The Expanding Universe of Educational Leadership Standards Cross-walking the 2015 PSEL Standards and 2018 ISTE Standards


by Stuart Ives Carrier
associate professor, National Louis University

Since the dawn of the 21st century and the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), [2002], education leaders at school and district levels have seen their work profoundly reframed by national policies with sharply elevated expectations, accountability, and pressures on district officers, principals, teachers and school children.

NCLB was replaced in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which assured sustained leadership accountability while emphasizing higher state-driven academic standards focused on the expanded scope of preparing American students for success in two tracks: college preparation and career readiness.

Alongside these statutes and policies, the profession of educational leadership instituted the first contemporary set of leader preparation standards in 1996 through the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) [National Policy Board for Educational Administration, 2015] and then revised those standards in 2008 through the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC), [2008].

In November 2011, the National Policy Board for Educational Administration approved an Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) plan to set standards for advanced programs at the master, specialist, and doctoral levels for preparation of assistant principals, principals, curriculum directors, supervisors and other education leaders working at the school building level.

With another expansion of the scope of educational leadership, the CCSSO introduced Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) [NPBE, 2015] as a major revision of the ISLLC standards. Perhaps recognizing the complicated progression of standards and expectations for school leaders, the PSEL writers forthrightly pose and answer the rhetorical question, “Why do educational leaders need new standards now?”

The authors offer two fundamental reasons for new standards: first, school leaders’ job responsibilities have exploded in the age of “trauma informed schools” [Benishek, 2019]; and, second, the profession knows a great deal more now about how leadership can leverage student engagement and achievement.

The PSEL authors justify these updated standards as being driven by major socio-economic and political disruptors, including the dynamics of the global economy, workplace changes, technologies, national and state politics, competitive pressures and safety threats facing schools, and the changing demographics of children and family structures.

The PSEL standards define educational leadership broadly and emphasize the multi-faceted connection between school leadership and student learning. Figure 1 summarizes the PSEL “interdependent domains, qualities, and values of leadership work” [NPBEA, 2015, p. 3] that illustrate the expansion of the school leaders’ job beyond instructional leadership and standardized test-score improvement.


Figure 1. Summary of PSEL Leadership Domains [NBPEA, 2015]

1  Mission, Vision, and Core Values
2  Ethics and Professional Norms
3  Equity and Cultural Responsiveness
4  Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
5  Community of Care and Support for Students
6  Professional Capacity of School Personnel
7  Professional Community for Teachers and Staff
8  Meaningful Engagement of Families and Community
9  Operations and Management
10  School Improvement


Compared to earlier ELCC standards for the development of school building leaders, the new standards addressed gaps in leadership development by moving from seven broad standards to ten interdependent domains [NBPEA, 2015], accentuating new points of emphasis in creating Standard 5 (Community of Care and Support for Students), Standard 6 Professional (Capacity of School Personnel), and Standard 7 (Professional Community for Teachers and Staff).

These areas can be seen as reactions to news events such as an increase in active shooter incidents in schools [Kominiak, 2018] and to research findings, such as the expansion of the use of professional learning communities as frameworks for professional development, differentiated instruction, and co-teaching [Stoll, Bolan, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006]. The trends describe the complexities and gravitas of school and district leadership jobs.

On top of the expanding scope of school leader job responsibilities in the PSEL standards, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), [2018], recently updated standards and expectations for school leaders in relation to educational technology, social media, and the concept of digital citizenship as a developmental expectation for schools.

After ISTE updated standards and expectations for PreK-12 students (2016) and educators (2017), the organization updated standards for education leaders in 2018 for the first time since 2009, adding an “empowering leader” standard that expanded the scope of school leadership responsibilities to include establishing a school culture where technology can be used creatively to enhance learning.

In July 2019, the ISTE website lists the state of Florida as using the “Previous Generation of ISTE Standards” and offers to assist educators in an effort to “advocate for an upgrade” [ISTE, 2019].


Figure 2. Summary of ISTE Education Leaders Standards [2018]

Standard Description
1. Equity and Citizenship Advocate Leaders use technology to increase equity, inclusion, and digital citizenship practices.
2. Visionary Planner Leaders engage others in establishing a vision, strategic plan, and ongoing evaluation cycle for transforming learning with technology.
3. Empowering Leader Leaders create a culture where teachers and learners are empowered to use technology in innovative ways to enrich teaching and learning.
4. Systems Designer Leaders build teams and systems to implement, sustain, and continually improve the use of technology to support learning.
5. Connected Learner Leaders model and promote continuous professional learning for themselves and others.


Given the presence in schools of cyber-bullying, academic cheating, and social-media misbehaviors, the leadership task of creating a safe and innovative school technology culture presents some escalating complexities related to systems vulnerabilities that can be injected by internal or external hackers and bad actors. Clearly school leaders cannot create an emotionally safe, secure, ethical, and stimulating technology culture by themselves in a top-down approach. It would take a village, including some technologically creative teachers and staff, as well as a few good-hearted, ethical and adept students to create and work within a positive and healthy media ecology in an exemplary school.

The common foundational ISTE principle across student, teacher, and education leader standards is digital citizenship, defined by ISTE as “living, learning, and working in an interconnected digital world…in ways that are safe, legal and ethical” [2016]. The days of technologically unengaged school leaders are waning rapidly and the ISTE charge to create an innovative, stimulating technology culture in schools can only be achieved by relying upon several PSEL standards focused on using the Professional Capacity of School Personnel (PSEL Standard 6) to establish a technology-supported Professional Community for Teachers and Staff (PSEL Standard 7) and a Community of Care and Support for Students (PSEL Standard 5).

