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October 2009 | Volume 67 | Number 2
Developing School Leaders Pages 8-14

What Makes or Breaks a Principal?

Gordon Donaldson, George Marnik, Sarah Mackenzie and Richard Ackerman

Principals must learn to navigate through a difficult dilemma—the tension between caring for others and getting things done.

Peter was hired as principal to "clean up the mess" after his predecessor's two-year tenure at Willow Grove Middle School. The principal he replaced had been brought in to "turn around Willow Grove" and had insisted on implementing his own turnaround strategy despite growing resistance and alienation among the faculty. After two years, he had been invited to resign.

Peter's initial task was clear: to rebuild relationships so that the school could tackle the difficult tasks teachers faced in their classrooms. His challenge is all too common in this era of accountability and take-no-prisoners leadership. For Peter and many school leaders, this challenge represents a seeming paradox: The bold action needed to improve the school's performance often puts staff relationships at risk.


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