Principals on the Brink! Top 5 Reasons Why

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) released an alarming report last year based on their national survey of secondary school principals. The top finding? If we continue on this same course, there will be a mass exodus of principals from our PreK-12 schools.

Job satisfaction is at an ultimate low, with almost 4 out of 10 principals (38%) expecting to leave the profession in the next three years.

“This survey shows that the principal pipeline is becoming increasingly fractured at all levels, in every region of the country, and in all school types,” said NASSP President Gregg Wieczorek. “Recruiting and retaining school leaders will become even more difficult if more is not done to support educators in our schools.”

So why is this? ThinkFives offers these Top 5 Reasons.

Job Satisfaction is at an Ultimate Low

The Facts

  • Only one-third (35%) “strongly agree” with being generally satisfied as principal of their school, dropping significantly from 63% in 2019.
  • A mere 24% “strongly agree” that they plan to remain a principal until they retire.

The Reasons

Principalship has always been a difficult position, but it’s become increasingly so over the last decade. As a result, principals are experiencing significant job-related stress, mental and emotional challenges, as well as feeling the burden of responsibility for the mental and emotional health of their teachers and students.

This combination has led to significant administrative burnout. Principals especially feel isolated with few peers in their building to talk to and little formal structure to work with other principal colleagues in their district. Until districts deal with the issue of principal burnout and low job satisfaction, we will continue to see a generation of principals on the brink.

COVID Has Made the Situation Worse

The Facts

  • 79% of principals report they have been working harder with longer hours than ever before.
  • More than 26% report that the pandemic had a “great deal” of impact on their inclination to consider leaving their role as principal.
COVID Has Made the Situation Worse

The Reason

Just because the pandemic has ended or at least lessened significantly, people believe schools have returned to a normal period much to the contrary. Most educators and administrators admit that the last school year was more difficult than the year and a half of school closures and remote learning.

Teacher shortages, lack of substitutes, significant learning gaps that are magnified by socioeconomic factors, and burned-out teachers are all part of the post-COVID reality. Unfortunately, for many principals, it’s hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel.

The Political Environment is Tense

The Facts

  • 34% of principals report receiving online threats, and 29% report receiving in-person threats from parents/caregivers.
  • 30% report receiving online threats, and 26% report receiving in-person threats from members of their local community.

The Reason

The polarization of our society also permeates the fabric of our districts and schools. Whether it be mask mandates, remote learning, or reading lists, on some issues, there is no common ground. As a result, any decision a principal makes will find some segment of the community vehemently opposed.

While this strife usually manifests itself from a minority of community members, they can often be the vocal majority. It’s hard enough for principals to make the right decisions for students and teachers without being questioned on every move.

Work Conditions Are Not Improving

The Facts

  • The top three factors most likely to cause principals to leave in the next three years are heavy workload (37%), state accountability measures (31%), and the amount of time and effort needed for compliance requirements (30%).
  • Only one out of four (25%) “strongly agree” that the support they receive from the central office meets their needs.

The Reason

“Why would I want to be principal, work all those hours, and have to attend all those events?” That is the typical refrain from teachers who are asked to be assistant principals or principals. It’s more valid today than at any time in the last 50 years.

Accountability measures continue to increase, new programs like social-emotional learning are mandated, and the socioeconomic learning gap is only expanding. Add that to the teacher shortage, which requires onboarding and training new employees, and you find ample reason for principals to reconsider their tenure.

Resources are Limited and Input is Seldom Sought

The Facts

  • Only 29% of principals “strongly agree” that they have adequate resources (including teaching materials and other supplies) to support students in their building.
  • Just 27% “strongly agree” that their district appropriately consulted them about how to use COVID-relief financial aid for their school.

The Reason

Imagine going to an office and finding out the heat doesn’t work, and there’s no easy fix to the furnace. Or that it’s raining and there are leaks in the roof and a bucket is the only solution. It wouldn’t happen at Google or Facebook, But it’s common in many school buildings.

Facility challenges, a lack of supplies, software that crashes, buses that stall, or just a few of the day-to-day challenges that principals must face. And when it’s time to allot money, district offices seldom involve principals in the decision-making and prioritization. What a great way to run an institution.


Pictures courtesy of Principal Gerry Brooks. Check out his website here


  1. There’s no way I would want to be a principal. You can never make everyone happy, someone is always upset, and there’s never enough time in the day. With that being said, I appreciate my administrators! ❤️

  2. No way I could do it. The fact that all 5 of these are in tandem together is so stressful!!! 😫😤😳🤯

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