Principals in the Cross Hairs

Posted by Michael Simkins on March 6, 2013


  • Districts Tying Principal Reviews to Test Scores
  • Survey Finds Rising Job Frustration Among Principals

These two headlines, both from Education Week, crossed my desk today.  It was a poignant and instructive juxtaposition.  I spent years studying (and experiencing) teacher burnout.  I found that lack of control (perceived, anyway) was closely associated with burnout.  The current research cited lack or control as a key factor in principal frustration.

After 15 years as a teacher, I became a principal.  “Wow,” I thought, “now I’ve got the power to make things happen.”

No and yes.  I found that despite my new, elevated position, I had far less power than I thought I would have.   Principal’s can dictate, surely; that doesn’t mean anyone has to abide by the dictates.  A principal’s real power comes from sharing it, from persuasion, from setting an example, from inspiring people.

It doesn’t surprise me that today’s principals are feeling frustrated; given the context in which they work, why wouldn’t they be?

Assuming that it make sense to run education as though it were a business—a debatable assumption—then of course we need a metric for the bottom line.  Test scores alone, however, are a poor surrogate for net profit.


Published by

Michael Simkins

Michael Simkins is Consulting Director of TICAL — the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership. Prior to that he was director of the Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project and also served as COO of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network. He was an elementary schoolteacher for 17 years and an elementary principal for 9 years. He grew up in Manhattan Beach, California, when it was still a “sleepy beach town.”

2 thoughts on “Principals in the Cross Hairs”

  1. The role (job, vocation, or “your turn”) of Principal is complex, challenging, and demanding. As my brother in law, the lawyer, repeatedly tells me, “I could not do your job for ANY amount of money!” Good thing that he doesn’t have to…as it turns out, I CAN do my job. And the amount of money is irrelevant. But I surely could not do the lawyer’s job!
    Although the little ones will say that I am the “boss” of the school, I often feel like the parent of the school. One teacher calls me, “Ma” and says that it just doesn’t feel right if I am not there. And one 6’6″ dad calls me the “Boss Lady”…I pulled the “Boss Lady” card when I ordered him back into his car before he started to duke it out with a much shorter dad.
    So, I am not sure that we are running education like a business. More often, it feels like a family…and we are raising a pretty good bunch over here!

  2. What a great article. I have experienced the same. The changes we made came not from what I dictated, but what WE as a group of educators agreed was best. Not surprisingly, the technology compononents allowing the sharing of work drove those changes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *