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We’ve all faced a point in our careers when leaving seemed like the best alternative—the day after a difficult staff meeting, finding out your site budget has been cut by 20%, a vacancy in a higher paying district. Whatever the cause, the principalship carries a lot of stress. The relationships and cohesion principals feel with their teachers are tantamount in getting through these “leaving moments.”

Although no national study of principal turnover has been conducted, state and district data indicate that principal turnover rates range from 15% to 30% annually (Goodwin, 2013). Scholars point to three key factors that influence a principal’s decision to leave:

  1. Bureaucratic roadblocks;
  2. Excessive workloads; and
  3. Leading without authority.


While the frustrations of the job are well-documented, less talked about is how principals can work through these “leaving moments.” Consider five strategies that might convince you to stay put:

  1. Get some perspective. When you look at your career in its entirety, the issues that have prompted thoughts about leaving are probably “small potatoes” in light of all the big things you have to deal with. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t pay attention to your concerns, but try not to dwell on them either.
  2. Beat a bad day before it starts. Bad days are usually precipitated by a series of small annoyances. On their own, these annoyances aren’t a big deal. But collectively they feel like the entire world is against you. When you start to feel like Alexander in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, resolve to beat it. Talk to the most upbeat teacher in the building, visit with students, or share a funny story.
  3. Create some distance. If you’re like most principals, chances are good your “leaving moments” have resulted from staff resistance or conflicts. Try to step away from the fray. Leave work early, don’t respond for 24 hours, go for a run, get a massage, read a gossip magazine, or have dinner with a friend who is NOT in education. Distance can bring perspective.
  4. Avoid negative conversations. It’s easy to want to vent about something, especially if you have a willing friend to commiserate with. But habitual complaining can make things worse. It can also wreak havoc on the culture if teachers get wind of the negativity. Rather than talk about how bad the situation is, look for ways to improve the situation.
  5. Stick it out. Rather than leave one school or district to find it’s as bad (or worse) somewhere else, stick it out. Write down every small thing you like about where you are. This list of little things will quickly turn into a list of big things. Take stock of what’s pleasurable about your job. And remember the advice of Alexander’s mother when he threatened to move to Australia: “Some days are like that. Even in Australia.”


Association of School Administrators. (2010, Dec.). The American school superintendent: 2010 decennial study. Alexandria, VA: AASA.

Dachis, A. (2011, Aug.). Top 10 ways to survive your crappy job. Retrived from http://lifehacker.com/5830565/top-10-ways-to-survive-your-crappy-job.

Viorst, J. (1972). Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. (R. Cruz, illustrator.) New York: Simon & Schuster.

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