Survey says: Teachers and principals view relationship differently

An Education Week Research Center survey reveals principals don’t really know what their teachers think of them.

Source: Education Week Research Center, 2019

The national survey asked principals to evaluate themselves and their relationship with teachers, while also asking teachers how they view their principals. Teachers and principals were in agreement that a positive working relationship is very important (81% of teachers, 87% of principals), but the disconnect on specific aspects of how they relate is striking.

For starters, 52% of teachers felt student discipline was the major source of friction in the teacher-principal relationship compared to 24% of principals. “That’s been the biggest frustration in the districts I have been at, teachers have questioned the consequences that a student received, that they weren’t harsh enough,” a Texas principal shared with Education Week.

This sentiment is important for principals to pay attention to. The Center has heard from numerous teachers that their classrooms are chaotic and student learning is interrupted because of the discipline policy—or lack thereof—that the school has in place. An article I wrote for the summer 2019 issue of Thinking Minnesota highlighted the challenging school year at Ramsey Elementary that critics attributed to lack of support from the principal and the inability to hold students accountable for their behavior.

Other areas where principals and teachers have dueling viewpoints included workplace culture and principals’ contributions to their schools’ learning environments.

For example, 69 percent of principals say that they “completely agree” that teachers at their school feel empowered to bring problems to them. But just 25 percent of teachers say the same.

Principals give themselves high marks for how they impact their school’s working and learning conditions—77 percent say they make a “completely positive” contribution to the environment, while 23 percent say they make a “somewhat positive” contribution. For teachers though, just 37 percent believe their principals make a “completely positive” impact on the school environment, while a combined 30 percent say their principals make either a “somewhat negative” or “completely negative” contribution.

Granted, a principal is one person in charge of dozens of teachers, making the principal’s job a complex one, according to Education Week’s Executive Project Editor Lesli Maxwell, but the survey results still “represent a big-picture view of the principal-teacher dynamic.”