The NPLI Summer Institutes

Michael Fullan, the leading authority on educational change remarked, "Change is a process, not an event." In a similar vein, the Summer Institutes conducted by NPLI for 20 years are not events. Nor, are they conferences. They are best described as a “transformational leadership process.”

Generally, national conferences schedule dozens of concurrent sessions on a range of topics.  You can select workshops that interest you. They may have little in common nor do they need to.

On the other hand, the NPLI Summer Institutes use a problem-based learning format, which calls for all participants (organized into 12-16 Institute teams) to develop and articulate solutions to the stated "problem.'  Everyone has the same sequence of sessions, speakers, and activities. (However, there are options within the activity, such as which expeditionary site to visit).

Problems have included Defining the Purpose of School, Challenging the Way We Measure Success, Achieving Equity and Excellence, Describing and Delivering the Leadership We Need, and in 2017, NPLI's 20th, Building Communities as Catalysts for Change.

The "problem" is always relevant, timely and challenging. The demands on the Institute teams are rigorous. For example, teams in the "measuring success Institute” had to devise a more comprehensive and holistic way to look at student and school success. In the "equity Institute" teams proposed a plan for addressing equity issues on the district, school, and classroom levels.


The NPLI Process for Building Leadership

The six-day Institute has a very deliberate design, evidenced by the sequence of activities, recommended readings, the placement of sessions and speakers, and required team tasks.

The school principals and other educational leaders in attendance hear from noted leaders in the arts, business, community organizing, finance, government, health, higher education, journalism, the military, performing arts, politics, science, social media, sports, and technology. These keynoters, panelists, moderators and reactors all focus on the Institute's theme.

Institutes include a “Student Voices” presentation, which enable Institute participants to better understand student perspectives after watching them perform. In addition, there is an infusion and inclusion of the arts through interactions with professional artists.    

Time is built in for private one-on-one consultations between attending principals and NPLI Global Faculty (retired and current superintendents and education leadership professors), with the intention of creating a personalized growth plan for each school leader.

A full day is devoted to Expeditionary Learning. Institute participants visit an organization (outside of schools) that develops leaders, such as the Coast Guard Academy, Met-Life, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Northwell Medical Center, NYC Police Academy, and West Point.

Video Tour of National Principals Leadership Institute, 2005


What makes the NPLI Summer Institute unique and special? They are known for

  • Tackling the hard issues

  • Looking at the "Big Picture" and developing practical strategies

  • Being heard: The institute is small by design. Unlike most national and state conferences with several thousand participants, NPLI enrollment is capped at 225.

  • Learning how to work in teams, by doing it with advice from a trained NPLI coach

  • Tearing down the silos. The Institute structure, teamwork and presentations promote collaboration and learning from a wide range of leaders, not just one’s district peers.                                                    

  • Working with a dedicated staff of 40 or more who come from nearly every state, Canada and other nations. Ninety-five percent are volunteers and they pay for their own travel.

  • Getting an opportunity to reflect and recharge. Being informed and inspired.

The NPLI approach, ever evolving and re-inventing itself, works. Ask the more than 3,500 participants and staff (annually reaching 3.5 million students) who came together over 20 years to create the NPLI community. Visit to review the themes, speakers and special features of past Institutes. Preview NPLI 2018, “Finding the Courage to Make the Difficult Decisions.”

This is no time to sit on the sidelines. Be part of the conversation and help shape it. Be engaged in a movement dedicated to creating and sustaining great schools for all students. We want you because “Leaders make the Difference.”