Top 5 Books For New Middle School Principals

Top 5 Books For New Middle School Principals

Michele Regan

There’s an interesting and popular quote about principals on the internet that says: Being a principal is easy. It’s like riding a bike. Except the bike is on fire. You’re on fire. Everything is on fire.” 

While overly dramatic, this quote illustrates a very important point - the principal’s job can be very challenging and stressful. After all, the main duties include overseeing and managing all the activities and operations within the school, which includes approving teachers’ curriculums, creating a safe and productive learning environment, disciplining or advising students, communicating with parents, mediating between parents, teachers, and students, as well as planning activities related to the schools’ public relations and reputation.

Needless to say, there are many ways in which this job can intimidate and make hard-working people question their decisions - especially new principals who will be facing these challenges for the first time.

However, the job can be very rewarding. School principals are leaders and role models who motivate and empower teachers and students. With the right tools, they can create an engaging school culture that promotes growth, creativity, and inclusion.

To help you become a successful principal, we created a list of five inspirational books for new middle school principals. The books on our list feature different aspects of the job, so you can pick the one that suits your needs best, or go through all of them.

The Top 5 Books for New Middle School Principals

What does it take to be a successful principal? What do great principals do differently? How to survive or even thrive professionally in an extremely stressful environment? How has the job changed now that education goes online?

You can find the answers to these and many other questions in what we believe are the best books for new (and experienced) principals in middle schools. 

1. Being a Successful Principal: Riding the Wave of Change Without Drowning

Authors: David R. Schumaker and William A. Sommers

Published: 2001

If you want to learn how schools operate on a day-to-day basis, this is a great book to start with. Schumaker and Sommers are two principals who created this book as a step-by-step guide aimed at beginners or aspiring colleagues. They share insights, anecdotes, and practical tips for situations that every principal can identify with. On top of that, this book is filled with great examples of how to handle difficult situations, and can help readers reflect on their own leadership style and the decision-making process that will take them in the right direction.

We love this book for several reasons. First, we love that it’s written by authors who have a rich background and actual experience as principals. For instance, David Schumaker has been a public school teacher for 21 years and principal of a middle school for more than ten years. Second, we love the practical pieces of advice that deal with specific situations. New principals can learn so much from this. Third, we love the overall organization of the book and the many positive reviews from teachers and principals who find this book valuable and resourceful.

What People Say:

“This book was written with humor and insight. It makes you realize that being a principal with heart and humor is possible. It's not a high-handed theory book; it's a book that you can read and put into immediate practice for success.” - Becky Stetson.

2. What Great Principals Do Differently: Twenty Things That Matter Most

Author: Todd Whitaker

Published: 2002

Todd Whitaker is a famous American educator, professor, and educational consultant. He has written many bestsellers and guides for teachers and principals, including School Culture: Rewired, Motivating Inspiring Teachers, and Dealing with Difficult Teachers

However, What Great Principals Do Differently is arguably one of his best works as it's an internationally renowned bestseller. In this book, Todd focuses on the main attitudes and actions that separate mediocre from inspiring and really great principals, and summarizes his findings and views through 20 pieces of advice that could really make a change. In this third edition, published in 2002, Whitaker added more resources so principals can recruit new talent better, but also offered a new approach to leadership that aims to align the school’s climate to the principals’ core value.

To give you an example of what you can expect from this book, let’s break down his chapter on recruiting talent. Whitaker not only explains how and why some approaches to finding the best teachers work, but he also includes interview and reference questions to support his ideas. 

All in all, we love this book because it gives new principals some practical examples of how some attitudes and activities can shape or affect the school’s climate. This way, school leaders can recognize why some popular methods or techniques might not align with their specific needs or goals.

What People Say:

“Full of good reminders and insights. The single biggest of which may simply be that school improvement is teacher improvement. There's no way to make a good school without good teachers, and there's no way to make a school better without better teachers”. - Sean Blevins.

3. The Principal’s Survival Guide: Where Do I Start? How Do I Succeed? When Do I Sleep?

Authors: Susan Stone Kessler, April M. Snodgrass, and Andrew T. Davis

Published: 2015

Just like the name suggests, this is a survival guide for new principals. It breaks down the basics and equips school leaders with all the ammunition they need to shoot for the moon. We love The Principal’s Survival Guide because it is yet another beloved textbook for principals from principals. However, this is not your ordinary textbook because instead of dense, and often too convoluted guides, this one cuts through the noise and gives readers clear and actionable steps and goals. 

If you ever wondered why something is recommended or you’re expected to do it in a certain way, then you’ll probably find an answer in this book. The authors try to discuss the job by explaining the meaning behind their advice or recommendation. In other words, they won’t just tell you to have regular weekly meetings with all the teachers, but dive into the why and when that piece of advice works best.

Some principals say that they love and recommend this book just because it’s so relatable and shows real empathy toward the role of the principal, and we agree. If you want to read something that gets it right and paints a very realistic picture of your days as principal, this is the one for you. We love it because we believe that it is a rare gem that actually helps new principals become better and improve in practice - not just in theory.

