Skip to main content

A Voice for Principal Leadership

A participant in New and Aspiring School Leaders
Attendees of The Principals' Center offering, New and Aspiring School Leaders
Photo: Abigail Egan

Every child deserves a good principal.

In the late 1970s, Harvard President Derek Bok and HGSE Dean Paul Ylvisaker asked former principal Roland Barth, Ed.M.’62, Ed.D.’70, to examine how the school could engage educators through leadership development. Barth became a faculty member and, based on the findings of his report, founded The Principals’ Center, a portfolio of programs for school leaders that would become the first of its kind.  

The Principals’ Center — the first of its kind — bolstered the role of school leader and inspired similar programs around the world.

Over the past 40 years, The Principals’ Center has flourished, convening thousands of educators and inspiring the creation of similar models around the world. One of its contributions has been advancing the conception of principals as not merely leaders of learning, but learners themselves. “Nothing is more important than learning,” says Barth. “The Principals’ Center has helped shout from the mountaintop of our profession the message: In education, one is a learner and thereby a leader.”

That emphasis on school leader as learner has served as a catalyst to transformative experiences for principals from all over the world. “It was one of the most inspiring things I have done in my life,” says a school leader who participated in The Principals’ Center offering, Improving Schools: The Art of Leadership. “It reinforced for me the power of courageous, benevolent, and visionary leadership. I now have a network of colleagues from around the globe. We share ideas and practice and motivate one another.”

School leaders put into action what they learn at The Principals’ Center programs, as reflected by an educator who participated in Race, Equity, and Leadership in Schools: “As school leaders, we have enormous opportunity to make a difference in the culture of our own school. The program provided me with the tools I need to be an ‘equity warrior.’”

Today, The Principals’ Center is reaching thousands of school leaders each year through on-campus and online programs that build leadership capacity and address high-priority challenges and opportunities. HGSE recently launched an innovative collaboration with Harvard Business School to create an online Certificate in School Management and Leadership that integrates faculty expertise across the two schools and delivers actionable insights for principals in a highly scalable model.

The Principals’ Center portfolio reflects the foundation built over the past 40 years: responding to the needs of school leaders, connecting to evidence-based practice, and creating a community of learners. 

“It’s difficult to explain to people that I feel like this institute changed my life,” says a principal who attended Leadership: An Evolving Vision. “This is a powerful statement to make, but one that I can say with sincerity ….  I made some significant, positive change in my life as a result of my week at Harvard.” – Keith Collar

Learn More and Connect

Visit The Principals' Center website to learn more about HGSE’s professional learning opportunities for school leaders.

See all Stories