Professional Reading Saturday: Good Leaders Ask Great Questions

It’s been questions week at Principal Matters!;  questions for you as the principal or assistant principal to ask your teachers, your students, their parents, and even yourself.  As you reach the conclusion of the school year, you need to gather the data that will help you design next school year.  To do so, you need to ask questions.

future belongs to the curiousTo support you in your work, this week’s Professional Reading Saturday recommendation is from legendary leadership author John C. Maxwell and his book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions.

Like the library of books to help leaders that Maxwell has authored, this is a reader-friendly piece that drives at the heart of what we’ve been discussing all week, why questions matter and how to ask more meaningful questions. 

Maxwell mixes stories with quotable quotes, taking the reader through questions he asks, questions that he is asked, and then questions that he asks of growing leaders.

You’ll grow as a questioner and pick up a bag full of nuggets of wisdom about great questions in this book.  You can get it wherever you like to buy books!



Professional Reading Saturday: Reframing Teacher Leadership

We’ve spent the last two weeks focusing on teacher-leaders and how principals and assistant principals can support them.  Our Professional Reading Saturday recommendation is Reframing Teacher Leadership from educational leadership icon Douglas B. Reeves.  Reeves is the founder of Creative Leadership Solutions and author of dozens of works covering an array of educational topics from creativity to grading.  Much of his work focuses on school leadership, and in this book he examines the role of teachers as leaders in school improvement.

Reeves presents a framework of seven elements of teacher leadership that exist in a perpetual cycle of school improvement, but why?  As Reeves explains, teacher leadership has been around as long as Plato and Socrates.  The two are basically inseparable.  What Reeves seeks to do in Reframing Teacher Leadership is to infuse research and practical application, gathered in exhaustive studies he and his colleagues have conducted, into the conversation about teacher leadership in schools everywhere.

framework for teacher leaders

Continue your study of teacher leadership.  You can get this book wherever you like to purchase books!



Professional Reading Saturday: The Ideal Team Player

This week our focus has been teacher teams  and teacher-leaders.  For this Saturday’s professional reading recommendation, we go back to the today’s clearest voice on how teams work, Patrick Lencioni, and his book, The Ideal Team Player.

As he did in The Five Dysfunctions of A Team (previously recommended here), Lencioini shares a business fable to guide the reader into an understanding of how teams work and what makes the ideal team player.

Lencioni introduces us to Jeff Shanley who is facing the dilemma of rescuing a failing family business. To do it, he has to discover what it is that makes organizations successful– and how he can infuse those values into the company.

As we follow Shanley’s journey, Lencioni reveals his message to the leaders who are reading.  He establishes what team players do, how leaders can identify them, and how we can implement hiring strategies to build teams that work.

Ideal Team Player

As school leaders, much of our future (and present) work will shift from technician-driven work with individuals and move to building teams that collaborate and excel.  We are shifting from sole proprietorships to partnerships, collaborations, and teams.  As leaders, we need to improve our skills and broaden our knowledge in how teams work.  Lencioni makes it easy for us in this work about recognizing the virtues of the team player.

You can get it wherever you like to buy books!



Professional Reading Saturday: Cooperative Discipline

“…students choose their behavior, and we have the power to influence… not control… their choices.  The change starts with the teachers.  We need to learn how to interact with students so they’ll want to choose appropriate behavior and comply with the rules.” 

Linda Albert’s Cooperative Discipline isn’t a new book, but it’s just as valuable now as it was at the time of its original printing.  This week here at Principal Matters! we’ve been focusing on Freshman Success and have looked at how establishing a Freshman Academy can lead to improved outcomes.

Regardless of the configuration of your ninth-grade students, one thing is certain:  everyone will be more successful if they make wiser choices at school.  What usually happens is that those students who already know how to make better choices do well while those who don’t fall into a spiral that leads to poor academic performance and a struggle in doing well in school.

cooperative discipline 2

What if you spent time working with your teachers to develop their skills and their dispositions in cooperative discipline?  That’s what this week’s reading recommendation is about.  This is an easy-to-read, easy-to-use, and easy-to-refer-back-to guidebook that can transform the way your teachers interact with their students, and in turn lead to student behaviors that are more consistent and more successful.

It’s a great one for using as a book study.   In both of the schools where I was a part of opening a Freshman Academy, this was our opening study and deserves a lot of the credit for what we were able to accomplish with our students.

Pick it up wherever you buy books!




Professional Reading Saturday: Ideas For An Effective Book Study

Hello, Principal Matters! friends.  This Saturday (as every Saturday) is time to look at the professional reading shelf, but with a twist.

Many principals and assistant principals ask for ideas for a book study.  While we offer a different book for your consideration here each week, there are some things worth thinking about when “shopping” for book study material.

  1.  Voice and Choice.  Learning is more likely when the learner has a voice in the process and a choice in the content or delivery.  What will be more effective at your school?  For your teachers to consider a number of books and help select the one that everyone reads?  Maybe you’d have more success if your faculty was reading different books based on their individual needs?  What if those folks got together in a reading club with others who were reading the same book?  There is no right or wrong way to do this; there are just varying degrees of effectiveness, but as always this is likely to be relative to the context of your school.  If this is the first time you’ve done a book study, you might want to use this opportunity to model what you’re after before setting everyone off with full autonomy.  Then again, maybe it’s just what you need to do.  That’s the fun of school leadership; your analysis of your school’s current status is always critical to success.
  2. Focus, Please.   If you are to read the same book faculty-wide, perhaps it should be correlated to your school’s focus in the upcoming year.  It would be wise to determine what your top priority will be for next year before you select a book for your study.  If you are going to work on school climate, then Fish: A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results might be your jam.  You would also do well to read The Energy Bus.  Maybe it’s getting your teams and PLCs to work more effectively?  How about The Five Dysfunctions of A Team?  The most important part is to determine your need before picking your read.  You lose credibility with your teachers when you don’t consolidate your efforts in a thematic manner.  Take time to plan it, or as mentioned in the previous paragraph, give your teachers the opportunity to identify their own needs.
  3. Why?  Purpose of the Project   Why?  Why do you want your team to read a book together?  What is the goal of this effort?  Don’t just do things because you’ve heard others do them; go into them with your desired results in mind from the beginning.   Many of the wonderful teachers we have across the fruited plain are busy beyond words, overwhelmed, and stressed.  Don’t let something good (book study) become “one more thing.”  The way you frame this effort will have a lot to do with its success.  Make sure you not only know what you want them to do, but why you want them to do it.  How will this book study impact teacher performance and student achievement?

Here are some suggestions for topics that might be your “big thing” for next school year.  You can find a YouTube video on most any book, so check it out before you read it yourself, but read it before you share it!  Make sure you know what you’re asking others to read.  Your conversations with your people will be much more effective if you’ve read it before.   Some of these books have been featured here on Professional Reading Saturday; some are still waiting in the wings.  All of them are good books for you and your team if they match up with your needs!  Enjoy.


If your focus is on:                                                              You may be looking for:

School Climate                                                                     The Energy Bus;   Fish!:  

Relationships                                                                        Whale Done! 

Customer Service Experience                                          Raving Fans

Tightening Your Focus                                                       The One Thing

Working As A Team                                                            The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Time Management                                                             Eat That Frog!

Improved Instruction                                                       The Secrets of Timeless Teachers

PLCs                                                                                       Professional Learning Communities At Work

Engagement                                                                        The Element 

Passion of Teaching                                                          Teach Like A Pirate; Kids Deserve It

Motivation                                                                           Drive;  To Sell Is Human

Power of Questions                                                           A More Beautiful Question

Innovation                                                                          The Innovator’s Mindset

Purpose                                                                                Start With Why


NOTE:  If you have a growth area that you’re looking to match a book with and it isn’t covered above, please contact me and I’ll share a suggestion!  Thanks, Mark 





Professional Reading Saturday: The Innovator’s Mindset

This week at Principal Matters! we’ve been examining leadership for innovation.  We pondered the question “Are You an Innovative Leader?”  and dug deep into failure with a look at How Fear Suffocates Innovation.  Yesterday was time to reflect on your school’s attitude towards ideas and the people who have them (The Words You Want To Hear:  I Have an Idea).

Today is Saturday, which means Professional Reading, and a great complement to this week’s thinking is George Couros’ work,  The Innovator’s Mindset:  Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead A Culture of Creativity. 

In The Innovator’s Mindset, Couros shares eight characteristics of an innovator’s mindset:  empathy, problem-finders, risk-takes, networked, observant, creators, resilient, and reflective.


Couros calls teachers, school and district leaders, as well as parents to explore The Innovator’s Mindset  and in turn empower learners to “wonder, explore, and to become forward-thinking leaders.

Are you looking for something to turn your classrooms into places of discovery?  Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset is practical, easy to relate to, and full of specifics that can help you and your teachers transform your school into the place of exploration it was meant to be.

Pick up The Innovator’s Mindset wherever you like to buy books!






