What Great Principals Do Differently & What Great Teachers Do Differently

Based on Todd Whitaker's books "What Great Principals Do Differently" & "What Great Teachers Do Differently". Also, Dr. Danny Steele's "Essential Truths for Principals" and Baruti Kafele's "The Principal 50"

Todd Whitaker's books "What Great Principals Do Differently" and "What Great Teachers Do Differently" are great resources that are research-based and practical/applicable to the everyday practice of school leadership for both principals and teachers. These are highly recommended resources for every principal.

Todd Whitaker’s research and books on “What Great Principals Do Differently” and “What Great Teachers Do Differently” are must-reads for school leaders. Dr. Whitaker gives practice and direct guidance on what sets apart the best at their profession and those that transform schools. A brief synopsis of his research includes:

Todd Whitaker's "What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 things that matter most"

1. Great teachers never forget that it is people, not programs, that determine the quality of a school.

2. Great teachers establish clear expectations at the start of the year and follow them consistently as the year progresses.

3. Great teachers manage their classrooms thoughtfully. When they say something, they mean it.

4. When a student misbehaves, great teachers have one goal: to keep that behavior from happening again.

5. Great teachers have high expectations for students, but have even higher expectations for themselves.

6. Great teachers know that they are the variable in the classroom. Good teachers consistently strive to improve, and they focus on something they can control: their own performance.

7. Great teachers focus on students first, with a broad vision that keeps everything in perspective.

8. Great teachers create a positive atmosphere in their classrooms and schools. They treat every person with respect. In particular, they understand the power of praise.

9. Great teachers consistently filter out the negatives that don’t matter and share a positive attitude.

10.Great teachers work hard to keep their relationships in good repair to avoid personal hurt and to repair any possible damage.

11.Great teachers have the ability to ignore trivial disturbances and the ability to respond to inappropriate behavior without escalating the situation.

12.Great teachers have a plan and purpose for everything they do. If plans don’t work out the way they had envisioned, they reflect on what they could have done differently and adjust accordingly.

13.Before making any decision or attempting to bring about any change, great teachers ask themselves one central question: What will the best people think?

14.Great teachers continually ask themselves who is most comfortable and who is least comfortable with each decision they make. They treat everyone as if they were good.

15.Great teachers have empathy for students and clarity about how others see them.

16.Great teachers keep standardized testing in perspective. They focus on the real issue of student learning.

17.Great teachers care about their students. They understand that behaviors and beliefs are tied to emotion, and they understand the power of emotion to jump-start change.

"The best ways to improve a school are hire better teachers or make the ones you have better. Great Principals do both!" - Dr. Todd Whitaker

Todd Whitaker's "What Great Principals Do Differently"

(1.) It’s the people, not programs. A school’s degree of excellence is perceived from the quality of its teachers. Administrators have two choices: hire new teachers or improve the current ones.

(2.) Who is the variable? Good teachers blame themselves when students do poorly on quizzes and tests and constantly search for ways to improve their teaching, taking a high degree of responsibility for their classes. Applying this standard to principals, effective principals take the attitude that they are responsible for everything that happens in their schools. In response to a query about who is responsible for school climate, ineffective principals placed responsibility on the faculty or simply the teachers. “The more effective principals responded, ‘I am’” (p. 16). Effective teachers and effective principals have high standards for themselves.

(3.) Treat everyone with respect, every day, all the time. The importance of teachers treating students with respect and principals treating staff and students with respect cannot be overstated.

(4.) The principal is the filter. Principals set the emotional energy level of teachers and students through many different means. While lying is not condoned, it is essential that principals selectively choose what information and attitudes to share with the staff and students, especially when the principal is angry or frustrated. A principal’s goals should be to squash negative attitudes and encourage enthusiasm for school among the staff and students.

(5.) Teach the teachers. One of the principal’s most important tasks is to help teachers improve their instruction and rapport with students. Usually a good assumption is that teachers already are doing the best that they can and would do better if they knew what to do.

(6.) Hire great teachers. As a principal, set your standards high: look for educational leaders rather than applicants who would fit in with the non-leadership of the current staff.

(7.) Standardized testing. Standardized tests are a reality, at least for the foreseeable future, for public schools and a small but increasing number of private schools. The principal can encourage the staff to work together for the good of the students regardless of how they feel about the tests.

(8.) Focus on behavior, then focus on beliefs. While ideally everyone in the school shares the same beliefs on issues such as the best teaching and classroom management techniques, there are usually a few staff members whose past negative experiences or simple fear of the unknown cause them to resist change. When change is needed, avoid philosophical arguments. Rather, focus on the desired behavior. Teachers’ beliefs are not as important as their actions, and with practice in new methods, their beliefs will likely come around as well.

(9.) Loyal to whom? Principals often have a choice to make when hiring a new teacher: Should they hire someone whom they feel will be loyal to them or hire a teacher who is talented but obviously strong-willed? What is in the best interests of all students, all teachers, and for the school? A strong-willed teacher may be difficult to handle, but his or her loyalty to the principal is secondary. What is important is getting the most talented teacher in the classroom. These are not easy choices to make, but the question of loyalty is clear: The principal must act in the best interests of all students and staff for the good of the whole school.

(10.) Base every decision on your best teachers. Each high-achieving teacher in the school is a treasured resource, one that should not be wasted. Principals should ask for input before making decisions that affect the staff, surveying them afterward for feedback. Ask these valued staff members to model any school improvement idea because they are already respected by their peers. Rather than waste time with trying to convert the resistant or mediocre teachers to new ways, let the “superstar” teachers lead them. Principals are warned not to ignore their best teachers but to always seek-out and showappreciation for their contributions. These teachers can bring much energy and creative force to bear on any school improvement plan.

(11.) In every situation, ask who is the most comfortable and who is least comfortable. The implementation of ideas that causes some teachers to feel uncomfortable may be good, especially if they are ineffective teachers. However, if the effective teachers are uncomfortable, the plan is poor and should not go forward.

(12.) Understand high achievers. The effective teachers in the school are rightly seen as sources of creative energy and power that can launch any school into an improvement mode. But how do principals protect this precious resource? The high achieving teachers in the school are just that – they desire to help and support everything and everyone, and taking responsibility is their automatic response to any request for help. Don’t ask them to do things other teachers can do.

(13.) Make it cool to care. When individual teachers or even an entire school staff support an apathetic, actively negative attitude toward students, it is a daunting challenge to change the situation.

(14.) Don’t need to repair – always do repair. They are on alert for the feelings of others, and in the case of effective principals, they have a great deal of knowledge about their staff’s families and interests. Engaging in constant repair, even when things are not obviously broken, is a way to keep school relationships strong.

(15). Set expectations at the start of the year. This is the best time for the principal to set forth school-wide classroom management expectations. Bringing up this subject in an effective and positive manner will set expectations at the beginning of the school year, and make it easier for the principal to discuss these issues with teachers if any problems do occur.

Great principals are great teachers, although their classroom is often on a much large scale. They teach the teachers and every adult in the organization, effectively modeling the way for the rest of the organization.

“Great teachers focus on expectations. Other teachers focus on rules. The least effective teachers focus on the consequences of breaking the rules.” - Todd Whitaker