How To Handle A Bully Principal

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If the comments and emails from last week are any indication, there are a lot of bully principals out there.

I’ve certainly met a few.

They come in every size and shape, stripe and strata of education. And although their methods of torment may differ, the way to deal with them is the same:

Don’t give them an opportunity.

Here’s how:

Be great at classroom management.

Nothing gets under a principal’s skin more than having to deal with behavior issues. They have enough to worry about. Besides, unless there is a dangerous incident that must be documented, it’s always best to handle yourself.

Otherwise, you send the message that you can’t handle your classroom.

Once you show that you’ve got this critical part of teaching locked down, however, and the principal can trust you no matter who is on your roster, it removes the most common reason they grow frustrated.

Never kiss their rear end.

From the beginning of the relationship, be a confident pro. Never whine and complain. Never try to ingratiate yourself with them. Never try to show off for them or impress them with your willingness to take on extra work.

Never try to be friends with them or become one of their inner circle. Have more pride than that.

Be a pillar of competency and hang on tight to your self-worth. It’s the grovelers and sycophants who take the brunt of a wrathful boss.

Keep your mouth shut.

Nowadays, more than ever before, teachers have less control and fewer decisions to make that affect the school community. The control they do have, like where students should line up before school or what the testing schedule should look like, doesn’t matter.

So don’t get involved.

It only opens you to argument, judgment, and criticism. Let the others wrestle for pats to their ego or a “great idea” from the boss. It’s meaningless and frankly pathetic. Show strength and dignity by what you don’t say.

Focus on your classroom.

Keep laser-focused on doing well for your students to the exclusion of everything else. You teach for them and secondarily their parents. Not for the principal and not for the school district.

It’s for those kids and for your love of the job.

Be so wrapped up in enjoying your work that you don’t notice the slights or perceived slights. You don’t notice the principal’s tone or care one whit about the mood they’re in. It doesn’t even register on your radar.

Be first.

Instead of complaining about all the extra stuff the principal wants from you, work on being the first to get it turned in and make sure it’s neat, well-done, and professionally organized.

The truth is, only a small number of teachers fully take care of their responsibilities.

The rest either turn it in late, partially done, or not at all. Again, when your principal can count on you, when you don’t add stress to their already stressful life, they become deeply grateful you’re a member of the staff.

Be an adult.

Your principal is just a person like you who happens to be under enormous pressure. And they don’t always handle it well. If they get frustrated and lash out, it’s usually at three types of people.

a. Those puckering up around them.

b. Those that complain and make their life more difficult.

c. Those that simper, cower, and stress-out around them.

Don’t let this be you. If the principal approaches you about something, listen and respond clearly and directly. Then be on your way without fuss. They appreciate maturity, competence, and professionalism above all.

Ignore their tone and body language.

A principal’s tone and body language doesn’t matter. They may be upset at something that has nothing to do with you. They may be too preoccupied to tell you how wonderful you are or to check in and see how your family is doing.

Furthermore, if you’re doing your job, then you never have to concern yourself with their mood—or anything else for that matter.

Therefore, you have nothing to fear. When you act nervously and walk on eggshells and worry over this and that you make the principal suspicious that perhaps you don’t have your act together.

Don’t gossip.

If you’re a complainer and gossiper, then the boss is going to know. They have minions listening and reporting back to them—even if they don’t ask for it. They have others who try to elevate themselves by putting you down.

Getting involved with your own two-cents about how things should be done or, heaven forbid, becoming a minion yourself, just isn’t worth it.

Vent to your significant other. Vent to the one or two friends on campus that you trust. Otherwise, stay in your classroom. Do your job and then get home to your family, friends, and hobbies. When you lose your compass, only bad things happen.

Under Pressure

I haven’t talked to my own principal about anything school-related in several years. It’s not a brag, it’s how it should be. Take care of your business and they’ll respect you and leave you alone.

Many years ago, when I was an elementary teacher, I was moving a rolling cabinet out of storage when I ran into the principal. She asked how the move was going. I told her everything was good but the cabinet was made poorly and falling apart.

She had recently bought new cabinets for the entire staff. In response to my statement, she snapped at me. She raised her voice and said, “Why didn’t you tell me!”

I apologized matter-of-factly and then showed her the problem.

But I didn’t feel bullied. I didn’t feel disrespected. She got angry, big deal. I did my job well so nothing she could have said would have mattered.

Now, I want to make clear that I don’t deny that some principals can be true bullies and make certain teachers miserable. But it’s not always what it seems.

And even if it is, most of the time it’s avoidable. If currently find yourself in the crosshairs, then follow the guidelines above. Slowly but surely, in a few weeks, they’ll forget about you.

And in a few months, they’ll appreciate you more than you can imagine.

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