Professional Reading Saturday: Chess, Not Checkers

All week at Principal Matters! the discussion has been about leading on a split-screen; planning for next year while leading this year. Our Professional Reading suggestion for this Saturday relates to this week’s topic.  Chess, Not Checkers  is a quick read that can help you think about the critical habit of the leader who is thinking several moves ahead.

Mark Miller, Atlanta resident and the author of Chess Not Checkers, shares a tale of the fictional Blake Brown, who arrives at a new position to find a dysfunctional organization.  He learns that the game he is playing isn’t the game that he ought to be playing.  He jumps from one thing to another and finds that a more strategic approach will help him lead the organization successfully.  Blake learns four essential strategies from the game of chess that he uses in his leadership work to stop playing checkers and instead play the right game.

It’s a very quick read, but one that can help bring clarity to you as a leader as well as members of your leadership team.  For school leaders, it’s critical to play chess; those leaders who are waiting on the reactions never get into the strategic work that helps schools, as well as other organizations, move forward successfully.

You can get Mark Miller’s Chess Not Checkers at most anywhere you usually get books!




Eat That Frog! Our Book DuJour

Mark Twain once said that if you woke up every morning and ate a live frog, that would most likely be the worst thing that would happen to you all day, giving you the confidence to know that you had that behind you already!

Internationally acclaimed author and speaker Brian Tracy serves up a helping of “frog” in this easy-to-read time management guide that helps you overcome procrastination and grow more successful in managing your priorities.

For most school leaders, time management issues come from a number of things, including having more tasks to accomplish than are reasonable to complete.  (More on that next week at Principal Matters!)  In addition to having a lot to do, there is also ground to be gained by being more efficient and effective in completing tasks.

That’s where Eat That Frog! comes in.  Tracy has written a number of books on leadership and efficiency and in Eat That Frog! he seeks to lay out a set of 21 ways to “stop procrastinating and get more done in less time.”



Tracy’s 21 principles are great for principals, and assistant principals.  A few of the key principles that will help you in your work as a school leader include (1) setting the table (getting your day ready before it takes you instead); (8) prepare thoroughly before you begin (be ready to do the work and not lose time; and (21) single-handle every task (it’s easy for us to handle things multiple times in school work; we’re much more effective with strategies to touch email, tasks, and concerns once and only once.)


Professional Reading Saturday: Reaching The Wounded Student

Reaching The Wounded Student  By Joe Hendershott

In each of our schools, we work to serve our students.  We develop pyramids of intervention for academics, we differentiate instruction, we tailor support systems for after-school programs.

But do we have the resources and mindsets needed to help students in our schools who have been wounded?

Joe Hendershott and his wife Dardi are the founders of Hope For The Wounded Student, a movement to support educators in their work with students who are more than at-risk, but are wounded.

In his book Reaching the Wounded Student, Hendershott shares inspiration and strategies to help the reader more effectively provide support for students who suffer from hopelessness.

Hendershott has learned through his career as an educator and his work with schools across the country that many of our typical school practices don’t work for students who are wounded.  Often we are unsure why our actions fail to change behaviors as we’d like, but if we approach wounded students in a different way perhaps things will be different.



What Reaching the Wounded Student offers is a real study into areas that most schools haven’t explored before.  Hendershott offers tested strategies into disciplining students who have been wounded; supporting them academically, and getting them the ongoing support needed to heal.

If you have students that you feel you aren’t making a difference with no matter how much you try, maybe you need to try a different approach.  Reaching the Wounded Student gives you that different approach, particularly one that meets the specific needs of students that are in every school, in need of your help, your hope, and of healing.

You can find the book at the link below or at your favorite place to buy education books:

The Five Dysfunctions of Team: Professional Reading Saturday

Schools are about teamwork.  Students work together, teachers collaborate in meaningful teams, we learn in professional learning communities.  The principal is the orchestra leader of all of the sections of the school.  But, what happens when the teams aren’t effective?

We need to be more intentional in building and developing teams in our schools.   A great place to begin your work together is with Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.


Lencioni, a best-selling author who has penned over a dozen management and leadership books, famously creates a “business fable” in many of his works.  In Five Dysfunctions, Lencioni introduces the reader to the fictional Kathryn Petersen, CEO of Decision Tech whose company faces failure because of the dysfunction of the team. As Lencioni weaves the tale, he introduces you to the five dysfunctions and demonstrates why teams struggle… and how they can properly function and be effective.

teamwork-is-the-ultimate-advantageAs schools continue to become more effective through teamwork, school leaders should become experts in developing and training teams and team leaders. To do so, deeper understanding of how teams work can be of great value.  Consider previewing The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and using it to work with your team leaders in preparation for their work.