What People Say:

“A lot of common sense, mixed in with some helpful advice and good ideas. A good tool to help get one's head around the notion of becoming an administrator and developing a personal/professional style.” - Jennifer.

4. Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times

Author: Eric Sheninger

Published: 2014

The fourth book on our list brings technology into the conversation and we’re embracing the topic with open arms. This book was written in 2014, when schools were still very wary when it came to using technology inside the classrooms.  However, recent developments with the COVID pandemic showed us that digitalization is the future. Schools that can’t adapt, impose severe limitations to students who’ll then be thrown into a job market that demands savvy tech skills. Why is this important for principals? Let’s review some of the many reasons now.

First, principals need to learn how to leverage the benefits of technological advances so they can provide advanced learning opportunities for students, but also to increase teachers’ productivity and the efficiency of staff operations’ processes. Second, principals need to learn how to recognize the dangers and risks associated with technology, such as cyberbullying, and implement strategies that would educate and protect children.

In a nutshell, this is the main goal of Sheninger’s Digital Leadership. Through many examples and discussions about technological phenomena such as social media and open-source information sharing, the author gives school’s leaders yet another tool for transforming the learning process.

We believe that this book is a must read for all principals who are currently working in schools. First, the book discusses embracing changes that go deeper than current digital trends. It shows principals the importance of keeping an open mind for new things because that’s the only way to keep moving forward and improve. Second, in today’s environment, Digital Leadership shines where others fail - telling principals how to work online.

As some readers have put it, “this is the book that gives voice to the students” who do not share the same views or mentality as most school’s frameworks from the 20th century. Therefore, if you want to be a modern principal, this book would be the right read for you.

What People Say:

“Loved this amazing book on digital leadership in education. Sheninger shares his journey as an administrator through the process of rejecting and then embracing technology in the learning environment. [...] He outlines his Six Pillars of Digital Leadership in an enlightening and inspiring manner.” - Cynthia.

5. What They Don’t Tell You in Schools of Education About School Administration

Authors: John A. Black and Fenwick W. English

Published: 1986 (new edition: 2002)

Last, but not least, we recommend that new principals read this old classic guide and favorite book of many teachers’ and administrators alike: What They Don’t Tell You in Schools of Education About School Administration.

Black’s famous book is probably the all-time best-selling book on school administration for several reasons. First, it doesn’t sugar coat the hard truths about the challenges and difficulties that come with the job. Many people find this refreshing, and even comforting because they find that they’re not alone and some negative feelings are perfectly normal. Second, the advice in the book is timeless and still relevant today. This proof for this is that teachers and principals still talk about this book. 

In fact, most readers say that they go back to this book over and over again, while others feel regret that they haven’t found it earlier in their career. We understand that you might want to prioritize newer books that deal with current problems, but if you have the time to read more than one book, we do not recommend skipping this one.

What People Say:

“My all-time favorite book about the world of school administration. A must-read for anyone in the field.” - Stacy Winslow.

More Great Books for New Middle-School Principals

The 50 great books on education

If you have the time and desire to read, we have more awesome recommendations for you to check out. Even though the following books didn’t make the final cut, they’re still valuable reads for new middle school principals, teachers, and other administrative staff members in education. They provide insights from different aspects that will help you build inspiring and successful school culture.

  • “If You Don't Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students: A Guide to Success for Administrators and Teachers” by Neila A. Connors (topic: principal-teacher relationship).
  • Street Data: A Next-Generation Model for Equity, Pedagogy, and School Transformation” by Jamila Dugan and Shane Safir (topic: measuring students’ performance).
  • Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice” by Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein (topic: discipline and student-behavior).
  • Leadership for the Schoolhouse: How Is It Different? Why Is It Important?” by Thomas J. Sergiovanni (topic: best theories and practices for schools).
  • Motivating and Inspiring Teachers: The Educational Leader's Guide for Building Staff Morale” by Todd Whittaker, Beth Whittaker, Dale Lumpa (topic: motivating staff).
  • Hacking Leadership: 10 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Learning That Teachers, Students, and Parents Love” by Joe Sanfelippo (topic: building relationships).
  • Ridiculously Amazing Schools: Creating a Culture Where Everyone Thrives by Jeff Waller and Tracey Smith (topic: creating a positive school culture).
  • The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact” by Michael Fullan (topic: advice for success).
  • School Leadership That Works: From Research to Results” by Robert J. Marzano, Timothy Waters, and Brian A. McNulty (topic: advice for success).
  • “The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” by Alfie Kohn (topic: measuring students’ performance).


As we’ve seen in this article, there are many challenges awaiting new principals. Being the head of the school means taking responsibility for the overall operation of the whole educational institution. So, what can new principals do to make sure they enter the game with a head start? 

Some things can only be learned from experience, but a lot can be gleaned from others who’ve already walked the same path. For these reasons, we lined up the best, most inspirational books that can give a new middle school principal a head start. We hope that you enjoy our selection, and that you’ll feel more confident and ready to excel in your new role after reading some of the books. 

If you’ve liked this article, don’t forget to visit us again. We regularly share new content with our readers and we promise to share more tips and tricks for teachers and administrators in educational institutions.

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