Preparing new principals for the realities of school leadership

Monday, January 8, 2024 - 1:45pm

As an associate professor with Lehigh’s College of Education, Dr. Craig Hochbein helps to prepare future principals enrolled in the college’s Educational Leadership program. His approach synthesizes evidence based pedagogy with practical time management and managerial skills. In his role as an academic, Hochbein’s recent research focuses on how principals actually spend their time. He and others in the field have observed that current principal training often lacks preparation to handle day-to-day realities.

“Many principal training programs help aspiring principals learn about school leadership without preparing them for the work they’ll do each day,” says Hochbein. In his recent article for the Phi Delta Kappan (PDK) journal, Hochbein outlines the need for an immersive component in principal preparation to improve new principal performance and overall school success.
Prospective principals enrolled in Lehigh’s Educational Leadership program, like most academic leaders in training, are primarily full-time teachers and part-time students. “This leads to a somewhat ad hoc learning experience,” says Hochbein. Better alignment between school districts and leadership programs can help create integrated preparation.

Evidence from studies of principals indicate that full-time internship experiences, sometimes called residencies, could fill potential gaps in principal training. Typical internships constrain the opportunities for aspiring principals to practice evidence-based decision making. In contrast, full-time internships expose aspiring principals to the myriad of demands they must balance—such as handling bathroom leaks, managing a late bus arrival, communicating with caregivers, and supporting extracurricular school activities—while also working to improve educational outcomes.

An effective principal needs to be both a good operations manager and evidence-based instructional leader.


“An effective principal needs to be both a good operations manager and evidence-based instructional leader,” says Hochbein. Learning to effectively manage these disparate demands takes practice and mentoring from more seasoned professionals.

Investing in better principal training is, ultimately, an investment in better school outcomes. Partnerships between school districts and universities, along with state and federal grants can help support this immersive approach. Pairing internships with sabbaticals and long-term substitute strategies can also help manage associated costs.

In 2019, a research grant funded through the PA Department of Education's Innovative Teacher and Principal Residency Program was awarded to Lehigh’s College of Education in partnership with the Allentown City School District. You can read about the grant and watch a WFMZ-TV News segment featuring the program on Lehigh’s College of Education Research Grants webpage.

Dr. Craig Hochbein's research focuses on school performance and the effectiveness of policies intended to improve school performance. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Northwestern, his master’s degree from Notre Dame, and his doctoral degree from the University of Virginia. He has contributed numerous book chapters and refereed journal articles and also
serves as an assistant editor for the journal, School Effectiveness and School Improvement.

Lehigh’s Educational Leadership program offers master’s and doctoral degrees, principal certification, director of curriculum and instruction certification, and superintendent of schools certification.