There are numerous books—Amazon lists more than 20,000—written to help and guide school principals, those education leaders who play an absolutely pivotal role in supporting K-12 students worldwide.
Stepping into this crowded field are Lynch School of Education and Human Development Associate Professor Rebecca Lowenhaupt and Northwestern University faculty member James P. Spillane, who co-authored Navigating the Principalship: Key Insights for New and Aspiring School Leaders with an eye toward presenting pragmatic ways for recently hired principals, or those considering the position, to manage the seemingly never-ending job while balancing work and home life.
“We wanted to take an accessible, solution-oriented approach to the enduring dilemmas that all principals face, regardless of where they work,” said Lowenhaupt, who teaches in the Lynch School’s Educational Leadership and Higher Education Department. “Although anchored in the urban environment, the book’s themes are universal to the position and can be applied broadly.”
"Our hope is that by sharing their stories and the dilemmas they managed, we can help others anticipate and manage their own crossings and meet the challenges that come with moving into the principals’ office, and not only becoming but being the principal.”
Underwritten by a grant from the Spencer Foundation, and published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the slim, readable volume is based on original research conducted in Chicago public elementary and middle schools over five years.
“This is a book about practitioners, for practitioners, and based on the accounts of practitioners,” note the authors. “We are confident that the challenges they face mirror the experiences of new principals in many places. Our hope is that by sharing their stories and the dilemmas they managed, we can help others anticipate and manage their own crossings and meet the challenges that come with moving into the principals’ office, and not only becoming but being the principal.”
Often likened to company CEOs—but without the high salary, perks, benefits, and abundant resources—senior school leaders account for 25 percent of a school’s total impact on student learning, according to Jean Desravines, who heads New Leaders, a national nonprofit organization that seeks is to ensure high academic achievement for high-poverty students of color by developing transformational school leaders and advancing policies and practices.
“Principals work strategically to hire the right staff, cultivate effective managers at all levels of their organization, ensure staff are supported and held accountable for results, create systems to promote efficient operations, and cultivate a positive culture focused on their vision for success,” says Desravines. “It is not hyperbole to suggest that CEOs—whether of companies or schools—can make or break the success of their organization and in many ways, of our country.”
Lowenhaupt and Spillane, who is the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor in Learning and Organizational Change at Northwestern, examine how new principals adapt to the role, establish an instructional agenda, and build cooperation and collaboration among various stakeholders while facing a dizzying array of daily challenges. They focus on the problems that define the position, particularly the inevitable and complex conflicts that frequently arise from the collision of worthwhile values that resist simple solutions.
Of particular note is what the authors characterize as the “responsibility dilemma,” a quandary driven by the deluge of new duties and obligations merging with the realization that principals are ultimately accountable for both the successes and failures of their school.
“We provide proven coping strategies for principals as opposed to simple, one-size-fits-all solutions,” said Lowenhaupt. “We see the book as a useable, ethnographic tool that would be particularly relevant at conferences and training sessions for new education leaders as they chart a course for effective school leadership.”
–Phil Gloudemans, University Communications | January 2020