By Jane Balvanz, MSE, RPT
Professional School Counselor

“Attitude reflects leadership, Captain.”
~ Julius to Bertier from Remember the Titans

Professors Jo and Joseph Blase – spouses, professors, authors and aficionados of all things teacher, never set out to research principal mistreatment of teachers. The research found them instead. While combing through data toward another end, they could not neglect the secondary emergent information that signaled a prominent theme in teacher stress and poor school climate: principal abuse of teachers. Their research is presented in their 2003 book, Breaking the Silence; Overcoming the Problem of Principal Mistreatment of Teachers.

Among workers, 10% – 20% work for abusive bosses. Within a school system, these percentages account for teachers, paraprofessionals, and other support staff. Principals can also be targets of abusive superintendents and school board members. The trickle-down effects of this hierarchical system wreck havoc in the educational process. Students suffer when their teachers suffer.

Is your principal abusing you? Could you identify the relational aggression if it stared you in the face? Following are the Blases’ three levels of principal mistreatment behaviors.

Level 1 Principal Mistreatment Behaviors

  • Discounting teachers’ thoughts, needs, and feelings
  • Isolating and abandoning teacher
  • Withholding resources and denying approval, opportunities, and credit
  • Favoring select teachers
  • Offensive personal conduct

Level 2 Principal Mistreatment Behaviors

  • Spying (using others to)
  • Sabotaging
  • Stealing (credit)
  • Destroying teacher instructional aids
  • Making unreasonable work demands – nitpicking, overloading
  • Criticism – direct, indirect, intentionally vague, private, or public: putdowns, insults, belittling comments, name-calling, regarding one’s work or abilities, spreading untrue rumors or gossip, negative innuendos, stigmatization and pejorative labeling, soliciting support in abuse

Level 3 Principal Mistreatment Behaviors

  • Lying
  • Explosive and nasty behaviors
  • Threats
  • Unwarranted Reprimands
  • Unfair evaluations
  • Mistreating students
  • Forcing teachers out of their jobs – reassigning, unilaterally transferring, terminating
  • Preventing teachers from leaving or advancing
  • Sexual harassment
  • Racism

We’re conditioned from birth to accept what authority figures tell us: parents, teachers, coaches, religious figures, the military, etc. Kelley’s (1992) survey revealed that 30% of those in the study accepted what authority figures tell them without question. Therefore, many employees within a school don’t realize abuse toward them has occurred, especially if they have only had one principal. Like the veritable frog in the boiling pot, teachers don’t recognize principal mistreatment has burned them and damage has been done when exposure happens a little over time. Note the effects and damage caused by principal mistreatment of teachers.

Effects of Principal Abuse of Teachers

  • Physical – illness, sleep disturbances, fatigue, headaches, stomach problems
  • Emotional – lowered self-esteem, cynicism, distrust, anxiety, on-the-job tension, anger, resentment, helplessness, powerlessness, drug or alcohol abuse, suicide
  • Job Related – loss of satisfaction, thoughts of leaving, turnovers or transfers, increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, decreased communication with coworkers or principal, reduced student productivity

Within any profession bully bosses exist. When employee bullying happens in a school, however, the effects don’t simply end with the employees. The students and school climate are affected, too. This is intolerable.

If you suffer from principal mistreatment, document, document, document! If you choose to directly confront your principal, consider asking a representative from your teachers’ association or union to come with you to further document the meeting. If you believe direct communication would be ineffective, take your concerns and notes directly to HR.


You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Bullying strategists Jane Balvanz and Blair Wagner publish GAPRA’s bi-weekly articles. If you’re ready to guide children in grades K – 12 through painful friendships and emotional bullying:

For help with emotional bullying:

For the When Girls Hurt Girls® program: