Book Review: What Great Principals Do Differently


A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing Todd Whitaker speak at a conference.  I was really impressed with how engaging he was as a speaker and how passionate he is about helping teachers and administrators be excellent at what they do.  As a result of his session, I immediately went online and picked up a few of his books.  The first one I read is What Great Principals Do Differently.  I try to be intentional about everything that I do in my life.  I have no desire to be an average or good principal.  God has called me and equipped me to be a high school principal and my desire is to do that with excellence (Colossians 3:23).  Whitaker’s tools are helpful for assessing and growing as an educator and as a leader of educators.  I’d recommend this book to anyone…even if you aren’t a principal…this book is a great resource!

I highlighted several things while reading so that I can refer back to them.  My goal is to be a great principal, so I am already looking for ways to assess myself and grow in these areas.

  • The difference between more effective principals and their less effective colleagues is not what they know.  It is what they do.
  • If every teacher in your school were like your best teachers, would you have a great school?
  • All the way from kindergarten to college, the quality of the teachers determines our perceptions of the quality of the school.
  • Great principals never forget that it is people, not programs, who determine the quality of a school.
  • If we aren’t gifted with the skill of self-awareness, we need to work at developing it.  We need to intentionally open the door to feedback.
  • Effective principals accurately perceive how their teachers view their strengths and weaknesses.
  • The most valuable gift a principal can give teachers is confidence.
  • When you want to be good at what you do, asking for guidance counts as a sign of strength.
  • Great principals have clarity about who they are, what they do, and how others perceive them.
  • Who is responsible for the climate in your school?
  • The difference between average and great principals lies in what they expect of themselves.
  • Great principals take responsibility for their own performance and for all aspects of their school.
  • One of the key responsibilities of an effective leader is to create a positive atmosphere.
  • If we do not establish a productive focus, should we be surprised if the voices of the of the naysayers set quite a different tone?
  • Our impact is significant; our focus becomes the school’s focus.
  • No matter what the purpose, content, or focus of the faculty meeting might be, I always had one simple additional goal: I wanted the teachers to be more excited about teaching tomorrow than they were today.
  • We are very fortunate to work in education; sometimes we just forget how blessed we are.  By consistently filtering out the negatives that don’t matter and sharing a positive attitude, we can create a much more successful school.  Consciously or unconsciously, we decide the tone of our school.
  • As principals, we must recognize that unless we show teachers a better way, they will probably never even attempt a different instructional practice.
  • When I realized that others could learn from my superstar teachers, too, getting other teachers into their classrooms became an essential tool.
  • When we use our most effective teachers as positive role models, we multiply their productivity and help others maximize their talents.  What’s more, we raise the level of respect that other staff members have for our best teachers, which in turn enhances their influence throughout the school.
  • Great principals hire dynamics teachers and strive to keep them that way.
  • The essential variable in hiring is the teacher’s talent.
  • Talent means the total package: love of students, a bright mind, a positive attitude, a congenial personality, a great work ethic, leadership skills, and charisma.
  • I’d rather start with someone who has a jarful of talent and a thimbleful of technique than the other way around.
  • Great principals take every opportunity to hire and retain the very best teachers.
  • Great principals understand the dynamics of change.
  • Great principals keep standardized testing in perspective and focus on the real issue of student learning.
  • Great principals know when to focus on behavior before beliefs.
  • Great principals are loyal to their students, to their teachers, and to the school.  The expect loyalty to student and the school to take precedence over loyalty to themselves.
  • The most effective principals have the confidence to seek input in advance and feedback after the fact.
  • Our superstars will always be effective teachers, but if we do not value their contributions, they will limit their influence to their individual classrooms.
  • Before making any decision or attempting to bring about any change, great principals ask themselves one central question: What will my best teachers think of this?
  • If applied consistently, the question “Who is most comfortable and who is least comfortable?”  can bring clarity to our decision making.
  • Give your superstars autonomy, the freedom to do the things they know are best.  Let them take chances and risks. Watch them implement innovations that all the rest can draw from.
  • Great principals consistently pay attention to the needs of all their star members, but they are particularly sensitive to the needs of their best teachers.
  • Getting people to follow the current educational trend is fine.  Getting people to do the right thing is essential.
  • Whining is worthless, caring is keen.
  • Great principals make it cool to care.  They understand that behaviors and beliefs are tied to emotion, and they understand the power of emotion to jump-start change.
  • Effective principals aim to treat people with respect ten days out of ten.
  • Great principals work hard to keep their relationships in good repair—to avoid personal hurt and to repair any possible damage.
  • When their efforts and results are visible, they rise to the occasion.
  • Which teachers are most comfortable when a principal comes into their classroom?
  • “Courage is being scared to death—but saddling up anyway.”  John Wayne
  • Great principals take steps to improve or remove negative and ineffective staff members.
  • Great principals establish clear expectations at the start of the year and follow them consistently as the year progresses.
  • Every principal has an impact.  Great principals make a difference.




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