Staying In The Game: Preventing Principal Burnout - The Principal Center

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Staying In The Game: Preventing Principal Burnout

According to this report from School Leaders Network, replacing a single principal can cost a total of $75,000—or more.

Isn't that a staggering figure? Keep in mind that the $75,000 figure doesn't include salary…those are just the costs of replacing a principal who doesn't stay.

If you consider the cost of:

  • Recruitment
  • Hiring
  • Onboarding
  • Training
  • Mentoring
  • New principal professional development

and more, it's easy to see how the total could reach $75,000 or more (the report, which offers its own breakdown, places the high end of the range at $303,000).

More importantly, it matters for student achievement if principals stay for the long haul.

Student Achievement and Principal Longevity

A couple of months ago, I interviewed Berkeley professor David Kirp about his book Improbable Scholars.

Kirp studied a high-poverty district in NJ that has remarkably high student achievement, considering the challenges its students face in life.

Despite poverty, limited English proficiency, and other challenges, the students in Union City, NJ do as well as their middle-class peers across the state.

What makes the difference in this district?

What struck me most clearly was Union City's leadership stability—extremely low turnover among principals and senior leaders.

School Culture and Momentum

A strong school culture can withstand a bit of leadership turnover. The more instructional leadership is “distributed” across multiple staff, the more resilient the school will be during times of stress and transition.

But to become a resilient school with strong, distributed leadership…you need leadership stability in the first place. To build the kind of culture that can endure, you need a principal who stays long enough to build momentum.

Why Don't We Invest In Turnover Prevention?

A lot of districts don't invest in reducing principal turnover because it's not a single direct cost.

No invoice marked “principal turnover expenses” ever arrives in the mail.

But that doesn't make the costs of losing principals any less real.

It matters for the financial bottom line. It matters for students. And it matters for school culture.

Are You Preventing Turnover for Yourself?

But let's go a step further: rather than wait for your employer to invest in keeping you around, let me ask a more personal question: what are you doing to keep yourself in your current position?

If you're looking for a new challenge, or if life's changes move you somewhere new, that's another matter.

But if you're burning out—if your job is weighing too heavily on your body, your mind, and your heart—take action.

We've all seen what happens when leaders fail to see the warning signs, and are forced by their health to step down.

And we've seen what happens when people pull back and disengage to preserve their sanity. It's pretty obvious when leaders are phoning it in. It might feel like a necessary adjustment, but it's not fair to students.

If you're in the game, stay in it 100% by taking care of yourself.

If you want to reduce your stress level and make your work more managable—while increasing your effectiveness—check out our program High Performance Habits.