Following is a cross-walk of the 2015 PSEL and 2018 ISTE education leader standards, demonstrating the points of commonality that tend to suggest a picture of a healthy and robust school environment featuring visionary leadership, creative teachers, and engaged students working in a respectful community that generates rich communications, positive public relations with stakeholders including parents, and celebrations of achievements by individuals, teams, and the whole school community.


Figure 3. Cross-walked 2015 PSEL and 2018 ISTE Standards for Education Leaders

2015 PSEL Standard Related 2018 ISTE Standard Comment
PSEL 1. Mission, Vision, and Core Values ISTE 2. Visionary Planner Leaders voice the school vision, promote broad awareness of the mission, articulate core values, and organize community involvement in goal-setting.
PSEL 2. Ethics and Professional Norms ISTE emphasis on Digital Citizenship principles for students and teachers reinforces the professional ecology and ethics environment.
PSEL 3. Equity and Cultural Responsiveness ISTE 1. Equity and Citizenships Advocate PSEL and ISTE standards cross-reinforce an inclusionary school culture.
PSEL 4. Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment ISTE 4. Systems Designer Leaders take an integrated, systemic approach to curriculum, teaching, and assessment
PSEL 5. Community of Care and Support for Students
PSEL 6. Professional Capacity of School Personnel ISTE 3. Empowering Leader Leaders create a culture where teachers and learners are empowered to use technology in innovative ways to enrich teaching and learning.
PSEL 7. Professional Community for Teachers and Staff ISTE 5. Connected Learner Leaders model and promote continuous professional learning for the whole community.
PSEL 8. Meaningful Engagement of Families and Community Leaders use multiple technology platforms to communicate individual and school achievements as well as to inform and engage parents and external stakeholders.
PSEL 9. Operations and Management Leaders work with school district budget and technology staffs to implement technology platforms to support the district and school vision for an “interconnected digital world” (ISTE, 2016)
PSEL 10. School Improvement The continuous improvement cycles created through ISTE Standard 4 Systems Designer serve to carry out PSEL Standard 10. School Improvement



Thus the progression from earlier 1990s and 2000s educational leadership standards to the more expansive standards of 2015 and 2019 appear to enlarge the universe of school leader job functions dramatically. Yet the formal job descriptions of principals and other leaders remain basically unchanged from a human resources perspective.

What seems to have actually changed is our understanding of the ecological elements of school leadership jobs beyond test-score improvements, elevation of student achievement, and instructional leadership. The previously undesignated leadership elements related to the new standards of Community of Care and Support for Students (PSEL), Professional Community for Teachers and Staff (PSEL), Meaningful Engagement of Families and Community (PSEL), Equity and (Digital) Citizenship Advocacy (ISTE), and Connected Learners (ISTE) have been present in schools as learning environments and social ecologies, but were not previously identified because of the narrower perspectives of NCLB and ESSA.

In today’s America, Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have become historical markers of grave dangers informing school leaders’ sense of vigilance in protection of their students’ well-being. Numerous educators have noted that every school has a hidden curriculum [Dewey, 1916; Jackson, 1968], defined as “those things pupils learn through the experience of attending school rather than the stated educational objectives of such institutions” [Haralambos, 1991].

Unengaged school leaders run the risk of passively living in a Wild West, hidden curriculum—student-defined by Instagram, Snapchat, selfies, and cyber-bullying. Engaged leaders can intentionally create PSEL’s “community of care and support” and ISTE’s “school of connected learners” through leadership engagement in the PSEL and ISTE interrelated approaches. As our educational standards have created an expanding universe of leadership, the consciousness of our most effective school leaders have also grown to include these cultural, social-emotional, and technological dimensions of effectively leading today’s schools.




Benishek, B. (2019). How trauma-informed schools help every student succeed. Retrieved July 3, 2019, from Crisis Prevention Institute:

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy in education. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Haralambos, M., & Holborn, M. (1991). Sociology: themes and perspectives. New York: Collins Educational.

International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE. Retrieved from ISTE Standards for Students:

International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE Standards for Educators. Retrieved from ISTE:

International Society for Technology in Education. (2018). ISTE Standards for Education Leaders. Retrieved from ISTE:

International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards adoption by state. Retrieved from ISTE:

Jackson, P. W. (1968; 1974). Life in classrooms. New York: Holt Rinehart & WInston.

Kominiak, T. (2019). Trending in the wrong direction. K-12 school violence on the rise.

National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NBPEA). (2015). Professional Standards for Educational Leaders 2015. Reston, VA: Author.

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, P.L. 107-110, 20 U.S.C. § 6319 (2002).

Stoll, L., Bolan, R., McMahon, A., Wallace, M., & Thomas, S. (2006). Professional learning communities: a review of the literature. Journal of educational change, 221-258.


Author Bio

Dr. Stuart Ives Carrier serves the National College of Education at National Louis University as associate professor of educational leadership, and director of leadership studies in the School of Advanced Professional Programs. He has taught in NLU’s doctoral and master’s programs based at the NLU Florida campus, which serves Florida school districts throughout central Florida. Dr. Carrier is a former high school language arts teacher for Hillsborough County Schools in Tampa, Florida.