A Peek Inside the Principal’s Office: 'It’s a Pressure Cooker'

A Peek Inside the Principal’s Office: 'It’s a Pressure Cooker'

James SpillaneNorthwesternUniversity's James Spillane, co-author of Navigating the Principalship.

School principals often have too much to do and not enough time to do it. They share leadership duties but have ultimate responsibility for the school and everyone inside of it. And they have to meet the demands of everyone -- from parents and school board members to teachers and students.

The new book Navigating the Principalship: Key Insights for New and Aspiring School Leaders by Northwestern University’s James P. Spillane and Boston College’s Rebecca Lowenhaupt explores these major challenges of the principal position and more while offering pragmatic ways to manage the job and balance work and home life.

The authors examine how new principals adapt to the role, set an instructional agenda, and build cooperation and collaboration. They focus on the problems that define the principalship—the inevitable, complicated conflicts which often arise from a clash of worthwhile values that resist simple solutions.

“Being a principal is kind of like being in a pot of boiling water,” one principal, a five-year veteran, remarked during an interview. At the same time, however, she loves the job.

The juxtaposition is captured in the book, which is based on original research conducted with new principals in an urban environment. Spillane and Lowenhaupt show what it means to become and be a principal through the experiences of 11 men and women working in Chicago public elementary and middle schools.

Rich with authentic voices discussing real conflicts and proven strategies, the book is designed to spark both reflection and action and chart a course for effective, rewarding school leadership.

Spillane is the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor in Learning and Organizational Change at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. He is also professor of human development and social policy and learning sciences. He has published extensively on issues of education policy, policy implementation, school reform, and school leadership.

Spillane, who was elected to the National Academy of Education in 2013, is the author of several books including Challenging Standards: Navigating Conflict and Building Capacity in the Era of Common CoreStandards Deviation: How Local Schools Misunderstand Policy; and Distributed Leadership.

Lowenhaupt is an associate professor of educational leadership at Boston College's Lynch School of Education and Human Development. She teaches aspiring school and district leaders about teacher supervision, organizational theory, and research methods, and serves as an associate editor for the journal Educational Policy.

Photo by Steve Drey


By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 10/31/19