#Leadership365  /42

Lincoln on Leadership: Professional Reading Saturday

One of my favorite leadership lesson books is Donald T. Phillips’ Lincoln on Leadership.  It’s a brief, easy-to-read piece that frames familiar stories about Lincoln’s life into leadership lessons that you can use in your work today.

lincoln-on-leadership-2Here’s a look at what you’ll learn from our sixteenth President via Phillips’ leadership guide:

  1. Get out of the office and circulate among the troops.
  2. Build strong alliances.
  3. Persuade rather than coerce.
  4. Honesty and integrity are the best policies.
  5. Never act out of vengeance or spite.
  6. Have the courage to handle unjust criticism.
  7. Be a master of paradox.
  8. Exercise a strong hand; be decisive.
  9. Lead by being led.
  10. Set goals and be results-oriented.
  11. Keep searching until you find your “Grant.”
  12. Encourage innovation.
  13. Master the art of public speaking.
  14. Influence people through conversation and storytelling.
  15. Preach a vision and continually reaffirm it.

Sound like topics you’d be interested in ?  It’s a great piece for you and a perfect book for a group study with your administrative team, leadership council, or even student leaders.  A timely work at any time but perhaps perfect for the moment.  The subtitle for Lincoln on Leadership?  Executive Strategies for Tough Times.


#Leadership365  /42

Professional Reading Saturday: Turn The Ship Around!


Turn the Ship Around!

By Captain David Marquet, USN, Retired

“Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers.”

David Marquet, an experienced Navy officer, was used to giving orders. As newly appointed captain of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine, he was responsible for more than a hundred sailors, deep in the sea. In this high-stress environment, where there is no margin for error, it was crucial his men did their job and did it well. But the ship was dogged by poor morale, poor performance, and the worst retention in the fleet.

Marquet acted like any other captain until, one day, he unknowingly gave an impossible order, and his crew tried to follow it anyway. When he asked why the order wasn’t challenged, the answer was “Because you told me to.” Marquet realized he was leading in a culture of followers, and they were all in danger unless they fundamentally changed the way they did things.

turn-the-ship-around-2That’s when Marquet took matters into his own hands and pushed for leadership at every level. Turn the Ship Around! is the true story of how the Santa Fe skyrocketed from worst to first in the fleet by challenging the U.S. Navy’s traditional leader-follower approach. Struggling against his own instincts to take control, he instead achieved the vastly more powerful model of giving control.

Before long, each member of Marquet’s crew became a leader and assumed responsibility for everything he did, from clerical tasks to crucial combat decisions. The crew became fully engaged, contributing their full intellectual capacity every day, and the Santa Fe started winning awards and promoting a highly disproportionate number of officers to submarine command.

No matter your business or position, you can apply Marquet’s radical guidelines to turn your own ship around. The payoff: a workplace where everyone around you is taking responsibility for their actions, where people are healthier and happier, where everyone is a leader.




#Leadership365 /35

Professional Reading Saturday: Closing The Attitude Gap


Closing the Attitude Gap

By Baruti Kafele

Principal Kafele is sharing resources with you on a regular basis to help you in your work as a school leader.  You’ll find a link to many of them at the conclusion of this post, but among the best resources he’s produced is his 2013 work Closing The Attitude Gap.  

In it, Kafele poses this question: what if the achievement gap isn’t the only gap we’re dealing with?  What if there is another gap that is even more defining?

It’s in exploring that question that Kafele discusses the real reason for many of our students lack of achievement– an attitude gap.  To close the attitude gap, Principal Kafele says that educators can achieve remarkable results by focusing on five areas:

  • The teacher’s attitude toward students
  • The teacher’s relationship with students
  • The teacher’s compassion for students
  • The learning environment
  • The cultural relevance of instruction

Closing The Attitude Gap is a practical journey through those five areas focusing on what you and the educators at your school can do make a difference in the attitude that your students have about themselves, each other, and in school as a whole.

You’ll enjoy the book and you’ll also grow by learning from Principal Kafele who shares resources across many media platforms.  You can find him at the following:


Facebook:   (where he frequently broadcasts on Facebook Live)

You Tube Channel:



#Leadership365 /28

Professional Reading Saturday: The Gift of Failure


The Gift of Failure  By Jessica Lahey

Several years ago when I was the principal at Morgan County High School in Madison, GA, we invigorated our school’s culture each year by developing a theme for each school year and using that concept to further our work in classrooms and throughout the school.

