Book:  What Great Principals Do Differently

Author:  Todd Whitaker

Purchase:  PrinteBookAudiobook

Citation:  Whitaker, T. (2012). What great principals do differently : eighteen things that matter most. Larchmont, N.Y: Eye on Education.

Three Big Takeaways:

  • The most valuable gift a principal can give teachers is confidence; the most valuable gift a teacher can give a student is confidence.

  • We never yell, argue, or use sarcasm (humiliate a student). This never works.  Arguments: We never win an argument. They won’t back down in front of their peers.  They are probably better at it than we are. As a school, we also understand that we do not get in arguments with parents, other staff, or anyone else.  It’s not a matter of giving up or giving in. It’s a matter of being professional.

  • What matters most were effective lesson plans for the students, not neat lesson plans for me.  There appears to be little connection between an effective teachers and a tidy plan book or nice looking lesson plans on the district server.  When I thought about my best teachers, I realized they must see this requirement as another hassle.  I have nothing against planning for lessons, and it might be a good idea to review the lesson plans of a poorly prepared teacher.  But I decided not to take time away from what mattered – which was engaging with students effectively.  

Other Key Ideas:

  • Its not the programs you have in the school, it’s the teachers.  If there were a program that could succeed regardless of teacher, it would be in place in every one of our schools.

  • Effective leaders get out of the office and seek out informal feedback.  Less effective principals have dozens of reasons for not visiting classrooms daily, or at least weekly.  

  • Effective principals accurately perceive how their teachers view their strengths and weaknesses.  Ineffective principals lack this awareness.

  • Great principals hold faculty meetings that teachers look forward to and value.  In order to find out if a faculty meeting in effective, consult the best teachers in the school. 

  • Everyone remembers when someone in a leadership role treated them inappropriately – no matter how long ago it may have been.

  • Praise must be authentic.  If you praise effectively, it is impossible to praise too much.  Have you ever been praised too much? Of course not! 

  • The only way a principal can improve a school are to hire better teachers or to improve the teachers who are already there.

  • Just like a teacher should be out from the desk, a principal should be out in the rooms and hallways; The best teachers like having principals come in their room regularly, the worst do not.  When teachers see us in their classrooms, they see how we expect them to interact with students.  This is one of the principals most significant jobs.  

  • A principal’s single most precious commodity is an opening in the teaching staff; must add teachers who are better than the ones who leave.

  • Hiring for talent will pay off in the long run.  Talent means the total package:  Love of students, bright mind, positive attitude, congenial personality, a great work ethic, leadership skills, charisma.

  • If you think hiring experience matters, rank your teachers (or principals) from least to most effective then not how many years of experience each has.  I doubt those two correlate perfectly.

  • Best principals do not believe in the value of testing more than others, they understand the importance of the test results; The best principals describe student achievement in a broader sense, not just test scores.

  • Superstar teachers:  Students like them and refer to them as their favorite teacher, parents request them, peers respect them, if they leave, they will be hard to replace.

  • We must delegate anything that anyone else can do; there are so many things that only the principal can do

  • For discipline matters, focus on prevention, not punishment

  • The excitement of starting a new school year provides opportunities to reestablish expectations and introduce changes.  Chance to set the tone for the school year and move the faculty forward. 

  • Ineffective teachers consistently focus on the consequences.  The great teachers want to prevent a student from misbehaving.  Least effective teachers focus on what is going to happen to the student.  They focus on the past.  We do not want students angry when they leave the office.  Angry students are a problem, not a solution

  • First faculty meeting of the year you can set expectations.  This sets an important benchmark that we can revisit if people go astray later in the year.  

  • Some aspects of day to day routine don’t matter much.  I have always worked to be punctual, but I never kept close tabs on whether my teachers arrived by the official check-in time, as long as they were effective with their students

  • Before making any decision or attempting to bring about any change, great principals ask themselves “what will my best teachers think of this?” Continually ask who is most comfortable and least comfortable with the decisions they make. Treat everyone as if they were good.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.