Principal’s Bookshelf: May/June 2014

The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact. Michael Fullan. Jossey-Bass, 2014, 160.

Now more than ever, education is driven by myriad forces, such as the Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, college- and career-readiness, school safety and security, and parent and community connections. The list goes on and on. To say that the school principal’s responsibilities are endless is an epic understatement. There are just not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything with a “business as usual” approach. As Michael Fullan explains in his new book, The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, the role of the principal needs to be redefined if we hope to achieve any level of effectiveness.

Fullan calls this a “watershed moment” for principals: the role of the principal has been evolving from a building manager to an instructional leader. Fullan builds on Ken Leithwood’s now well-known statement, “The principal is second only to the teacher in terms of impact on student learning.”How can the school principal effectively balance the day-to-day responsibilities of running the building, leading the staff through new initiatives (some mentioned above) and, most importantly, ensuring student achievement? Fullan writes that the usual methods, such as teacher evaluations that focus on accountability, are the “wrong drivers.” Instead, the principal needs to build the capacity of others. The development of what Fullan calls “professional capitol” is key.

“Having high expectations, investing in capacity building, increasing transparency of results and practice, and maintaining a relentless focus on progress in the end works because people become increasingly committed to results, to their peers, and to the system as a whole,” Fullan writes.

This is an easy, yet impactful, read that offers wisdom, examples, and resources (such as a downloadable PD Training Kit) to help guide principals to foster true, organic, positive change. Each chapter ends with bulleted lists of “Action Items” and “Discuss with Colleagues” points to help guide principals. Investing the weekend’s worth of time it takes to read this 160-page book could very well lead to the sustained growth and achievement that every school leader yearns for.

Reviewed by Robert Shappell, principal of Wilbur Watts Intermediate School, Burlington, New Jersey.


Creating a Classroom Culture That Supports the Common Core. Bryan Harris. Routledge, 2014, 90 pages.

Educators across the nation are asking a milliondollar question: Will the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) make a positive impact? In Creating a Classroom Culture That Supports the Common Core, Bryan Harris explores this question by examining substantive changes in daily instruction. Through thoughtful design, and the inclusion of quality, relevant information and resources, this book showcases how, “if done right, the Common Core has the potential to positively change the education landscape and result in increased learning, achievement, and motivation” for our students.

As we implement the CCSS, educators must strategically integrate content knowledge and students’ ability to demonstrate what they have learned; Creating a Classroom Culture That Supports the Common Core is a resource that can support this transition. Throughout the book, Harris focuses on Common Core skills and using them to engage students. Readers will find the topics (such as managing behavior, rigor, and critical thinking) relevant for all grade levels. Each chapter is filled with strategies for implementation, and includes reflection questions and additional resources to extend knowledge.

While it appears that the target audience for the book is classroom teachers, the topics and strategies in it should inspire reflection for school leaders on what we should promote for student success and what we should observe in our daily practice. For instance, a recurring theme in this book is that “active learning, student participation, and engagement in talking about their learning and knowledge [are] central to helping students meet content standards and 21st Century skills.” How are we, as instructional leaders, promoting this premise?

This book would make an excellent guide or book study as we lead our staffs to identify and discuss the hallmarks of a Common Core classroom. We must lead the same active learning, participation, and engagement for our staffs as we do for students. After all, shouldn’t we practice what we preach?

This book moved me to think in a new way about the CCSS and what they can do for our students. As a leader, I look forward to implementing Harris’s strategies in conversations with my staff as a whole and with individual staff members.

Reviewed by Erin Simpson, principal of Overlook Elementary School in Wadsworth, Ohio.


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