Beginnings filled with promise

The curve is all too well known.  An enthusiastic new principal begins the school year with such high hopes, and if the successes are immediate, the change is palpable. Fresh ideas seem to flow, new programming is innovative, and imaginative solutions are found to solve old problems.  The abundance of energy flowing through the hallways can be felt throughout the community.

So why is there such a high principal burnout, resulting in such a high turnover rate?

It Doesn’t Last

Generally speaking, the initial euphoria doesn’t last more than three years. And then things come crashing down.  The curve that just kept going up and up begins to flatten out and eventually starts to dip. Principal burnout and sometimes principal replacement becomes the new reality.  Statistics show that there is usually a new principal within about five years.

And What about Business?

But what is strange is that while this scenario is quite common for schools, it is not the norm in the business world. In the world of business, that upward curve doesn’t dip.  On the contrary, it continues to rise, perhaps not as sharply, but rises nonetheless for several years. Nowhere does the top level of administration suffer the high turnover rate of school principals.

Why is this so, and can anything be done about it?

 What is the difference between Education and Business?

The answer to this perplexing question lay in understanding distinguishing between the education and business models which is symptomatic of the different environments.

Strangely enough, while the business model fosters and rewards continued the success of the highest levels of leadership, the educational model actually “punishes’” its successful leaders.

Punishment is a major factor to the ultimate failure, burnout and eventual turnover afflicting principals, contributing to their ultimate failure. It is well known that leaders are reformers and visionaries by nature.  The problems they must confront and solve bring out their best.  Challenges force them to be energetic, innovative and creative resulting in novel solutions.

When this happens in the business world, such success is rewarded with the business flourishing accompanied by increased revenue.  The success of the leader is complemented by the success of the company.  Increased revenue emboldens the leader by allowing him/her to expand the infrastructure by bringing in middle management to implement and manage the creative expansion. An infusion of income fuels an upward cycle of innovation and development.

But this isn’t what happens in educational institutions. For while the educational leader’s creativity helps the school grow and flourish, it usually doesn’t bring in additional revenue.  The programs that the principal innovates cost the school money.  So while the school benefits, the principal’s innovation, and creativity become a financial liability. Although they help the school fulfill its mission, they do not assist the school in bringing in additional revenue.

Lacking additional funds to expand the infrastructure, the principal must assume the role of middle manager of his or her successful programs. This denies the school its innovative and creative leader. The principal has become a victim of his/her success. The principal, turned middle manager is now on the road to burnout.  Only time stands in the path of being fired.

What is the answer?

First of all, principals must be acutely aware of what is waiting for them when they innovate.  Being overly ambitious may be the sure path to an early exit. Scaling back the program may be prudent.  Identifying current staff who could serve in the managerial role may be helpful.

But for others, it may be finding ways to “steal time” currently unavailable.  Improving “systems” and minimizing time and effort expended on current administrative tasks could go a long way. Take for example the recruitment and management of the therapists serving “special need” children. There are proven ways for the creative principal to get real help.

Teletherapy has been shown to be an effective alternative to on site therapy that can free up time, save money providing the ambitious, talented principal the time and resources to continue to innovate and create.  When the principal can to spend enough time and strength on what you love, it may save more than time and money.  It may save you burnout and your job!