What Great Principals Do Differently, by Todd Whitaker


“The difference between more effective principals and their less effective colleagues is not what they know. It is what they do” (pg xi).

“Education is extremely complex, and so is school leadership” (pg xi).

It’s People, Not Programs:

The quality of the teachers determines our perceptions of the quality of the school” (pg 5).

“Get better teachers or improve the teachers you already have” (pg 5).

“Programs are not the solution, and they are rarely the problem” (pg 6).

“Ineffective principals paid much less attention to individual growth. Instead, they focused their efforts on whole-school goals and issues. As school leaders, we must recognize that no matter what programs we introduce or seek to strengthen, our most important work is to improve the people in our schools” (pg 10).

Develop an Accurate Sense of Self:

“The principal who ‘doesn’t have time’ to praise teachers regularly may not realize how many less important tasks could - and should - be delegated to other so that they can focus on more important things like nurturing staff members” (pg 15).

“The most valuable gift a principal can give teachers is confidence” (pg 17).

Any time a teacher refers a student to the office, it’s a big deal to them, so be sure to let that teacher know it matter to you too. Always inform the parent so that the student is not off the hook, then “close the gap by getting back to the referring teacher after taking action” (pg 18).

Who is the Variable?

“ . . . effective principals viewed themselves as responsible for all aspects of their school” (pg 21).

. . . effective principals viewed themselves as the ultimate problem solver” (pg 21).

Be the Filter:

“We must keep our attention on the issues that matter, not divert our effort and energy to trivial annoyances” (pg 36).

“I wanted the teachers to be more excited about teaching tomorrow than they were today” (pg 37).

Teach the Teachers:

Great principals focus on students - by focusing on teachers.

Get teachers into each other’s classrooms (pg 44).

Hire Great Teachers:

A principal’s single most precious commodity is an opening in the teacher staff (pg 49).

Understanding the Dynamics of Change:

“ . . . it can take anywhere from three to nine years, to bring about substantive change” (pg 57).

“Average people tend to thing of solutions that make their job easier” (pg 61).

Standardized Testing

Care most about “ . . . staff motivation, teacher morale, school culture and climate, and student behavior” (pg 65).

Focus on Behavior, then Focus on Beliefs:

“Effective principals recognize the difficulty of changing a person’s lifelong beliefs” (pg 71).

“ . . . effective principals believe in the power of praise. As long as they praise correctly . . . we cannot praise too much . . . we must teach them the techniques of appropriate praise and get them to try it” (pg 74).

“ . . . if we can swallow our pride and ask them for their opinions in advance when appropriate (and after the fact when that is our only option), all of us can improve our skills and practice something that the best principals consistently do” (pg 83).

Understand the High Achievers:

“The very best leaders ignore minor errors” (pg 97).

“Teachers who say they are burned out were probably never on fire in the first place” (pg 102).

“Our first staff members can succeed anywhere, doing just about anything. if we do not take care of them, someone else will, and we will have squandered our most valuable resource” (pg 103).

Make it Cool to Care

“ . . . the key is to develop and establish a school-wide environment that supports everyone’s effort to do what is right” (pg 106).