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Job Satisfaction for Principals Sinks

Tingley-021 color webLast week I talked about some of the findings of the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher released last week.  This year principals were surveyed too.  The survey study notes at the outset that research has established an “empirical link” between school leadership and student achievement, so principals’ attitudes towards their job is important.  Here’s what principals had to say.

Almost three-quarters of principals in all kinds of schools, regardless of demographics, say that their job has become too complex.  Nearly the same number say their responsibilities have changed over the past five years.

Ten years ago, the MetLife survey asked principals and teachers what they thought were the most important aspects of a principal’s job.  Nine in 10 principals and eight in 10 teachers agreed that the following skills were the most important for a principal:

            To make sure the school is safe;

            To encourage teachers and students to do their best;

            To help teachers do their jobs well.

Today, principals and teachers no longer agree on the most important skills a principal should have.  Here is the principals’ list of top skills:

            To know how to use data about student performance to improve instruction;

            To lead the development of strong teaching capacity across the school;

            To evaluate teacher effectiveness using multiple measures.

Here is the teachers’ list:

            To have experience as a classroom teacher;

            To lead the development of strong teaching capacity across the school;

            To demonstrate strong management skills (budget, schedules, etc.).

I’m struck with the management  (vs. leadership) aspect of both lists.  That teachers now want their principal to have had classroom experience suggests to me that teachers believe it’s easy to be critical of the job they’re doing if you’ve never done it.  In addition, without classroom experience of your own, you’re less likely to understand how test scores can be skewed by a number of variables.  Yet despite the claims of some teachers’ unions that principals can’t always be trusted to evaluate teachers fairly, 85% of teachers give positive ratings to the job their principal is doing.

While the majority of both principals and teachers believes that the principal is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in his or her school (principals even more so), their individual control over various Principal signaspects of a school varies.  For example, only 22% say they have control over the financial aspects of the school, and fewer than half say they have control over curriculum and instruction or removing teachers.  About half of principals say they feel stressed several days a week.

Like teachers, principals report that their job satisfaction has declined and is now at its lowest point since 2001.  One-third say they’re likely to leave the job in five years, but the study points out that about the same percentage of principals said they would leave in 2004-05, when job satisfaction was at its highest. 

When you look at the survey results from both teachers and principals and you compare results over the past ten years, you’re struck by how our school people soldier on despite the changing political and educational environment.  Both principals and teachers are at the lowest point in job satisfaction in several years, but I am optimistic (as school people are) that as the economy improves and schools have the money to do the work they are charged to do, satisfaction will improve.  Teachers and principals have met challenges before, and they will again.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.