PMP367: Head and Heart, A Principal’s Tools with Jen Schwanke

In this episode, Will Parker and Jen Schwanke, talk about her recent article, “Heart and head: A Principal’s Essential Tools,” written for the ASCD Education Leadership magazine. Check it out here.

Jen started the conversation by sharing a piece she read about chefs and their essential tools. Many chefs pointed to gadgets, but one chef’s emphasis was on his hands – trusted, adaptable, and skilled. Drawing a parallel, Jen equates school leaders with a chef. While there’s an abundance of external resources, the intrinsic tools – emotional intelligence (heart) and intellectual knowledge (head) – are fundamental.

Balancing Emotion and Cognition in Decision-making 

One of the primary responsibilities of a principal is decision-making. The process often swings between two poles: emotion and cognition.

The Downside of a Purely Cognitive Approach

A purely logical approach has its shortcomings. Jen shared a story about a principal who addressed a discipline issue with pure detachment. The reaction from parents and staff was overwhelmingly negative, signaling the need for empathy in leadership. It’s essential to ensure decisions don’t come across as indifferent. We must weave in humanity and understanding.

The Dual Path: Heart & Head

Merging the emotional and cognitive paths yields the best outcomes. This balanced approach ensures decisions are both human-centered and well-informed. When school leaders make decisions with their hearts, they radiate empathy, understanding, and respect. On the flip side, cognitive decisions emphasize fairness, thoroughness, and structured processes.

Practical Application of the Dual Approach

Will and Jen also discuss examples from their previous schools, including communicating difficult situations in student discipline or during a tragedy.

Pulling the following advice from the article, they also discuss these takeaways for principals:

“When we make decisions using our hearts, others will know:

  • My principal likes me, respects me, and believes in me.
  • I add value to this school community.
  • I will make mistakes, but they do not define me as a person or a professional.
  • My principal is gracious and empathetic.
  • Expectations and goals are set because they are attainable, reasonable, and will make us better.”

“When we make decisions using our heads, others will know:

  • Decisions are made using data, knowledge, and stakeholder input.
  • My principal knows the policies, guidelines, laws, and mandates of our school and system.
  • My principal understands my contract and negotiated agreement and implements its language in a reasonable and fair way.
  • My principal knows what I teach and can provide helpful feedback so I can continuously improve.
  • There are protocols and processes to ensure a fair, equitable, and inclusive environment.
  • Best practices are implemented, and we evolve with the needs of our students” (Pages 68, 69, Heart & Head, ASCD Education Leadership, October 2023).

Final Thoughts and Advice

For overwhelmed new principals, Jen’s message is clear: our emotional intelligence and intellectual prowess are invaluable assets. School leadership, at its best, harnesses both the head and the heart. Read Jen’s entire article here.

Listen to the entire episode for more takeaways. If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to share it with others. Until next time, thank you for doing what matters!

Principal Parry’s Pithy Proverbs

Lisa Parry is a K-12 Principal in Arlington, South Dakota, and a professional development speaker and consultant. As a Principal Matters Associate, she also regularly contributes to our newsletter subscribers. You can follow her work at: Enjoy this thoughtful post from Lisa:

On Sunday night, I watched 60 Minutes.

Their lead story?


It’s potential for help & harm.

The episode featured

Two robots playing soccer.

They were not programmed

To win or lose.

Instead, they were designed to learn

From their successes & failures.

A move resulted in a goal?

They did more of that.

A move resulted in a miss?

They did less of that.

This was stunning.

I found myself amazed

And envious.

Too often, I repeat futile moves

And neglect to do what I know works.

True, these increasingly

Animate objects

Don’t enjoy human emotions.

They’ll never feel







But they can put

Two & two together

And learn from their mistakes.

Seems in this regard, at least,

They come out ahead

Of humankind.

Think someone else would benefit from this episode?
William D. Parker
William D. Parker