Politicians can legislate benchmarks and teacher qualifications, but they cannot legislate effectiveness. That task is up to principals, according to Todd Whitaker, professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University. Whitaker, who speaks to approximately 250,000 educators every year, believes that regardless of the educational climate, great schools start with great people. Vision 2021 forecasts that principals will need to act as chief learning officers to lead great schools in the future.
Whitaker advises principals on how they can improve the effectiveness of their learning communities. They should aim to hire the best people and work to improve the ones they already have on staff. One of the best ways to do the latter is to create a culture where teachers learn from each other through informal, nonevaluative, peer observations. Educators are often isolated, and even feel threatened by the thought of being observed or being told to observe others. Whitaker believes principals can overcome this hurdle by starting with their best teachers and their new teachers. The best teachers are more confident in their abilities and more willing to work at their craft. The new teachers are the easiest to assimilate into a culture of peer learning. According to Whitaker, “The induction process begins during the interview,” as principals inform candidates that peer observations are part of the school’s culture.
Since principals generally come from the teaching ranks, they also may have an “independent contractor” mindset. Principals need to observe great principals to improve as well. "Unless a principal had great administrators as a mentor and teacher, she or he may have seen few examples of quality leadership," says Whitaker.