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The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact

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The author of Six Secrets of Change describes how and why the principal's role must change to maximize student achievement

*** FREE Professional Development Guide Included ***

Principals are often called the second most crucial in-school influencers (after teachers) of student learning. But what should the principal do in order to maximize student achievement? One of the best-known leadership authors in education, Fullan explains why the answer lies neither in micro-managing instruction nor in autonomous entrepreneurialism. He shows systematically how the principal's role should change, demonstrating how it can be done in short order, at scale.

192 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2014

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Michael Fullan

155 books50 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 35 reviews
Profile Image for Peter Atkinson.
59 reviews3 followers
January 26, 2016
Michael Fullan begins The Principal – Three Keys to Maximizing Impact with some sobering statistics about the drop in morale among principals:

- 75% of principals feel that their job has become too complex;
- Half of all principals feel under great stress;
- The percentage of principals who are satisfied in their work has dropped since 2008.

Fullan believes that the overwhelming and anxiety-inducing responsibilities of today’s principals necessitate the re-imagining of the role of the principal. He begins this redefinition with what he terms a shocker: “the principal as direct instructional leader is not the solution!” (6) Indeed, he maintains that the current notion of the principal as instructional leader actually inhibits the principal’s influence over instructional improvement in her/his school! Instead, he proposes three key roles for the principal: as learning leader, system player, and change agent. (9)

Before exploring the 3 roles he proposes for principals, Fullan contrasts in Chapter 2: “Vices and Virtues” the wrong and right “drivers” of school improvement and student achievement. The first wrong and right drivers are, respectively, accountability and capacity building. He stresses that “Extreme pressure without capacity results in dysfunctional behaviour” (27), including cheating. The second pair is individualistic solutions versus collaboration. Fullan’s point is that no one person, including the principal, can change the culture of a school. Instead, “you have to use the power of the group to change the group.” (29) Wrong driver number 3 is unfocused acquisition and implementation of new technologies. The right driver is combining new technologies with new pedagogies. (36) The last contrast is fragmented strategies versus a system perspective.

In Chapter 2, Fullan also explains why he believes the recent concept of the principal as instructional leader is too narrow a view of the principal’s role. “The narrow view raises two problems: first, in complex matters [such as school improvement and student achievement], you can’t really micromanage to good effect; second it can be incredibly time consuming for principals, diverting them from doing other things [such as management, leading collaborative learning, and implementing change] that can shape learning more powerfully.” (39-40)

The first key role of the principal is addressed in Chapter 3: “Leading Learning”. In this chapter, Fullan begins by maintaining that principals who are effective lead learners are necessarily also good managers, because they understand that having clear routines is essential for school improvement.” (57) He quotes from Viviane Robinson’s Student-Centered Leadership to both underscore the previous point and emphasize that successful principals take an active learning stance: “The principal who makes the biggest impact on learning is the one who attends to other matters as well, but, most important, ‘participates as a learner’ with teachers in helping move the school forward.” (58) Fullan also borrows from Helen Timperley’s work in responding to the question, Who is in a principal’s class? The principal’s class consists of “team leaders who in turn can leverage the learning of other teachers in their group” (60)

After reviewing other educational theorists’ ideas, Fullan then examines the leading learning role of the principal from the perspective of his three-part conception of professional capital. The principal should seek and then cultivate human capital - quality teachers and teacher leaders. The principal should also foster conditions that allow teachers to learn from each other “in purposeful, specific ways to improve learning in the school”, that is, develop the school’s social capital. Finally, by fostering expertise in teachers, the principal builds decisional capital - teacher capacity for making wise decisions that improve student learning. (89)

He concludes Chapter 3 with two “powerful forces” that emerge from professional capital:

1. Mutual allegiance – a collaborative culture of helping, commiserating, and celebrating among
teachers “for the collective good”.
2. Talk the walk - teachers using “common language and transparent actions” for deep and important school improvement and student learning. (87-88)

The second key role for principals is stated in the title of Chapter 4 –“ Being a System Player”. Fullan qualifies this role by emphasizing that a principal shouldn’t pay less attention to school matters “but rather to engage outside in order to increase learning within your school (while at the same time contributing to the betterment of the system).” (99)

Fullan identifies two outside systems: intradistrict and outside the district. For the first, he argues that coherence can’t be achieved only through top-down alignment – from the district or board office to the school. There must also be strong lateral interaction between schools, as the latter is the only way for a shared mindset on improvement and student achievement to develop – the glue in the middle that will keep the system together. For principals, “the bottom line” is enhancing mutual learning among teachers in the school with learning from other schools.

