Principals as bullies

Principals as bullies

Even the smallest school principal is responsible for the welfare of children and staff, as well as having control for large and very valuable materials, equipment and building. It’s a job of immense responsibility and I don’t envy the duty and burden of care that weighs on our average high school principal. I’ve worked for 6 or 7 principals in my time, from a range of different systems and with a range of different qualifications. I’ve worked for both men and women, both new and experienced principals. In addition, in other capacities, including my most recent work with the union, I’ve met a lot of other principals, too, in a professional capacity.

And what have I found? Just like there is research suggesting that it helps to be a corporate psychopath if you want to be a CEO, I think it helps to be a bully if you want to be a principal. Or perhaps the job attracts bullies. Of course, I am not saying that every principal is a bully – that would be ridiculous. I’m not even saying that every principal that I’ve worked for is a bully – I’ve had the good fortune to work with some principals who were both excellent educational leaders and administrators, but thoroughly decent and humane human beings.

But not all of them. I’ve also worked with, and seen others, who seem to feel that the only way they have to manage people is by bullying them. These principal-bullies single out staff members for continued, sustained abuse, feeling that they can hide behind the structures put into place by a system that does little to realise the damage it is inflicting upon its human capital. They try to drive teachers and other staff members out of their school if they feel that they are underperforming. Or if their results are not good enough. Or if they want part time work. Or for any one of another thousand reasons that are completely unreasonable. Like I said, I’ve seen it happen.

But my question is why? Are we so bereft of leadership, at a systemic and school level, that this is what passes for it? Are we so lacking in vision that we are unable to see that such actions are inevitably short-sighted and self-defeating? Or is the matter more complicated than that, and ultimately what we are seeing is not a cause, but a symptom: a symptom of the fact that principals are being held to such ridiculous expectations and treated with such a lack of respect by the system in which the work?