Book:  The Principled Principal

Author:  Jeff Zoul & Anthony McConnell

Purchase:  PrinteBook 

Citation:  Zoul, J. & McConnell, A. (2018). The principled principal : 10 principles for leading exceptional schools. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Three Big Takeaways:

  • While we agree that teachers are indeed the most important variable impacting student success, we also maintain that the importance of school principals is a very close second. Almost anything the school principal does has a direct impact on teachers who, in turn, more directly impact students. When strong principles are in place, they positively influence the school culture and the instructional quality of the teachers they lead. The principal makes the most impact on a school in the form of that school’s culture. (pg. 2)

  • Communication is one of the most important responsibilities of a school leader. Good communication keeps staff, students, parents, and community members in the loop of the school's business and is a major factor in garnering support. Inadequate communication is probably the most common reason principals lose their jobs. Far more principals are done in by poor relationship and communication skills than poor test scores. Great principles are dynamic and innovative communicators who are not only aware of the specific message they're trying to convey; they are also aware of the big-picture  story their school must tell. (pg. 143)

  • The leader’s voice should never be the voice raising the level of stress and anxiety, their voice should be the voice that lowers it. Some people adhere to the faulty belief that strong leaders are people who discover a crisis and then run around yelling to solve the problem. Sadly, leaders who believe this way often end up creating a crisis when one doesn't exist. A byproduct of this leadership style is an entire group of staff, parents, and students operating at heightened and unsustainable emotional states. (pg. 186)

Other Key Ideas:

  • One thing that helped us succeed at school principals was having a set of core leadership values to which we adhered consistently. Based on our experiences as school administrators as well as our observations of school leaders and many other schools we have found that the most effective principals also lead according to principles they adhere to consistently. Over time, such principles rarely need to waste time deliberating about what to do next or whether to initiate a new program. (pg. 3)

  • One way to show you care is when a staff member needs to leave early one day for some reason. Find every opportunity to say yes to these requests. If it is possible and does not endanger students for a teacher to leave a few minutes early, it should always be your goal to accommodate them. Yep many principals will categorically deny such requests to the point that no one will ever ask. These leaders believe they are setting a poor precedent: if they let one person do it, they will be inundated with similar requests from others. (pg. 42)

  • Great principals know that things are rarely black and white. Don't get us wrong: some issues in schools must absolutely be black and white. But the example of an employee asking to leave early shows how operating in the gray area breeds success. School cultures and professional relationships are never achieved in the strict policies and procedures of a district Operating in the gray area means making decisions based on a people first mindset. (pg. 44)

  • In today's schools, most principals are equipped with an enormous amount of data pertaining to academic performance. But what about data relating to other important areas critical to school success, such as school culture and student engagement? Peter Drucker maintained, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.” Great principals measure much more than student learning, they measure everything that matters. (pg. 87)

  • Most principals can decide pretty quickly into the school year whether they have made a wise hiring decision. It could be as short as a week but probably not longer than a month. At a minimum, the school will be stuck with that teacher for the remainder of the school year. Worse yet, students will probably be stuck with him or her as well. Our schools and our children simply cannot afford hiring mistakes. (pg. 102)

  • We should hire for talent when we have an open position. Talent refers to a disposition, mindset, or overall character. In short, it is the way a person approaches the world. Experience and education can change over time, but who a person is, why they do what they do, and how they approach the world is likely to be the same in 20 years as it is today. Talented teachers get the most out of their students. They work well with others. They do not have enormous egos and are willing to admit mistakes and reflect in order to improve. Talent is not hard to notice. (pg. 110)

  • If we are not constantly changing, we are probably missing something, since human knowledge is doubling every year. Although difficult, educators must constantly imagine a world in which much of what we learn today is no longer relevant tomorrow. It is for these reasons that schools must embrace, not resist, change. Leading change starts by being honest with our colleagues and explaining why a continuous state of change is our new reality. Our kids need us to prepare them for an ever-changing world. (pg. 125)

  • Principals need to get up to date in the digital age in terms of how we communicate and how much paper we send home. Recent statistics reveal that 88% of people in the United States have access to the internet, and 77% have smartphones. Lack of Internet access is no longer an excuse for not communicating digitally. (pg. 157)

  • When staff members do not understand the why of decisions made in their school, we are destroying the culture of that school. When staff members do not understand why something is happening, they are not only less likely to support it but also more likely to feel frustrated, confused, and even bitter. Such feelings among educators in a school crush the culture. Great principals seek input from all staff by listening to all perspectives and ensuring that everyone's voice is heard before making decisions that will impact the school. Once the decision is made, they explain how the decision making process worked and why the final decision was made. (pg. 166)

  • In recent years, it seems any discussion about school principals has centered almost entirely on principal leadership, with very little space devoted to the idea of management. Just as schools will not become great without great leadership, they also will not become great without great management. When great principals manage facilities, resources, and personnel well, they take mundane decisions off the plates of staff members. This allows everyone to focus on the most important work they do: teaching and learning. (pg. 168)

  • In a school, we want to avoid any surprises in terms of the day-to-day operations of the school. When there are too many unpleasant surprises in our school which alter the expectations of staff and or students, we are destroying the culture of that school. Effective principals work to minimize the number of surprises throughout the school year. Great principals are meticulous planners and schedulers who double and triple check everything that is planned and make sure to send reminders, follow up on all planning for events, and communicate proactively about anything that might be a surprise to staff members. (pg. 184) 

  • Great principals rarely, if ever, get caught up in situations perceived as emergencies. A concerned staff member may approach the principal with something they view as a huge problem.  What they need from us at that moment is not to validate their worst fears by matching their intensity; they need us to calmly put their problem into perspective. All organizations include some team members who seem to thrive on creating crises. These individuals enjoy being in a constant state of crisis, and they want you and the entire school to be there with them. These staff members always find a problem, no matter the issue. You could give these people $10,000 to decorate their classroom and they'd complain about how stressful it was to figure out what to buy. (pg. 189)

  • Within a couple of months into the school year, it is clear whether a principal is on the right track with staff, students, families, and the community. Unfortunately, principals stay in positions where they are not leading the school to success much longer than they should. If a principal is not making at least some meaningful progress after an entire school year, it is time for the district to part ways with the principal and for the principal to recognize this too. If the school you are leading is not in a better place after a year of your leadership, you should consider whether the school is still the right fit for you and you are the right leader for that school. (pg. 208)

  • One of the indispensable traits any leader needs to exhibit, without fail, and expect from others is trust. In schools with a positive culture, teachers believe the leader cares about them and has their best interests in mind. The principal, in turn, trusts that teachers want what's best for the school and each student attending the school. One of the key behaviors to develop trust among those we lead is doing what we say we will do. In a school where teachers do not trust a principal or the principal does not trust the teachers culture is toxic and a counterproductive force on the growth of its students. Successful principals are trustworthy people. (pg. 223)

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