Activity 4: What Great Principals Do!

Activity Guide

“School improvement is actually a very simple concept, but not easy to accomplish. There are really two ways to improve a school significantly: get better teachers or improve the teachers you already have.” —Todd Whitaker, What Great Principals Do Differently (2013, p. 5).

Todd Whitaker further clarifies the school improvement process for great principals and the administrative team:

  • In order to improve your school, improve your students.
  • In order to improve your students, improve your teachers.


  • Reading: Todd Whitaker, “Teach the Teachers,” in What Great Principals Do Differently: 18 Things that Matter Most, Second Edition (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 41–47.
  • Discussion and reflection guide: Todd Whitaker, “Teach the Teachers,” in Study Guide: What Great Principals Do Differently: 18 Things that Matter Most, Second Edition, (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 33–37.


Carefully read Chapter 7 and note the practical examples for improving instruction at your school. Although you have evaluated and supported teacher improvement in the classroom, how have you addressed teachers who may not know how to improve? Note and reflect on the role of effective teachers at your school. How can you as a principal provide enriching experiences for effective teachers and needed support for those teachers who need to improve?

Professional Development for Self

  1. Reflect on your school and staff and review the key concepts before completing the study guide for Chapter 7.
  2. Answer the discussion questions and thoughtfully complete the journal prompt.
  3. Extend your journal writing with new applications. Think of the best and most resourceful teacher in each content area at your school. Describe these teachers in your journal. If approached carefully, how could these teachers improve the performance of other teachers struggling in their discipline? In what ways could this interchange benefit your students and improve the school? How could this process be used across content areas? For example, how could an excellent mathematics teacher improve science instruction? Or, how could an excellent science teacher improve mathematics instruction? Reflect on other beneficial cross-content pairings and write each in your journal. Think also about specific group or grade-level cross-content projects. Add those projects and the names of teacher leaders with the knowledge and skills to implement them in your journal.
  4. The group activities can be completed in a group discussion (i.e., an excellent leadership team or instructional team discussion). If you are completing the activities as a self-exercise, pick two of the movies that you remember seeing. List as many positive teacher attributes demonstrated in the movie as you can. If you need to refresh your memory, replay one of the movies and list attributes as you view. Do you have teachers with the same attributes at your school? Are those the teachers previously recorded in your journal?
  5. Can you work with a principal colleague whose school is close to yours? Talk with the principal and ask him or her to complete this same Module 1 activity. It is important that your colleague read, reflect, and journal about his or her teachers. Then, begin a conversation about how you and your colleague can use peer observations to improve instruction at each school. Focus on very limited teacher exchanges at first, perhaps beginning with pairs of your best teachers. How can these peer observations improve both the most effective teachers and the ones who need improvement?
  6. Application: Reflect on how informal classroom visitations can help support teacher observations. Proceed carefully and strategically to suggest teacher partners and peer observations for instruction improvement.
  7. Extend the application: Some teachers may prefer visiting and observing teachers from other buildings. Check with your principal colleague.

Professional Development with Others

  1. Follow the process above with school teams or faculty in groups of five to eight. Begin by having participants read Chapter 7.
  2. Answer the discussion questions in group conversations and ask that the journal prompts be completed individually and shared voluntarily.
  3. Have fun with the group activities. Perhaps completing the application section of the study guide can serve as an introduction to peer observation as a strategy to improve instruction for teachers at your school.