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‘Good to Great’ author: How to have great schools

Jim Collins explains the keys to success in any enterprise at AASA’s National Conference on Education

'Good to Great' author: How to have great schools

Effective leaders know how to distinguish core values from practices, Collins said—preserving the former while changing the latter to stimulate progress. (Lifetouch/AASA)

The most important factor influencing a school’s success isn’t class size, length of the school day, or other reforms, says researcher and author Jim Collins—it’s having a great leader at the helm.

Speaking at the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education Feb. 21, Collins told the superintendents in attendance that the best thing they could do to improve their schools was to make sure every principal is a top-notch leader. He also explained the characteristics that make a leader “great.”

Collins is the best-selling author of Good to Great, Built to Last, and other books exploring the factors that are most responsible for companies’ sustained success, and he said these same factors also apply to schools. But that doesn’t mean reformers who seek to adopt a more businesslike approach to education are correct, he cautioned.

“We must reject the idea [that we should] mindlessly impose business thinking on the public sector,” he said. After all, most companies are only average performers—and we don’t want just average schools.

“It’s not a business idea” that school reformers should be looking for, he explained—“it’s a greatness idea.”

And the greatness of an institution always begins with its people, Collins noted.

When Collins and his research team set out to identify the factors common to great enterprises, they assumed they would find that greatness was led by dynamic leaders driving the change. But that wasn’t always the case.

(Next page: What really makes a great leader)

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