What sets great principals apart? Whitaker argues that if we can clarify “what the best leaders do, and then [practice] it ourselves, [we] can move into their ranks” (xi). But he does not argue for a prescribed recipe. In fact, he strives to build a framework within which each principal can continuously work on improving his or her leadership skills. “Think of [this book] as a blueprint. The principals are the architects. The teachers establish the foundation. The students move into the building and fill it with life and meaning” (141).
The Best Teacher
One of Whitaker’s key ideas is that of the best teacher. What does “best teacher” mean to you? And why is that person(s) so important to great principals?
Superstar teachers from Al Burr (1993) are those who
- former students remember as their best teacher
- parents regularly request for their children teachers
- have the respect of their peers
Great teachers are indispensable. They can help a new principal learn the job. They will tell the principal the truth in a way that is acceptable. They keep the principal’s confidence. They have school wide-vision. Great principal’s will always base their decision on what the great teacher will think of it.
Todd Whitaker’s voice.
I think it’s important to hear Todd speak because his passion, confidence, and style will remains with you as you read the text. Here he is speaking to the first of his 18 statements of effectiveness: “It’s people, not programs who determine the quality of the school.”
This is some list. What jumps off the page for you?
Here are my top three picks:
#3 Who is the variable? Great principals make all teachers aware that they are the variables in the classroom. When we talk about high expectations, it’s that teachers need high expectations of themselves. Likewise, effective principals view themselves as responsible for their school. They do not look to factors outside the school as the cause of problems or issues with students or staff. Great principals are problem solvers. They draw upon people from within and from beyond the school community to look for innovative ways to approach problems.
# 7 Hire Great Teachers because you want your school to become like the best teachers you hire. Whitaker argues that many principals will hire who fit into their existing staff, but it’s impossible to improve your school in this way. Hiring teachers who will lead other teachers and who have talent will be teachers who help principals achieve their goals for the school.
#11 Loyalty to whom? Great principals know to keep the students, all students, at the centre of their decisions. Principals are constantly faced with ideas, initiatives, plans, and opportunities for their school, students and staff alike. Great principals will ask the question of any new idea, “What would my best teachers think of this?” But they will also ask, “What is best for the students?”
Does Whitaker’s thinking align with our conversations in Ontario? I think it does. Have a look to see where his 18 statements of effectiveness fit into the Ontario Leadership Framework. At least, where they fit for me, today.
The “Building Relationships and Developing People” strand gets the bulk of the effectiveness statements, and that makes sense. As George Couros comments in the beginning of his post exploring the “Setting Directions” strand,
“building relationship and developing people” should have been the first leadership strand in my opinion, as everything starts with relationships and knowing your people.
There are a lot of books on leadership and being a principal. Whitaker speaks to ways a principal can become more effective that are grounded in his experiences and his work in education. He shares his philosophy through personal anecdotes and vignettes to which all principals, and aspiring principals can relate.
Every principal has an impact. Great principals make a difference.