The National Academy of Canada’s Outstanding Principals: Celebrating Leadership

What is Canada’s Outstanding Principals?

It is, in my view, the only comprehensive and complete award in Canada for principals. A lot of provincial governments have awards for principals, but there is no other award like this in Canada.

This award is so important because in the life of the school, the principal is key. The most important person in the school for the students is the teacher, but in terms of the whole school: the teachers; the kids; the caretakers; the daycare; all the activities that occur at night, like the PTA, the principal is the linchpin: they are important to how the school operates and whether the school is a success.

As Premier Kathleen Wynne said: There can be no great schools without great principals.


Can you tell us about the history of the program?

The program started 12 years ago, with the first award in Autumn 2004, while the first National Academy program was in 2005. The Learning Partnership and principal associations in Ontario came up with the idea: worked out the process, and evaluation; and approached Canadian Association of Principals, who agreed to support the program through provincial associations.

Each year, 30 (expanded now to 40) principals are selected by the national selection committee. The number of winners for each province is decided by proportion (representation by population) where the largest, most populous provinces get the most number of winners.


Could you talk about your role in the program?

I’m the program manager. Essentially, I’m responsible for all the nomination activities, the deadlines, and coordinating the national selection committee. I work with Rod Thompson, Director of Executive Leadership at The Learning Partnership who oversees all of the professional learning opportunities we offer to education leaders.

Each local principal association of a province can access the nominations for their province, which they can then select nominations to go on to the national selection committee. The national selection committee includes members of the education sector, business people, and interested citizens from across the country. The committee receives all the packages, which are evaluated and then narrowed down to 30, after which an additional 10 winners are selected from the remaining nominees (based on marks) that may not have been selected due to the limitations of the “rep by pop” system.

The main criteria are “leadership and achievement” and “leadership and innovation.” We are looking for student achievement and what the principal has done that is creative and innovative to that school.


What are the benefits for being recognized as an Outstanding Principal?

  • Professional Development: A five day course leadership at the Rotman School at the University of Toronto
  • Canada’s Outstanding Principals Gala in Toronto (accommodations + travel)
  • National recognition (appears in an ad in a national paper)
  • Become member of the Academy of Canada’s Outstanding Principals
  • Access to 400+ community of principals to share expertise and mutual problem solving

As a condition of winning, we also encourage each winner to consider having a Learning Partnership student program in their school.

Can you tell us more about the Canada’s Outstanding Principals Gala?

The Gala is about accolades and attention: it is a celebration of principals that I often compare to the Academy Awards. It’s a chance for winners and their families to celebrate their achievements and the role of the principal.

Representatives from Boards and Ministries, such as Directors of Education and the Ministry of Education, as well as politicians from local communities also attend the event.


Can you elaborate about the professional development aspect of COP?

Past winner testimonials have said it is the best professional development that they’ve ever received. This has been unanimous and said every year since the program began. Where else do you get the chance to talk to a CEO of a major bank or company? Education leaders have the rare opportunity to interact and network with business leaders, and discover that they are dealing with many of the same issues that principals deal with in their profession but on a different level.

The program engages participants in simulation activities, where they work together to solve problems often found in the business sector or industry. They are also put into peer advisory groups, which are unique in that they meet in small groups and each principal is asked to present problems they are currently working on, and collaborate with others to develop solutions or manage the issues. Often within their school districts, there can be subtle competition between principals, making it difficult to discuss any challenges you have. These activities help participants establish connections with other professionals and principals from outside their community, helping them establish a support network.


There is also a shorter, concurrent program with the Academy for any past winners of Canada’s Outstanding Principals. People love coming back as it’s a great opportunity for professional development that allows Academy members to reconnect and meet new inductees (winners), and bring them into their network.

This year’s theme is First Peoples Education, in addition to the Changing World of Work.

Another strength of this program is that winners leave becoming advocates of public education. Their professional outlook is expanded and helps them realize what their impact is and can be beyond their school and immediate community. They now have heightened awareness of their role as advocates of public education in Canada.


Why did The Learning Partnership choose to focus on the “Changing World of Work?”

The Changing World of Work is a full day program for winners, Academy members, and principals from every corner of the GTA. Participants will attend workshops to meet HR personnel, recent successful grads, and business leaders, while exploring and discussing the realities of hiring and entering the workforce.

The education system plays a critical role in preparing students for the world of work. This is an opportunity to learn from industry leaders about hiring practices and what principals and educators can do to support students entering the world of work.

Jon Powell has been the National Program Manager for Canada’s Outstanding Principals since its inception in 2005. Prior to working at The Learning Partnership, Jon was a principal with the Toronto District School Board. He believes that working on this program has made him the luckiest principal in Canada.

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