1. Education

How to Deal With a Problem Principal

Know Your Rights, Focus on Your Students

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Most of the time, we teachers live within the bubble of our individual classrooms. Once we close the classroom door, we're in our own little worlds, rulers of our domains, and completely in control of how our day progresses overall.

Sure, we have meetings and all-school directives and grade level coordinating and parent conferences and errands to run around campus. But mostly, we're the only adult around for five to six hours a day.

But still it would be reckless to forget about the wider school power structure and thus ignore the importance of a good relationship with an administrator. I had to learn the hard way that tension with an administrator can spiral out of control if you're not careful. So I'd like to help you learn from my challenging experiences.

Stop Principal Problems Before They Start

Principals are people, too, and they aren't perfect. But they certainly are powerful on an elementary school campus. So it's key to make sure your relationship is solid, positive, contructive, and mutually respectful.

So whether all's well with your principal right now or things are tense, here are some helpful tips from someone who's been in both a great and a poor relationship with various principals:

  1. If your relationship is going smoothly and you have a well-liked administrator, then enjoy your job! Life is good and there's nothing better than a supportive and kind principal which makes for a happy school full of happy teachers. Join committees, take risks, ask for advice and support, live it up!
  2. If your relationship is going well but you've noticed that many other teachers have problems with your administrator, consider yourself lucky and take proactive steps to maintain a healthy relationship with your principal. Don't be afraid to "kiss up" and do everything within your power (and common morality) to stay in his good graces. Try to fly under the radar and just make it through his tenure at your school. Nothing lasts forever and your goal must be professional sanity and calm.
  3. If you sense mounting tension from a difficult principal, start documenting every event that occurs between you and him. Keep a log of all conversations, the subject matters, dates, times, and durations of his classroom visits. Your sense of a looming problem may eventually prove to be incorrect, but in the meantime it can't hurt to protect yourself.
  4. If your principal goes on the attack and you start to feel victimized, stay calm, remain focused and polite, and work with him to create a plan to solve any problems. Set goals, be straightforward, and try to give him what he seeks. You'll sense it if and when he steps over the line. Until then, give him the benefit of the doubt and show due respect. If you do not yet have a permanent or tenured position at this school or district, you must go above and beyond the call of duty to solve this problem and make it right.
  5. If it becomes clear that your principal is overstepping his bounds or preventing you from properly performing your teaching duties, consider talking to your union representative. Chances are, the union rep will already have fielded other complaints about this administrator. As long as you are a sane and goodhearted professional, it will rarely be you who brings up the first complaint about a given individual. Learn about your protected rights and make a plan with the union rep to clear the air and come to a new understanding with the administrator.
  6. If the problem does not improve over time with mediation and patience, then you can always request a transfer to another campus. You may also choose to eventually mentally relinquish the stress over this situation and continue to focus your positive energies on the most important people in the school: your young students who need you! Give them everything you have and before you know it, your problem administrator will likely be moving on to another assignment or the tensions will naturally dissipate as he moves on to a new target.

As you can see, there are varying degrees of principal problems and it will require your good judgment to decide on a course of action. If you have found any other constructive ways to work with a difficult principal, stop by our Forum and share the wealth of your wisdom!

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