Keynote Speakers

The National Principals Conference is our time to pause and focus on our professional growth, and there’s no better way to truly reflect on our leadership than with this lineup of inspiring and knowledgeable thought leaders. Hear from bestselling authors, award-winning principals, and trailblazing educators who will share groundbreaking insights and inspiration to fuel our practice.

Wednesday, July 14

From Striving to Surviving: Creating Equitable Environments

For community members to thrive, they must feel safe to be who they are: They must love themselves. As a result, our leadership, instruction, and assessment must foster psychological and emotional safety through emotional intelligence, cultural responsivity, and anti-racist practices.

Dr. Dena Simmons will discuss how the intersection of emotionally intelligent and culturally relevant practices can create equitable and welcoming communities—where everyone can learn in the comfort of their skin.


  • Dena Simmons, ED.D.
    Founder of LiberatED

    Dena Simmons, EdD, is the founder of LiberatED, an anti-racist approach to social-emotional learning and healing. She is the former assistant director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, where she supported schools to use the power of emotions to create a more compassionate and just society. Prior to her work at the center, Simmons served as an educator, teacher educator, diversity facilitator, and curriculum developer. She has been a leading voice on teacher education and has written and spoken across the country about social justice pedagogy, diversity, emotional intelligence, and bullying in K–12 school settings, including the White House, the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit, the United Nations, two TEDx talks, and a TED talk on Broadway. Simmons has been profiled in Education Week; the Huffington Post; NPR; the AOL/PBS project, “MAKERS: Women Who Make America;” and a Beacon Press Book, Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists. She earned her doctorate degree from Columbia University, where she recently served as faculty in the Summer Principals Academy. Simmons’ research interests include teacher preparedness to address bullying in the K–12 school setting, culturally responsive pedagogy, and the intersection of equity and social-emotional learning interventions—all in an effort to ensure and foster justice and safe spaces for all. She is the author of the forthcoming book, White Rules for Black People.

Thursday, July 15

Grading for Equity: What Is It, and What Does It Mean Post-Pandemic?

The pandemic has shone a bright spotlight on the fundamental flaws of our traditional grading practices. This presentation will provide a brief overview of the history of grading in this country, and how the continued use of those practices negatively impacts teaching and learning, raises stress, and perpetuates achievement disparities. We’ll then introduce the framework of equitable grading, provide an example, and share how these approaches have benefitted teachers and students.


  • Joe Feldman
    Author, Grading For Equity

    Joe Feldman has worked in education for over 20 years as a teacher, principal, and district administrator, and is the founder and CEO of Crescendo Education Group, which has supported K–12 schools, districts, and colleges/universities nationwide to improve grading and assessment practices since 2013. He has presented at many education conferences, and his writings have been published in Education Week, Kappan, Education Leadership, District Administrator, and Black Press USA. He published Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms in 2018. Crescendo Education Group has partnered with the National Education Association as well as the American Federation of Teachers, National Association of Independent Schools, and Stanford University’s Challenge Success. His online course for Grading for Equity launched this year.

    Feldman earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a master’s degree in teaching and curriculum from the Harvard School of Education, and is also the author of Teaching Without Bells: What We Can Learn from Powerful Practice in Small Schools.

Friday, July 16

How to Foster Leadership and Resilience in These Times

During times of crisis and uncertainty, a unique kind of leadership is needed—leadership that is courageous, responsive, and emotionally attuned to others. What can leaders say and do to embody this kind of leadership, and how can they find their own internal reserves of strength to do so?


  • Elena Aguilar
    Writer, Leader, Teacher, Coach, and Podcaster

    Elena Aguilar is a writer, leader, teacher, coach and podcaster. She is the author of six highly acclaimed books: The Art of Coaching, The Art of Coaching Teams, Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators, The Onward Workbook, Coaching for Equity, and The Art of Coaching Workbook. She has also been a frequent contributor to Edutopia, ASCD’s Educational Leadership, and Education Week.

    Aguilar is the founder and president of Bright Morning Consulting, an organization committed to helping individuals and organizations create the conditions for transformation. She has taught tens of thousands of folks how to have conversations that build a more just and equitable world. Aguilar can be heard demonstrating these conversations on the “Bright Morning Podcast.”

    Aguilar is also the co-founder of Kenya Big Picture Learning, she’s on the advisory board of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and she is a certified mindfulness meditation teacher.

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