Survey: Principals concerned over lack of mental health support

The first-of-its-kind survey from the University of Minnesota gathered responses from 779 principals across the state.

MINNEAPOLIS — The fact of the matter is, school principals are middle managers.

“There’s a superintendent and then they oversee teachers as well, so they do have to be good at management and decision-making,” Dr. Katie Pekel said.

Pekel is a principal in residence at the University of Minnesota, and the project lead on a survey that involved responses from 779 principals.

Pekel said it became abundantly clear that principals also craved similar things to teachers, like administrative work and more hands-on work.

“The things that might be a little bit more concerning are things like, they’re not getting to spend enough time that they think are important, like instructional leadership, and also, that they’re not getting the types of professional development that they might really be needing,” Pekel said.

In fact, principals said they are working an average 58.6 hours a week, and over 50% of them said the workload is not sustainable.

On top of that, almost 70% of them said they had mental health concerns for their students and staff, and nearly 30% said community pushback on COVID mitigation measures was also on top of their stressors list. That being said, the survey wasn’t all grim.

“We found that 90% of principals feel that they can be successful in the buildings that they are in, so that’s good news,” Pekel said. “And 80% of principals told us that their primary job is to be instructional leaders, so we think that’s also some good news,” Pekel said.

In terms of the longevity of a principal career — despite the respondents saying they expect to leave their positions in two to six years — Pekel revealed only a few said they were leaving the education industry completely.

“Of those who told us that they are going to be leaving their position in the next few years, the majority of them told us that they were either going into retirement, which is to be expected,” she said “Or, they were going to be taking another principal job or they were going to be taking a job, for example, at a district level. Only 5% of the respondents told us they were going to be looking for a job outside of education.”

A principal has almost always been an educator prior to their position, so the stresses—although different—are present, and principals are calling that out, too.

“Not to take away from the needs for supports for lots of other folks — that principals rated the needs — they want resources for their staff at about 73%, but the principals also need to be recognized in this time period,” Pekel said.

You can find the full survey here.

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