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What Educators Need to Know: How to Deal With a Difficult Principal

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As a teacher you may find it very difficult to work with your principal. Therefore this piece provides tips for surviving the work place as you continue to invest in the lives of students.

Being a teacher was hands down one of the most difficult things that I have ever done in my life. It was also, however, the most rewarding. I had excellent relationships with my colleagues and my building principals, who served as a support system during times of uncertainty and difficulty. I hope that you will have a similar experience, but I also want you to be prepared if you do not.

Your school principal serves as an immediate supervisor and has direct authority over the day-to-day management of the school. A principal can be an invaluable ally in your pursuit to educate students or can be a nuisance and make your life a living hell. Here are some strategies that you can use to deal with a difficult principal.

  1. Take steps to open the lines of communication, and build a healthy reciprocal relationship with your principal. There is nothing wrong with appeasing your principal, and even "kissing up." Your objective is to coexist with him or her and be the best teacher that you can be. Document every interaction between you and your building principal. If there is a problem down the line, you will have a detailed record of your interactions. Also, if your colleagues witnessed important interactions between you and your principal, be sure to record their names and other pertinent information.
  2. If you feel as though your principal is bullying or persecuting you, try to stay calm and remain professional. Give the principal the benefit of the doubt at first, but if he or she crosses the line, it may be time to seek help. This is especially true if you feel that you have done all that you can to solve the problem.
  3. If you do decide to seek outside help or advice, your union representative will be your first line of defense. The representative will inform you of your rights and help you devise a plan for dealing with the situation. If your principal is exhibiting bullying behaviors toward you, odds are that he or she has also bullied others. There is a possibility that your union representative has fielded complaints about this principal in the past.

If the problem does not subside with time, I would either transfer to another school in the district or simply leave. If you are not satisfied with this course of action, perhaps you should report the principal's actions to someone further up the chain of command, but make sure you have done your part by having a heart-to-heart with your principal. Remember, it's not your fault, and everyone, even principals, must face the consequences of their actions.

We would like to think that principals are all altruistic people who treat everyone fairly and have our best interests at heart, but in the end they are human just like us. I have seen strong relationships between teachers and principals devolve into toxic ones within the blink of an eye. The funny thing is that it was usually over some petty matter or a product of miscommunication.

There may come a time when you have to deal with a difficult principal, and I just want you to be prepared. If you implement these strategies, you should have no problem standing up for yourself. Remember why you love to teach and use these tips to deal with your principal.

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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