A New Principal’s Nuts-and-Bolts Guide to Finding Resources That Work

Effective principals use great resources to hone their abilities to manage instruction, people, and the organization.

Topics: Early Career Principals

Effective principals sharpen their abilities to manage instruction, people, and organization. Like Lego blocks, this triad of capabilities unites to uphold the practices that drive school improvement, as we know from The Wallace Foundation report, “How Principals Affect Students and Schools.”

The right resources equip principals with the capacities for effectiveness in all three of these building blocks. But how does a new principal choose, use, and peruse the most trustworthy and impactful resources? Experienced principals apply a process of finely honed judgment to assessing the resources proven to improve everyday practices.

How to Choose High Quality

For proven impact, systemize your search for resources.

“I truly do my homework,” says Denise Hunt, assistant principal of Riverview Elementary School, Georgia. “I look online and search for others using the resources currently, taking the time to collaborate with others to hear their successes and their challenges. By reading a lot of the information that comes through professional organizations, our district office, and the state of Georgia, I can look for patterns and trends that surface in our educational world. Then I try to align what is out there with our school goals for the year ahead of time as much as possible.”

Make the best use of your time with these additional tips:

  • Seek out recommendations. Look into resources suggested by mentors, trusted peers, and network members.
  • Leverage publications. When reading professional magazines and other publications, make a note of the sources referenced. Investigate to see if they are of interest and align with your school goals.
  • Join up. Professional associations provide rich arrays of vetted, trusted resources. When you attend conferences, load up your itinerary with sessions that feature peer-to-peer contact and information sharing, suggests Julie Bloss, principal of Grove Early Childhood Center, Oklahoma.

How to Use Wisely

Resources can be springboards to new, more effective practices. Some can even provide a jolt of inspiration that generates energy and enthusiasm for a new initiative.

Still, there is an art to implementing the right resources at the right time:

  • Anecdotes vs. research. The stories, experiences, and “dos and don’ts” shared in books and blog posts can make compelling reading about exciting new practices, but experienced principals also look for research that proves effectiveness. Keith Boone, principal of E.C. Best Elementary School, Nevada, compares individual experiences to his school’s challenges, and if there’s buy-in, “We will seek research-based professional resources that can be used to support the next level of work.”
  • Share judiciously. Your favorite bedtime reading might be a juicy research report on integrated learning, but your information-overloaded teachers need the CliffsNotes or video version. Respect their time constraints by sharing only those resources that are “easy to digest and relevant to our direct and immediate work,” says one principal.
  • Target your audience. Share specific resources only with those who have a need or interest in the topic.
  • Use communications outlets. Include a link to a highly relevant article in your regular newsletter or emails to staff. Reference a useful item in staff meetings. Incorporate helpful resources into your learning management system, PLCs, and shared drives.
  • Consult first. Before sharing a resource, ask members of your advisory team for their perspectives on its trustworthiness and relevance.
  • Research the resource. Have comparable schools used this resource? How was it received? What was the impact? Real-life examples can provide a peek into your possible outcomes.

The Go-Tos

Consider these resources favored by experienced principals: