-impact approaches to instructional leadership.

Ambitious leaders established three critical conditions that allowed them to effectively lead improvements to curriculum and instruction. These were: (1) effective talent management; (2) maximized learning time; and (3) a high-quality professional learning culture.

Ambitious leaders aligned instructional leadership practices to their school’s stage of improvement. The schools in our study fell into three distinct stages in their journey to higher standards. The first focused heavily on setting an ambitious vision for challenging, standards-aligned instruction; the second stage focused on establishing or upgrading school-wide systems and structures; and the third stage focused on consistently implementing the school’s instructional vision.

For more information on the study, and to view the full report, click here.

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