About Cassandra Washington

Cassandra Washington is a semi-retired principal. She has 30 years of experience as a public school educator. Currently, she works as an Instructional Coach for a not-for-profit organization and a consultant for an educational publisher. Also, Cassandra publishes a blog, www.teachandtaketime4u.com, and speaks at national conferences about teacher wellness.

Principals and assistant principals are hanging by a thread. A thread that keeps getting pulled and pulled until it eventually snaps. 

Not many people ask the school administrators, “How are you?” Many will tell you they are not doing well mentally or emotionally. The toll of trying to navigate the continually changing world during COVID19 is too much for many educators. 

While most of the worry is focused on the students first, then next in line are the parents. Third in line is teachers, although they feel they are last, too. The last persons on the worry totem-pole are principals and assistant principals. School administrators have nothing left, and many are thinking of heading out of the door. 

The last persons on the worry totem-pole are principals and assistant principals. Click To Tweet

Working Conditions during COVID

Proof that principals are hanging on by a thread is in recent survey conduct on August 14-19, 2020 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). The survey was cited in an article, Why COVID could drive 45% of Principals Out of Their Schools. “Nearly half the principals who participated in a survey this month said they might leave their positions because of the working conditions, including the political environment and health concerns, during the COVID Pandemic.” 

First, let’s discuss the working conditions. Depending on the district, schools are in-person, hybrid, or entirely virtually. Whichever educational model is in place, the expectation is for most principals to be in the school building. School administrators have many worries about working in schools that are not necessarily as clean or sanitized as they should be. We all know that the CDC has guidelines for reopening schools, but do we know how many districts meet the requirements. Nonetheless, who’s checking to see if the guidelines are met? 

Many districts can probably hand you a list of their guidelines. Can they hand over inspection lists of schools meeting the guidelines, especially true in large school districts? They do not have the workforce to conduct extensive scale inspections. So, do you think the responsibilities fall on the principals? You already know the answer!

The Weight of COVID

A load of responsibilities is typically heavy for administrators. Then load on the weight of COVID, and it’s enough to push some principals over the edge. Suppose a school is entirely in-person or hybrid. In that case, a principal is responsible for the health and safety of students and staff. Many people make up the staff, including teachers, janitors, security officers, lunchroom workers, aides, building engineers, counselors, etc. Don’t forget people like delivery persons, mail carriers, repair workers, and more come in and out of a building. That’s a large number of humans entering and exiting. 

Principals and assistant principals do not know who is negative or positive for COVID19. Too many variables make it an unhealthy and dangerous situation for all of the stakeholders. If an outbreak occurs, who is the first person to be blamed for not taking enough school precautions? You know the answer. It’s the principal! 

Principals are Left Out

Although principals have to worry about everyone’s health, who worries about the health of the administrators? Many decisions about reopening schools were without the input of principals, assistant principals, or teachers. Pressures from politicians and parents forced district superintendents and school boards to make quick decisions. Politicians give their two cents on how schools should reopen despite never working in a school or not knowing what goes on during the school day. 

In the previously mentioned survey, NASSP said, “The first reason the respondents gave for potentially leaving is the political environment that swirled up around the pandemic. Principals surveyed cited a lack of leadership, a lack of planning, and the politicization of teacher and student health.”

Lack of Input

During the November 2020 Chicago Board of Education monthly meeting, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA) president spoke publicly about the lack of input from school principals. Troy LaRaviere railed on the Chicago Public Schools CEO and board members. “You concocted a skeletal plan that was contrived without the input of teachers, support staff, engineers, or principals.” He continued to say that the district decision-makers are the biggest threat to principals’ and assistant principals’ health. In other words, school personnel is expendable. 

According to the Learning Policy Institute“Nationally, the average tenure of a principal is about four years, and nearly one in five principals, approximately 18 percent, turn over annually. COVID will undoubtedly speed up the revolving door of principals leaving their schools. Again, principals are hanging on by a thread, and it seems that no one notices. Emotionally and mentally, they are on the cusp of losing it!

Principals Self-Care

School administrators are left to take care of themselves. No one can take better care of you than yourself. Principals and assistant principals make self-care your priority. Yes, you are worried about the students and staff members because you are accustomed to being the caretaker. However, if you are drowning, how can you help anyone else? 

It’s probably doubtful that districts will ask for the input of those in the trenches. Consequently, put it into perspective and take your health into your own hands. Here are a few things you can do.

  1. Collaborate with colleagues and other school leaders. Do not live in a bubble and try to take on everything by yourself. COVID is more significant than all of us. It’ll take all of us to defeat it. 
  2. Professional social media communities can provide support. Become a part of professional groups on Facebook or LinkedIn. Many participants have much experience and knowledge to share. 
  3. Professional counseling is an option. Speak with a psychologist or psychiatrist if you feel overwhelmed. You may need someone outside of your realm to speak with about your emotions. Therapy is not a bad thing.
  4. Exercise makes your body and mind feel better. Take time to exercise at least 30 minutes for three or four days per week. Yes, you have time! Make the time for your health. 
  5. Family and Friends are a great source of support. Please do not leave them out of the loop. Talk to them about what’s happening in your professional and personal life. 
  6. Journaling helps to put your thoughts on paper. If you are not comfortable speaking about issues at work, write them down. Then jot down possible solutions.
  7. Take a mental health day or two. You have sick days. Take them because they’re yours to take. Do not feel guilty for taking a day off. You deserve the time to rest.

If you are hanging by a thread, these are a few things to help you become stronger. Know that you, the principal, are a precious piece of the puzzle. Always remember, your health is more valuable. 

Principals

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