School & District Management Opinion

Principal’s Role Changing, Says MetLife Survey

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — March 07, 2013 3 min read
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The state of teachers in our schools as reported by the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher was the topic of our previous post. Now we explore the data reported by the 500 principals surveyed across the nation. But, let’s first set the context.

The Wallace Foundationhas published significant studies demonstrating the importance of the principal in school success and reports that the school principal, as leader, improves teaching and learning. The connection between the leader and the learner is not in question. Schools cannot be successful without a successful principal. This finding is substantiated by others that we have previously cited. Our schools will not become all we need them to be without these leaders. We know they are feeling pressure but we hope the rewards of the role keep them coming to school each day ready to engage the never ending challenges and to find moments of deep satisfaction and some of real joy. The data tell a less positive story.

The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher reports seventy five percent (75%) of principals feel the job has become too complex. Sixty nine (69%) of principals say the job responsibilities are very different from just five years ago. Not unlike the teachers, nearly half (48%) report being under great stress. Fifty eight (58%) indicate they do not have a great deal of control over curriculum and instruction. While they have influence over hiring, fifty seven (57%) say they have little control over making decisions about removing teachers.

In summary, they have jobs that are rapidly changing and they have little control over the heart of the school...what is being taught and how and by whom. Even principals who have developed and support healthy, rich, nurturing, learning environments, know that they are chasing a moving target and tomorrow it might be different. So, we are not surprised, that job satisfaction has declined nine percentage points in the last four years. These, unsung heroes own the responsibly for everything that happens in the school building...at least 9 of 10 of them do. Interesting, teachers overwhelmingly agree and think their principals are doing a good job.

In any one week, a principal can face a child with a newly diagnosed fatal disease, another facing a family in crisis, a teacher who has suddenly lost a parent, another who has been in an accident, the newspaper calling about the report that a bus driver passed a child’s house and left her off at the wrong spot, a conflict between students, and new state data released to the press. This is not unusual. It is the hectic, moment to moment norm. The best of them are found visiting at the hospital, spending time with teachers in crisis, attending wakes, concerts and games, on trips with their students, and at board meetings. That is how they build the relationships that sustain the organization. It is less clear how they sustain themselves.

And this must become our concern. The landscape is marked by mountain tops named Common Core Standards, Assessment, Observation, Evaluation, Data, and Professional Development. The valleys are described by the data: stress, budget shortfalls, little self-efficacy, external control, declining satisfaction and a workforce that is experiencing the same. We join our voices with others who demand these schools become high achieving but we do so with a troubled heart. We acknowledge that we are asking much from those who are already unrepentant givers. We can say thank you...a shout out to each of you who live this life each day. We also applaud the work you do and wish for it to receive greater recognition. Perhaps that is our role.

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