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The Principal - Book Review

1 January 2022
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact" written by Michael Fullan in 2014, delves into the crucial role of school principals and guides effective leadership and change. Despite the skepticism surrounding its relevance in the new era, this book holds significant value for three reasons.

 

First and foremost, education impacts everyone, whether as adults seeking knowledge or as parents entrusting their children to schools daily.

 

Secondly, the concepts presented in the book extend beyond school principals and apply to any team manager, unit, or organization that requires effective leadership. While reading the book, I drew connections between its principles and my work environment, enriching my learning experience.

 

Lastly, although not explicitly addressing knowledge management, Fullan's discussions largely revolve around it. The book emphasizes the importance of sharing and collaboration, continuous knowledge development and learning, and skillfully implementing changes for success.

 

Encompassing a wide range of topics, including the role of school principals, the foundation of education, leading learning, teamwork, driving change, and envisioning the future, this book offers valuable insights.

 

The absence of explicit mention of knowledge management in the book may indicate the extent to which its principles are already ingrained in today's world.

 

There is much to be gleaned from "The Principal" regarding the qualities and behaviors of future leaders. If principals, particularly school principals, are wise enough to read and embrace the concepts presented, we will all reap the benefits.

 

Happy reading!


Starting Point

The starting point for school development could be more optimistic. In the past six years, the education system has declined, with studies indicating increased student disengagement and higher expulsion rates, particularly at the end of ninth grade. Teacher satisfaction has also experienced a significant decline of 24% during the same period. Additionally, most principals (75%) feel overwhelmed and find their tasks excessively complex, leading to a sense of incapability. The role of a manager has become multifaceted, involving interactions with teachers, students, parents, the community, school safety, the district, and academic outcomes, among other responsibilities.

 

Efforts have been made over the past 25 years to revolutionize education in the United States. However, according to Fullan, the results could have been better. Fullan holds a critical view of the instructional leading concept pursued during this time. The four main themes that educational revolutions have sought to promote include:

  1.  Personal responsibility of managers: This approach needs to be revised as it resulted in a results-oriented system that sometimes resorted to deception, with minimal intrinsic changes occurring.

  2. Individualistic solutions and successful teachers: Focusing solely on individual teachers without implementing a comprehensive cultural change has undermined the effectiveness of good teachers within an inadequate overall system. The group's collective influence on individuals outweighs the impact of individuals on the group.

  3. Emphasis on technology and acquiring educational resources: Inadequate attention needs to be given to the pedagogical aspects of effectively utilizing new technologies in the classroom.

  4. Implementation of multiple strategies in various areas: The need for integration and the proliferation of disparate strategies have made it challenging for managers to implement them effectively.

 

The educational revolutions in the United States have been characterized by two main features: the isolated nature of each principal, granting autonomy compared to other schools, and a demand for meticulous and detailed micro-management. These factors have significantly burdened principals, making their performance even more challenging. However, change should not merely offer more; it should also include understanding how to provide less. Drawing from experiments conducted in several schools, particularly in Canada, Fullan proposes an alternative approach that aims to disengage from the described starting point and create a positive shift in the functioning of principals, teachers, and students.

 

The Leadership of Learning

The leadership of learning, as proposed by Fullan, is built upon the foundation of Professional Capital, which consists of three interconnected assets:

 

1. Human Capital: This refers to the qualities and development of teachers. When recruiting new teachers, four key attributes should be considered:

  1. High morals and a commitment to teaching all students, regardless of their backgrounds.

  2. Educational experience.

  3. A desire to work collaboratively.

  4. A dedication to continuous learning. Teacher development should focus on building trust, fostering a culture of sharing, and promoting a learning culture where assessment serves as a basis for growth rather than criticism.


2. Social Capital: As the name suggests, social capital involves creating a culture that encourages teachers to share knowledge and learn from one another. A strong collective group enhances the capabilities of its members.

 

3. Decisional Capital: This asset, although not widely known, refers to the ability to utilize the knowledge derived from human and social capital to make informed decisions. Fullan even introduces the term "shared depth," drawing inspiration from Toyota's concepts of operational excellence. Developing effective decision-making skills is best achieved through collaboration: setting clear goals, collectively solving existing problems, and continuously expanding knowledge in alignment with specific needs.

