Stephanie Hirsh is the executive director of Learning Forward, whose mission is to increase the capacity of educational leaders to build and sustain effective professional learning systems. In this month’s questionnaire, we asked her how her organization could help principals, about her all-time favorite book, and her personal motto.

How can Learning Forward help secondary school principals?

Principals are the most important leaders when it comes to creating great schools where both educators and students learn and perform at high levels. We provide an array of resources and support directed at this opportunity for secondary school principals. 

What’s the biggest challenge facing principals today?

That’s a really tough question. We all know the research on the impact of the classroom teacher and the principal. The principal is the one ultimately accountable for ensuring every student succeeds. So, the greatest challenge is building a school culture that establishes collective responsibility, creates time for collaborative professionalism, and facilitates great teaching in every classroom every day.

What’s the secret to creating a high-performing school?

Distributive leadership is the “secret sauce” of great secondary schools. These are schools where all staff members share a compelling vision and clear and substantive priorities/strategies for achieving it. Great principals recognize all the benefits of sharing power when they have a staff with the skill and will to advance the vision. High-performing schools invest in continuous improvement systems and the expertise of their staff. They have many of the answers, and when they don’t, they know who to ask and where to look. 

What’s the most exciting thing happening in secondary school education today?

I have a close friend whose son is a first-generation college student. He is on a full scholarship to a very good college, and he entered as a second-semester sophomore because of an early college program. I am most excited about all the opportunities we have available to high school students to truly prepare them for college and career success—not just college entry.

What is your favorite book and why?

I love reading presidential biographies. I am a former secondary history teacher, and one of my favorite authors is Doris Kearns Goodwin. I loved Team of Rivals. 

Who is your favorite movie star and why?

Tom Hanks. I have admired many of his characters and who he is in and out of the limelight.

What’s your favorite sports team?

Anything played by The University of Texas Longhorns.

What’s your hobby?

“Homework”—if you work in education there are always things you can learn in order to do your job better.

What’s your motto?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead