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Playmakers: How great principals build and lead great teams of teachers

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Without leadership, even a team with great talent will struggle to become a champion.

— ANSON DORRANCE, North Carolina’s Women’s Soccer 20-time National Championship Coach

Great coaches are known for their ability to get the absolute best from every player on their team at the most critical times. The relentless pursuit of excellence from a coach is what propels good teams to become great.

The same is true for schools.

Playmakers: How Great Principals Build and Lead Great Teams of Teachers explores both what specific actions principals of high-performing schools take to improve teacher effectiveness and what distinguishes principals who lead high-performing schools from other principals.

The Playbook:
How great principals maximize team performance

A decade of research has shown that, on average, a principal accounts for 25 percent of a school’s total impact on student achievement.1 A 2012 study found that principals have a stronger effect on all students in a school than teachers do because teachers affect only their students.2 In fact, the difference between an average and an above-average principal can impact student achievement by as much as 20 percentage points.3

What, then, do above-average principals do to have such a substantial influence on students?

Great principals amplified great teaching by working in three intersecting areas:

  1. Developing teachers.
  2. Managing talent.
  3. Creating a great place to work.

Magnifying impact is critical to closing the achievement gap and making all schools high-performing. By addressing the inequality in principal effectiveness, federal, state and district officials can address the inequality in education students are facing each and every day throughout the United States. Playmakers highlights a number of actions that can be taken to decrease performance gaps among principals.

It’s time to begin cultivating and recognizing legendary principals in the same way we do legendary coaches. Our students’ opportunity to succeed demands this.


1 Leithwood, K., Louis, K. S., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004). How Leadership Influences Student Learning. New York, NY: Wallace Foundation; Marzano, R.J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
2 Branch, G., Hanushek, E. A., & Rivkin, S. G. (2012). Estimating the effect of leaders on public sector productivity: The case of school principals (pp. 45). Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education.
3 Based on a 2005 study by McREL that analyzed 70 different studies from over three decades of research.