A principal also needs “to see the world as your arena of ideas” (107), that is, engage in partnerships with schools beyond the district that are demographically similar but have met with greater success in achieving a common learning goal. Fullan argues that learning can be “two-way” from such a partnership. On one hand, teachers and the principal will learn a great deal from visiting this more successful school, but as well, in preparing to present to the other school’s staff, they will develop deeper awareness of their own school’s practices and culture.

The third key role identified by Fullan is for principals to be change agents. As uncertainty is always associated with change, the principal is to “work through the ambiguities” by tackling resistance, reassuring the reluctant that the outcome will be a good one, and inspiring confidence in those willing to move. (124) Fullan cautions that it takes more than just passion to successfully bring about change. Principals must also develop skills for leading change.

In the final chapter, Fullan examines two “formerly unforeseen forces” that he believes principals must address. The first is the digital revolution. Fullan maintains that the principal’s role is to embrace the “ever-alluring digital world” and contagious enthusiasm of both students and teachers for it by encouraging the integration of technology in their schools and actively participating in the process. The second force is specific to the American context – the Common Core State Standards. Fullan’s advice for U. S. principals is to avoid the temptation to passively implement the standards and assessment instruments that were developed in conjunction with them. Instead, principals “should understand the big picture but also work from the ground up”. (157) They can do this by uncovering the key learning goals that underlie the core standards, and partnering with teachers and students to find ways to realize them.

Profile Image for Dave Moyer.
583 reviews5 followers
June 24, 2014
We are going to use this book for our principal professional development this year. We had Fullan in the district last year, and he is the goods. This book is among his best. Highly recommended for all school administrators. As always, he takes very complex topics and makes them accessible for just about anybody. You can't argue against him. If this country wanted to solve it's education problems, or the state of Illinois for that matter, do what Ontario did--ask Fullan what to do and do what he says.
Profile Image for Jdchaffe.
115 reviews
May 23, 2019
Fullan makes a convincing case that we spend far too little time on collaborative gains as school leaders, and he offers realistic examples of how to create a school environment that is focused on student learning and a pleasant place to be.
Profile Image for Paul Cumbo.
Author 4 books17 followers
April 30, 2015
Realistic and insightful.

Fullan provides an insightful, reasoned, and measured mode of thinking on issues of educational leadership. If district leaders and school heads all read this book, perhaps the educational system could take a few steps forward instead of spinning its wheels in exhausting, outmoded processes that do little to improve schools.
Profile Image for Rebecca Maher.
Author 11 books57 followers
July 16, 2020
Was there a page count requirement for this book? There’s a lot of “Here’s what I’m about to tell you” and “Here’s what I just told you” and "Here's something I told you in another book I wrote." But in between: a decisively argued call to action for school leaders to prioritize teacher leadership and ongoing collaborative learning. "(U)se the power of the group to change the group."
Profile Image for Jordan Lanfair.
30 reviews3 followers
June 23, 2018
Excellent for Future Leaders