 

These principles maintain the fundamental essence of education. However, two significant changes emerge a shift from individualism to collaboration and a transition from emphasizing external factors (extrinsic) to prioritizing intrinsic components that yield more accurate and long-lasting impacts.

 

Being a Team Player

Traditionally, managers stand-alone, faced with numerous teachers, an even larger number of parents, and tens of thousands of students. Additionally, they must navigate the demands of supervisors and the educational system. Interactions between managers themselves are often minimal. Fullan proposes a shift in this paradigm by introducing the second component: being a team player.

 

This entails:

  • Collaborating with parallel schools, both at the principal level and with teachers within those schools.

  • Collaborating with the community.

  • Collaborating with students.

  • Working collectively as part of an entire district, striving to learn and improve as a unified group.

 

Fullan emphasizes the value of even simple acts, such as reciprocal visits, which prove beneficial for both parties involved. Observing what others are doing allows for learning and gaining insights. Preparing for a visit to another school involves processing existing ideas and materials while engaging with questions from different perspectives during the visit.

 

In situations where cooperation from higher authorities, such as the Ministry of Education, a network of schools, a district, or a locality, is lacking, individual efforts can be made to establish connections between schools. For example, adopting a "brother" school can foster collaboration. When guidance exists from higher levels, it becomes possible to achieve a greater level of overall coherence, characterized by the following:

  1. Common goals.

  2. Mutual support.

  3. Collaborative work relationships.

  4. Overall leadership within the district, organization, or network.

 

Being a team player extends beyond the principal's and colleagues' relationships. It encompasses the principal's ability to cultivate relationships between schools, fostering connections among teachers for shared learning and creating an overall sense of harmony and unity.

 

Leading Change

Fullan, with his extensive experience in leadership, emphasizes the crucial role of dedicated management in driving meaningful change. He challenges the notion that passion alone is sufficient to motivate people. With a foundation of skills and knowledge in leading change, sustaining passion over time becomes easier.

 

Among the various models available, Fullan presents the Kirtman model, which comprises seven components, some of which are recognized by other change management experts such as Lewin (1) and Kotter (5):

  1. Challenging the status quo: Disrupting existing norms and mindsets to encourage movement away from the current fixation.

  2. Building trust: Establishing trust through clear communication and coordinated expectations. Effective branding, modeling, and monitoring of communication channels are recommended.

  3. Creating a plan for success: Ownership of the project is crucial, and the program itself should be accurate, applicable, easy to remember, and actionable.

  4. Group focus: Directing change towards a group of people rather than relying solely on the leader.

  5. Urgency: Creating a sense of urgency that goes beyond recognizing the need for change, emphasizing achieving sustainable results over time.

  6. Continuous improvement: Viewing any change plan as a foundation for ongoing development and adaptation. Commitment to continuous improvement, the willingness to change, and the ability to learn how and where to update the plan are essential.

  7. Partnerships and communication networks: Encouraging sharing and collaboration to facilitate learning and the exchange of new ideas. Forming partnerships is integral to navigating organizational politics and managing political pressures and other challenges.

 

Kirtman's seven-component model includes checks and balances, enabling those who implement it to determine when discipline and enforcement are necessary and when flexibility and sharing are appropriate. This model allows for passionate and knowledge-based leadership, particularly in sections 1-3, and facilitates effective change management.

 

Looking ahead to the future, the dynamic and evolving nature of education and various disciplines are influenced by two primary factors:

 

Firstly, the digital revolution profoundly impacts different aspects of education, including teaching equipment, boundaries of shared learning, access to extensive data, personalized learning assignments for students, and more.

 

Secondly, standards and regulations, such as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), have gained prominence in the United States, but their relevance extends beyond a single name. Over the years, there has been an increasing emphasis on standards regarding study materials, study methods, and overall school operations. Fullan encourages individual managers to explore how these standards can be leveraged to enhance management and learning skills, as described in the abstract of this book.

 

Ultimately, individuals are motivated by engaging in meaningful activities (intrinsic motivation) and collaborating with others. This fundamental truth aligns with the earlier proposed concept, representing a simple yet ingenious principle underlying effective leadership and change management.

 

In conclusion, the future holds new possibilities and challenges in education and other fields. Adapting to the digital revolution and effectively harnessing standards can shape the path forward. However, at its core, success in teaching comes from intrinsic motivation and collaborative efforts.


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