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.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

re: Above All Else, It's the People That Make a School Successf

Todd Whitaker makes excellent points by saying that the great schools start with great people. If the climate is wonderful, scores are proficient, but the people have negative attitudes and low contributions, then the school will not succeed. Children respond to how the adults are acting. Principals need to be able to control what the adults in the school are doing. In many school districts the principals are the ones who conduct the interviews. They are the ones who need to find the right person to will compliment their school. I love the idea of principals observing other principals. This shows the teachers that principals also need to know and understand what other principals are doing in their district. It may also help when principals want teachers to observe their peers - just for ideas. The teachers will not react in a negative way.
Vision 2021 is a great idea for all principals (current and future) to become involved with. Principals are the backbone of the schools and need to bring many people together to create a great school.

re: Above All Else, It's the People That Make a School Successf

This was a refreshing point that is not made enough. The importance of people. Regardless of what leadership position you are discussing pressure is always going to be present and increasing. That is the nature of the beast and that is also why most people shy away from leadership positions. They don't like the pressure or the stress of the responsiblity. I think Todd Whittaker makes a necessary point about dealing with the pressures of leadership. Problems are always going to exist how you deal with them is what counts and I think the answer is who you have surrounded yourself with. People are what make the difference. Tomorrow will bring new challenges that will need new solutions but the people you surround yourself with are the one thing that will remain constant. If you surround yourself with good people then the problems and pressures are going to be minimized. This highlights the most important job of the Principal or any leader and that is hiring. Focus on hiring good people they are what can make a difference.