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Principals Recommend Best Professional Books

From time to time, Education World updates and reposts an archived article that we think might be of interest to administrators. We hope you find this recently updated article to be of value

We thought we'd ask school principals to recommend the "best professional books" around! Included: Don't see your choice on the list? Let us know!

Every principal has a shelf full of professional books, but which is the one book that principals turn to time and time again for inspiration or ideas, for motivation or solace?

Education World wanted to learn what principals have to say about the current crop of professional literature and about some old favorites. So we asked our "Principal Files" principals to help.

  • If you could have only one book on your professional bookshelf, which would you choose?
  • Does one book inspire you more than any other.
  • Do you reread a book on a regular basis?
  • Have you learned more from a certain book than from any other?

In their responses to those questions, our P-Files principals shared a wide range of professional books aimed at addressing as wide a range of needs. We offer the list below, and the principals' comments, as a shortlist of some of the best books on principals' professional bookshelves today. Looking for a good read? Pick up one of these books!

Is your favorite professional book listed below? This is not a definitive list of the best literature for principals. Your favorite book might not even be listed. If that is the case, why not spread the word about that book on an Education World message board. "Join the discussion" so your colleagues might benefit from your positive reading experience!


  • Beginning the Principalship: A Practical Guide for New School Leaders
    Author: John C. Daresh
    Publisher: Corwin Press (January 2001, second edition)
    Principal Comment: "I bought this book upon my first appointment as principal, and I reread parts of it now and then. It's amazing how many of the suggestions have been borne out by subsequent events. I would recommend it to any new or aspiring administrator."
    Chris Rose
    Plymouth School
    Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia (Canada)

  • The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher
    Authors: Rosemary and Harry Wong
    Publisher: Harry K. Wong Publishing (1998)
    Principal Comment: "We have purchased The First Days of School for our professional library and have made it recommended reading for all new teachers. We are considering purchasing it for all first- year teachers in future years. It has countless valuable messages, particularly in the area of classroom management."
    John J. Grady, principal
    Fairgrounds Junior High School
    Nashua, New Hampshire

  • First Things First Every Day: Because Where You're Headed Is More Important Than How Fast You're Going
    Authors: Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, Rebecca R. Merrill
    Publisher: Fireside (June 1997)
    Principal Comment: "A few years ago, my assistant principal and I chose to read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (another book by Covey) as a resource for our professional growth An understanding of the seven habits motivated us to want to learn more about how we could use them to improve our effectiveness. That led us to read and reflect on Covey's Principle-Centered Leadership. After that experience, we decided we wanted to find a system to help manage our time more effectively so we could develop into good principle-centered leaders We read First Things First one chapter at a time, reflected on it, discussed it, and implemented it ... Our school is focused on guiding principles that foster trust, cooperation, and teamwork among the entire school population. First Things First helped us focus on the important things and forget the things that are not urgent or important Taking time to do important reflection and planning has made us better leaders and made our school a better place to be.
    Dr. Jim Jordan, principal
    Buford High School
    Lancaster, South Carolina

  • If You Don't Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students: A Guide to Success for Administrators and Teachers
    Author: Neila A. Connors
    Publisher: Incentive Publications (March 2000)
    Principal Comment: "This is a great book for administrators -- it's fun to read and full of great ideas. The book's chapters follow a dining theme, with chapter titles such as "Creating the Ambiance -- Preparing to Dine," which addresses school atmosphere, and "The M.E.A.L.S. (Meaningful Experiences Affecting Long-Term Success) of a Great School," which touches on faculty meetings. The book closes with two chapters that offer hundreds of suggestions to help a caring principal 'feed' the faculty spirit. You will enjoy every chapter!"
    Betty Peltier, principal
    Southdown Elementary School
    Houma, Louisiana
  • Improving Schools from Within: Teachers, Parents, and Principals Can Make the Difference
    Author: Roland Sawyer Barth
    Publisher: Jossey-Bass Education Series (September 1991)
    Principal Comment: "Barth is the founder of the Principal Center at Harvard ... His book focuses on the most important things about education -- kids and teachers. It reinforces that we do not need large bureaucracies to initiate change; progress comes from those with the most knowledge and stake -- the students, teachers, principals, and parents. His message is right: we are all learners. Barth provides real examples and ideas to help a leader create and articulate a vision. The book is empowering. It is easy to read and yet full of powerful ideas and poignant anecdotes. It helps energize me as it confirms what I believe and do ... I don't know if this is true for all principals, but I know I feel quite isolated. I do not often have the chance to bounce ideas around with others. Barth's book is almost that good! It forces me to have a dialogue with him and myself."
    Amos Kornfeld, principal
    Piermont Village School
    Piermont, New Hampshire

  • Another Principal Comment: "My choice of Barth is based on his philosophy, that all of us are part of a community of learners."
    Helene M. Dykes, principal
    Tijeras Creek Elementary
    Rancho Santa Margarita, California

  • Going Public: Priorities and Practice at the Manhattan New School
    Author: Shelley Harwayne
    Publisher: Heinemann (August 1999)
    Principal Comment: I have sooooo many leadership books, and of course I think they are all wonderful, but I have this place in my heart for Shelley Harwayne's Going Public. It is the heart of the matter ... I use some of the smallest nuggets of this book to motivate the learning community of the elementary school where I am principal. The touches of literature, the passion for public education ... I add new perspectives each time I reread it! It is a must for creating culture in a building."
    Melody M. Nichols, principal
    Patricia A. Guth Elementary School
    Perkasie, Pennsylvania

  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull
    Author: Richard Bach
    Publisher: Scribner
    Principal Comment: "This is an easy-to-read, but powerful, book that deals with breaking the mold, moving away from the everyday routine. It is about knowing that there must be something better, even if the challenge may be at great cost. Vision and perseverance are essential [skills] for a good leader. In Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the vision is shared and desired by others, creating a need to teach based on the desire to learn -- thus completing the circle and establishing a new standard. I have read this book every year since my teenage years, but never has it had the impact it has since I've been in a position of leadership."
    Mark Heidmann, principal
    Muizenberg Junior School
    Cape Town, South Africa

  • Leadership for the Schoolhouse: How Is It Different? Why Is It Important?
    Author: Thomas J. Sergiovanni
    Publisher: John Wiley & Sons (2000)
    Principal Comment: "Leadership in the Schoolhouse addresses school culture in a way no other book has Sergiovanni puts his finger on the pulse of school culture, how it develops, what factors influence it. Yet he doesn't give a recipe. Rather, he notes factors and how they interact differently in different schools Sergiovanni paints schools as unique organizations. He disputes the notion that business principles can be applied to schools. He highlights how schools and businesses are different by their very nature; human interactions cannot be 'created' in a production line. He values leadership skills within a schoolhouse. Even the word schoolhouse evokes a different image than school building or school. Sergiovanni clarifies why good educators consider their choice of careers not as a career, but as a vocation. Well worth reading!"
    Bridget Sullivan, principal
    Warren Community Elementary School
    Warren, Massachusetts

  • Motivating and Inspiring Teachers: The Educational Leader's Guide for Building Staff Morale
    Author: Todd Whittaker, Beth Whittaker, Dale Lumpa
    Publisher: Eye on Education (2000)
    Principal Comment: "I love this book because it gives me so many ideas on how to get the best from my teaching staff If teachers are motivated to do their best, and if they are recognized for their efforts, they will be much more willing to deal with parent and student issues. They will have a positive attitude toward their mission at school. This book is filled with simple ideas to make teaching more rewarding for the faculty. I use it all the time and read it through at least once a year If you work with teachers, this book is a must!"
    Chris Madlena, principal
    Life Christian School and Academy
    Tacoma, Washington

  • Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools
    Author: Jonathan Kozol
    Publisher: Harper Perennial Library (1992)
    Principal Comment: "The one book that I have read several times and use parts of frequently is Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. It is not a leadership book, nor a curriculum book; rather, it is a book about educating the students without voices -- the lost souls, if you will, the poor children that society forgets. Kozol's stories remind me of why I got into education in the first place, and that I should never let one child slip through the cracks without doing everything I can to make sure it doesn't happen. I shake my head when we must concentrate on statewide assessment exams, when we aren't as concerned with the 'whole' child -- the child who needs all of our help, the child who won't rise above his or her current deprived status in life without all of us there helping and guiding. Does a child who is hungry, tired, neglected, abused, or in turmoil really care how he does on the state assessment test? Kozol's book keeps me grounded."
    Dr. Les Potter, principal
    Silver Sands Middle School
    Port Orange, Florida

  • Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education
    Author: Peter Senge (Editor)
    Publisher: Doubleday (2000)
    Principal Comment: "I am presently working on my doctorate, and I use Peter Senge's Schools That Learn quite frequently. It is a book that in a rapidly changing world can help transform 21st-century public education into learning communities."
    Bonita Henderson, assistant principal
    Roselawn Condon School
    Cincinnati, Ohio

  • The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and Tougher Standards
    Author: Alfie Kohn
    Publisher: Mariner Books (2000, paperback)
    Principal Comment: Kohn covers a vast body of research while encouraging parents and educators not to become "hooked" by the standards movement in such a way that active learning, thinking skills, and interpersonal communication are lost. For those principals who feel they are being asked to return to the days of traditional teaching in the guise of meeting standards, this book is a lifesaver!
    Julie S. Ryan, principal
    Lower School
    The American School in London
    London, England, UK

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
    Author: Stephen R. Covey
    Publisher: Simon & Schuster (1989)
    Principal Comment: "My 'professional Bible' has to be The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I first got a copy in an airport bookstore about 12 years ago, just to have something to read. It so changed my entire life, not just my professional life! The book has helped me continually focus on what is important to me in my work and personal life, and to continually make efforts to be proactive and not reactive, to remember what is most important, and to be a catalyst for others. External organization has never been a priority for me and I have a good internal organization, so I don't use the organizational trappings that now seem to be a major focus of the Covey/Franklin materials, but I do take to heart all the theory and sound philosophy of the materials. This book fits so very well with all sound educational leadership and sound life skills that I can't imagine it not being well suited for everyone!"
    Teri Stokes, principal
    Weatherly Heights Elementary
    Huntsville, Alabama

  • Another Principal Comment: "For insight into leadership principles, I would recommend Stephen Covey's 7 Habits series. Dr. Covey has collected an incredible amount of data that he synthesizes for the reader. He emphasizes the importance of planning in our daily life as well as our professional life. To prevent school from becoming a series of fires to be put out by the principal, we must learn to plan. That allows us to be proactive with problems rather than reactive."
    Alan Seay, principal
    Iowa Park High School
    Iowa Park, Texas

  • Strategies and Tactics for Effective Instruction
    Author: Bob Algozzine, James Ysseldyke
    Publisher: Sopris West (1997)
    Principal Comment: "This is the one book I am always referring to, especially when working with new teachers. It isn't necessarily a leadership book but, as a mentor or leader for new staff, it is great, very user-friendly, and practical."
    Kim McLean, principal
    Calgary Academy
    Calgary, Alberta, Canada

  • Tuesdays With Morrie
    Author: Mitch Albom
    Publisher: Doubleday (1997)
    Principal Comment: "I am surrounded by stacks of books about teaching, curriculum, behavior, leadership, and school reform For me, it has been people, not books, [that have inspired me] I have a Morrie of my own. He is a professor at Cal State Sacramento. He is the reason I read all of the other books and the reason that there is room for the wisdom of others to find a home in me." Lyn McCarty, coordinator of special education services
    Sacramento, California

  • What They Don't Tell You In Schools of Education About School Administration
    Author: John A. Black, Fenwick W. English
    Publisher: Scarecrow Press (1997)
    Principal Comment: "This book is great. It is practical, and it really gets down to the nitty-gritty. Beside that, it is an easy read, funny too!"
    Ralph Lowe, principal
    Kellogg High School
    Kellogg, Idaho

  • Who Moved My Cheese? -- An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life
    Author: Spencer Johnson, Kenneth H. Blanchard
    Publisher: Putnam Publishing Group (1998)
    Principal Comment: "We are dealing with change as we work toward becoming a model Great Expectations School. This little book provided many laughs and a wonderful method of self-evaluation as we deal with change. Now, instead of asking 'why?' my teachers laugh and ask 'Who moved my cheese today?'"
    Betty Luckett, principal
    Oakes Elementary School
    Okemah, Oklahoma