Breaking down their role and job of a principal is important. As times and schools change, what is being asked of school leaders must be examined and put into context for teacher satisfaction and student learning. This book helps a lot.
Profile Image for Kathy Locke.
244 reviews3 followers
December 27, 2017
I enjoyed the focus on the role of the principal being more than the transformational leader (cheerleader), less of the instructional leader (micromanager), while aiming for being the LEAD LEARNER!
Profile Image for Jenna.
149 reviews5 followers
July 27, 2018
Great book for future school leaders. Informative and engaging.
Profile Image for Tony Rublaitus.
128 reviews
October 15, 2018
Informative read about how to be the best principal you can be. He cited many other sources and it was a fast read.
Profile Image for Trina R..
52 reviews
June 28, 2019
Great ideas and a good read for a new principal. I like his focus.
Profile Image for Heather Hooks.
48 reviews
December 31, 2019
I must be honest and say this book was dry and difficult to complete, but it contained nuggets of useful information.
Profile Image for Dave.
77 reviews
April 16, 2022
8 years after it was written, this feels familiar and yet innovative. Simple points can be executed easily as a principal.
Profile Image for Heidi.
318 reviews4 followers
January 19, 2023
Good, solid advice for effective leadership in schools.
Profile Image for Taylor Ellwood.
Author 87 books134 followers
July 15, 2014
In this book, Fullan shares an analysis of the issues that face school principles as well as offering three keys they can use to effect organizational change in their schools as well as their districts. While this book is directed toward schools, I also think that business organizations can get some useful insights about how to effect change in the organization, as well as why it's important to provide support to the relevant change agents who a re responsible for implementing the change. Fullan provides not just a cultural perspective, but a historic perspective that is quite useful for understanding the challenges education faces as well as what can be done to address those changes. If you're in the education field, particularly in an administrative role, you'll find this book useful to read, and if you're not in education, but want a better understanding of the issues involved, this book will be eye-opening.
Profile Image for Mleander23.
60 reviews2 followers
February 21, 2014
The overall premise of the book focuses on the ever changing role of the school principal that presently micromanaging classrooms and teachers is an ineffective use of time which is at a premium. The book identifies ideas ideas that spark the readers attention only to find out it will be covered later in the book. Building teacher capacity, a safe climate for risk taking, increasing parent communication/ engagement, and continuing to grow in both personal professional learning and learning with teachers are of importance to change the direction of a lower performing school. A heavy focus on the 7 competences of leadership and building collaboration round out the book. I had been looking forward to reading "Principal" and found useful ideas, but nothing that really pushed my thinking.
Profile Image for CW.
227 reviews5 followers
February 18, 2016
Nothing really earth-shattering in this book in regards to administrative leadership, but it does look at some common sense approaches to impacting teaching and learning. Fullan also points out how important it is to have support from all the levels of the school district from teachers to the superintendent. I also liked the idea of having partner schools outside the district where teachers and admin can share ideas with others in their field, basically creating a PLC/PLN with educators you wouldn't normally interact with.
Profile Image for Lynn.
3,205 reviews56 followers
November 25, 2014
A slick, quick read about the school principal and how he/she can maximize impact on learning. Problem is that the book really doesn't say anything or go anywhere. A reader will not learn anything new nor remember what this book is all about. It is just a slick book about nothing. I suspect this book was written for seminars where the buyers won't know what they have until they get home. It's really full of nothing.
Profile Image for Nicole Dingman.
156 reviews
May 5, 2015
Just finished The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact by Michael Fullan. It was an interesting read for work. Spoke about Principalship and school leadership - what the job has become and what it needs to be to make an impact on our educational system. Some of the ideas are recycled from the 90's (proof that I've been in education a long time.) The pendulum just keeps on swinging. If you are thinking about becoming a Principal, I think it's a must read. 4 of 5 stars.
Profile Image for Jessyca505.
333 reviews13 followers
December 4, 2015
Sometimes dry, as I find his books.... But they are so impactful. The Principal had three roles : Agent of Change, System Player, and a Learning Leader. It always reinforces my craft of needing data to drive instruction, building capacity, and creating a culture of learning for learning. Change is a process. My favorite quote was that you need to "Act with knowledge while doubting what you know."...
193 reviews2 followers
February 19, 2015
Read it and then read it again

I want to re-read this book as soon as possible; not because I didn't get enough the first time but because enough isn't enough. Once again Michael Fullan has opened my thinking, expanded my perspective, and has guided me one step closer to being better.
Profile Image for Jawhite1.
20 reviews
May 28, 2018
This book did provide some good points regarding productivity and maximizing potential;however, it didn’t enjoy the writing style. It was rambling and difficult to follow. What he said was good, but it could have been said with much fewer words.
Profile Image for Abbie Eklund.
53 reviews
July 3, 2015
Excellent easy to read book talking about three keys to effective leadership as a principal. Provides theory and school examples of ways to have a strong impact. Not a "how-to" book, it causes you to think about your impact and assess how these keys might fit into your own context.
Profile Image for Riley Dubois.
3 reviews
June 18, 2015
Overall, solid... Fullan is a straight shooter & offers great insight for educational leaders. I typically do not read books a second time, since I'm already trying to come to grips with the fact that I'll never read all the literature that I want. But, this is a book that I will read again...
August 27, 2015
Interesting ideas

While agree with most of what Fullan says , but struggle with his definition of instructional leadership and his belief that a principal should not be an instructional leader.
Profile Image for Anne-Marie.
Author 9 books16 followers
January 25, 2016
Very interesting read, even if I'm not a principal, I felt alot of the strategies would be useful for every teacher and every leader out there! Michael Fullan's work is fascinating. I'm happy I read this book.
Profile Image for Samm.
287 reviews
June 27, 2016
I appreciated this book. While my potential indiction to the principalship is many years away, this book gave some good springboard thinking points. Additionally, I love the references list. I have so much more reading to do.
Profile Image for Tia Dawson.
14 reviews
August 6, 2014
I found this to be a good overall view of how our education system is changing, and, in turn, the principalship. Fullan outlines some important characteristics of principals in today's schools.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 35 reviews

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