Principalship from A to Z: A Book for All Leaders

The Principalship from A to Z (2nd Edition)
By Ronald Williamson and Barbara Blackburn
(Routledge/Eye On Education, 2016 – Learn more)

janatovichReviewed by Mike Janatovich

The scope of education today is continually getting wider and wider. While the demands placed on educators are for the betterment of our students, the challenge of staying current,  effective, and focused  is becoming much more difficult.

principalship-AtoZ-2ndEd-cvrAs leaders of our buildings, we are at a point where it is critical to push forward and improve ourselves on behalf of our students. In The Principalship from A to Z, authors Ronald Williamson and Barbara Blackburn have created a practical resource that can be read as a book for professional development in its entirety, or used as an effective manual to help both new and veteran leaders navigate through the challenges that you face in a given situation.

As a current assistant principal and former teacher leader, I was skeptical that a book with the title The Principalship would be something that would have much practical use for me, since I am not presently in that role. Immediately upon reading the first few pages, though, I quickly realized that this is a book not just for the “principal” but for any lead learner who is in a leadership position within a building.

As I continued into the book, it was evident that Blackburn and Williamson drew from their experience as leaders, but also connected with some experts in the field to create a solid resource for educators.

Think About It

When I review books, my goal is always to put the book into action. My personal belief is that if it does not impact me in an actionable way, it would not be something that I could confidently recommend to other educators looking to improve not only themselves but their teachers and students.

The Principalship from A to Z is a book that can easily be put into action, and Williamson and Blackburn have made it simple for you. If you take only one thing away from this book (it will actually be 26 things – one per chapter), let it be the “Think About It” question at the beginning of each chapter.

Some sample “Think About It” questions are:

✻ How do your teachers react to proposed new change?
✻ How are you a lifelong learner?
✻ How many new initiatives are implemented in your school each year?
✻ Which initiatives have lasted over time?

Prior to reading each chapter, these questions make you reflect on your practice “upfront.” Once you have a good sense of where you are, it is from there that you can make progress to improve.

As you read through the content, you will find actionable steps, questions, and a process that will allow you to grow in a particular area of your leadership practice. It will be the straightforward detail of these chapters that will make The Principalship from A to Z a practical and effective read to help not only the “principal” but all stakeholders in your school.

It’s All About Skills

One big question that people usually have after reading a book or attending professional development is, “what specifically can I work on to improve?” In The Principalship from A to Z (2nd Edition) Williamson and Blackburn added a section to each chapter called “Skills for Principals.” In this box there are specific, targeted areas where principals and school leaders alike can focus to improve. For the principals who say, “I struggle with teacher evaluations,” they can go to the skills section and see that they can:

✻ Focus on conversations with teachers on improving teaching and learning.
✻ Recognize the value of reflection to the professional growth of school personnel.

While these are only two examples, each chapter contains 3 to10 skills that really allow you to focus on improving. When you combine the “Think About It” section (reflection), the content of the chapter (process), and the “Skills for Principals” (action), you have at your fingertips a handbook for school leaders to effectively improve their craft as educators.

New Ideas, New Challenges

In one of the chapters the authors share a quotation from George Bernard Shaw: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” In The Principalship from A to Z, Blackburn and Williamson entice us to reflect on our practice.

Once we reflect, we are given a choice, to take action or stay static. After reading The Principalship from A to Z you will be armed with steps and strategies to take action that will allow us to change, and when as educators we change, we begin to make progress.

I am sure that we all know some leaders who cannot change their minds and have not changed anything in their schools for a long time. These “leaders” need to read The Principalship from A to Z so they can begin the reflection cycle in order to grow from the insights that Williamson and Blackburn have shared with us.

Whether you are a leader that is in a “stale” position, a newly minted leader, or simply a dynamic leader continually looking to improve, The Principalship from A to Z would be a great start to your professional development and a continuous resource on your path to improvement.

Read Margaret Jones-Carey’s MiddleWeb review
of The Principalship from A to Z

Mike Janatovich is an Assistant Principal for Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio. Prior to becoming a middle level administrator, Mike spent 10 years serving middle level students as a 7th and 8th grade science and social studies teacher. As a middle level advocate, Mike believes that educating the whole child is critical in ensuring academic success. Mike was a member of the ASCD 2015 Class of Emerging Leaders. You can follow him @mjanatovich.


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

2 Responses

  1. Mary Langer Thompson says:

    Mike, thank you for this review. It’s so good to see an assistant principal reviewing a book like this because I believe the AP position is one of the most crucial positions in the school, yet it is often an invisible one. I’m glad you’re preparing for your future role by learning, reading and writing.

  2. Mary,

    Thank you for the kind words. The book has extremely powerful and I already have our teacher leaders reading it this summer. We can’t let any leader, principal, AP, or teacher leader be invisible. It is us collectively that will make the school a success.

    Yours in education,



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.