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School Principal

Managing in Public

When we think about school principals, most of us imagine a figure of vague, yet intimidating authority—for an elementary school student, being sent to the principal’s office is roughly on par with a trip to Orwell’s Room 101. But with School Principal, Dan C. Lortie aims to change that. Much as he did for teachers with his groundbreaking book Schoolteacher, Lortie offers here an intensive and detailed look at principals, painting a compelling portrait of what they do, how they do it, and why.

Lortie begins with a brief history of the job before turning to the daily work of a principal. These men and women, he finds, stand at the center of a constellation of competing interests around and within the school. School district officials, teachers, parents, and students all have needs and demands that frequently clash, and it is the principal’s job to manage these conflicting expectations to best serve the public. Unsurprisingly then, Lortie records his subjects’ professional dissatisfactions, but he also vividly depicts the pleasures of their work and the pride they take in their accomplishments. Finally, School Principal offers a glimpse of the future with an analysis of current issues and trends in education, including the increasing presence of women in the role and the effects of widespread testing mandated by the government.

Lortie’s scope is both broad and deep, offering an eminently useful range of perspectives on his subject. From the day-to-day toil to the long-term course of an entire career, from finding out just what goes on inside that office to mapping out the larger social and organizational context of the job, School Principal is a truly comprehensive account of a little-understood profession.


“Incisive and compelling, School Principal is sibling to Dan Lortie’s classic Schoolteacher. As an outsider to the principalship and an exceedingly careful and thorough scholar, Lortie sees what insiders do not see and asks questions we would never think to ask. The results are timely and important, offering readers an invaluable, career-encompassing resource for deep understanding of the ‘way things are’ and why.”

Robert B. Kottkamp, Hofstra University

"Lortie believes that knowing ’what is’ can help current and future leaders in education improve schools and move beyond the current static culture. This book should be of great interest to both current and future educators, especially leaders in the field of education."


Table of Contents



1 The Setting

2 The Early Career

3 Looking Up

4 On Being in Charge

5 The Rewards

6 Complications and Complexities

7 Careers and Satisfaction

8 Reality and Response: A Managerial Subculture

9 An Uncertain Future

Appendix A: The Interview, the Fact Sheet, and the Sample

Appendix B: The Iowa Data and Community Differences




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