We didn’t begin that process by asking ,” what should our theme be this year?”  I know that can be the pathway that some take, but we tried to let our context drive our theme instead of the other way around.  So, we asked ourselves “what is a current need that would benefit from a year-long emphasis?”  There were always several ideas, but in this particular one we wanted to focus on the value of struggle.  We had made great progress in accelerating the vigor of our curriculum, beginning and IB Programme and adding several Advanced Placement classes, of which about half of our students were enrolled.  We had gotten them to the table, but we needed to give them some stamina to continue the work towards excellence.  Our concern was this:  we are selling hard work and patience to young people who are hearing cries of “take the easy way” from many other influencers.

To focus on that concern, we developed the theme “Struggle to Triumph.”  We started it off with our opening day convocation and talked about the value of struggle on the pathway to triumph each and every day throughout the year.  It was a daily feature on our televised announcements and a conversation in classes and around the campus throughout the year.  We had our best academic year to that point and our emphasis on the value of struggle was center to the effort.

jessica-laheyIf Jessica Lahey had written The Gift of Failure at that time, we would have really appreciated it!  We’d have used it in professional development with our teachers and administrators.  We’d have connected our parents to the book and to the online community around the book. (found at )  While the book is directed towards parents, we’d have used it is a basis of study with our students too.

The Gift of Failure is a piece that can support your work  as a school administrator and is worthy of your consideration to add to your staff’s professional reading.  Lahey is one of us… a middle school teacher who has faced the challenge of helping students learn in a world in which we’ve created a fear of failure.  She shares ways that schools and parents can help our students to learn to use failure as a step towards success.  That they can come brave learners who can grow to be the independent, autonomous people we are hoping they will become.

Read more about The Gift of Failure  here:

Check out a quick video about the book with Jessica here:


#Leadership365  /21




Professional Reading Saturday! Do You Know Enough About Me to Teach Me?

What’s special about Saturdays here at Principal-Matters?  Professional Reading Saturday!  This week’s suggestion connects with our focus in January on developing a Community of Care and Support For Students.

Professional Reading Saturday:

Do You Know Enough About Me to Teach Me?
By Dr. Stephen Peters

stephen-peters-bookThis is the perfect book to fit in with this month’s emphasis on developing a community of care and support for students.  Dr. Stephen Peters has been taking on this question for years in his presentations and his work with schools.  His book goes directly to the source to discuss the need for personalization and relationships in schools; it features interviews with over 100 students and reveals what good educators already know… they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

People who have read Peters’ book are reminded of the reason they got into teaching… to make a difference.  Hearing the stories of students in their own words is a powerful tool to remind all educators to invest time in developing quality relationships with our students.

Dr. Peters is currently the superintendent of Laurens District 55 Schools in South Carolina and can be found online here:  and is a part of the Twitterverse here:  @stephengpeters  He and his wife Angela are the founders of the Gentlemen’s Club and Ladies Club, a nationally-recognized model to help young people transition into adulthood with the skills and dispositions that lead to success.  More on those super-successful programs in another edition of Principal Matters! 

#Leadership365                    14/365

_________________________________________________________________The focus of work in our Principal and Assistant Principal Academies during January 2017 has been on standard five of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, listed below. Today’s Leadership365 is dedicated to the topic to support that learning. 


You can see the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders in entirety here:  (

Professional Reading Saturday: A More Beautiful Question

Welcome to the first Saturday of 2017!  Here’s what’s special about Saturdays here at Principal-Matters! and our Leadership365 initiative:  Books, Articles, and Videos.  It’s our goal to share with you at least one of those outlets for your learning pleasure each Saturday.   


A More Beautiful Question:  By Warren Berger

How effective are you in asking questions?  Do you lead with requests or demands?  When you speak with others, do you leave them with questions to consider?

Questions.  For principals and assistant principals, you are asked a lot of questions, but how many questions do you ask?  When you give someone instructions, you have done all of the thinking.  When you leave someone with a question, haven’t you extended the learning beyond the moment?

Warren Berger explores the importance of questions and the value of seeking more beautiful questions.  According to Berger, “the most creative, successful people tend to be expert questioners.”  We all begin as questioners:  the average four-year old asks 390 questions a day!  Unfortunately, school (and parents too) can shut down questioning when they get weary of hearing them.  The world that waits beyond school for our students is a world of questions… and instead of cutting them off, we would be well-served to nurture our students in learning better questioning techniques.

This book is great for anyone in schools to read…  teachers as well as administrators.  Since reading it, I’ve gone back to it on several occasions to reference different passages and share with others.

As we continue to search for ways for our students to be more well-prepared for the world beyond school, this book may offer a direction that will make a difference for you and your school!





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