Why is Being A Principal So Stressful?
Our work as educational leaders is both challenging and rewarding. Stress levels amongst Principals and other educational leaders are high. In a further symptom of concern, applications for some Principal roles, especially in more demanding locations, are low.
Whilst retention of Principals in larger schools doesn’t appear to be a problem, attracting Principals to small schools is an issue.
Alarming statistics from California show both teacher and Principal retention are an issue. Leadership Coach, Elena Aguilar reports that in her district of Oakland, California, they lose a third of their teachers every year. After five years, only one in five teachers still remain.
Aguilar reports the turnover of principals is even higher — although it’s not tracked as carefully as teacher turnover. “We’re losing professional capital, institutional knowledge, and the ability to sustain change efforts; we also invest a lot of money into all kinds of things that we lose when we have such high turnover.”
One of the reasons for the high levels of stress and low morale is the nature of the work we do. We don’t work in factories, making widgets! We work with people and that means it is challenging and unpredictable. We are in the privileged position of having the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, each and every day. However with that opportunity come demands and the challenges of working with people.
No one ever quite knows what is going on in somebody else’s world. We don’t really know the challenges that our students, parents or staff have dealt with that morning or the previous evening. Perhaps there has been an argument, somebody in their household dealing with serious illness, financial pressures or other stressors. We don’t always know!
I believe there are FIVE factors that determine whether people (including teachers and Principals) will achieve job satisfaction.
1 Doing work that is important,
2 Feeling they make a difference,
3 Belonging and feel part of a team,
4 Being appreciated for what they do and
5 Having the confidence that they are good at what they do
Which of the FIVE do you struggle with?
Our work is important and does make a difference in the lives of both the families we work with and our staff. If you are not gaining a sense of satisfaction, I have two pieces of advice.
First, monitor your self-talk! What are you telling yourself about the work you do? Are you focusing on all of the problems and frustrations of the job or the opportunity to do important work that makes a difference in the lives of others.
If you have tried to monitor and correct your self-talk without success, I’d recommend planning your exit strategy. Spend some time thinking about what type of work you would rather be doing. You might need to use some leave time for some further study or voluntary work in that industry to see if it will give you a higher level of satisfaction.
The work we do takes a lot of woken hours. It is important for us that we get satisfaction from it.
It is also important to the families in our school that they have a leader who is passionate and committed to the best possible outcomes.