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The hardest job in the world — is it yours?


Principals and teachers have incredibly demanding jobs. Here are some statistics & ideas that will help make your job easier.

What makes it so challenging?

  • Helicopter parents

  • Absent parents

  • Challenging students

  • Bulldozer parents

  • Too much focus on test scores

  • Common Core — here, gone, then back again

In addition, the magic pills run rampant — student agency, PLCs, SEL, student-centric learning, STEM, blended learning, coding, STEAM, whole-child education, 21st-century skills and personalized learning to name a few.

What creates a successful student?

The challenges above are simply symptoms of and attempted quick fixes for a more fundamental root-cause issue. The Gallup Organization, after surveying over 5 million students, has identified four root-cause elements which best prepare students for successful lives:


Engaged students are excited about what they're learning. They contribute to and are emotionally connected to their school.


Hopeful students are positive about the future and goal-oriented. They can overcome obstacles and navigate a pathway to achieve their goals.

Entrepreneurial Aspiration:

By identifying and nurturing students' entrepreneurial talent, they are empowered to be the next generation of innovators.

Financial/Career Literacy:

The information, attitudes and behaviors that students need for healthy participation in the economy.


The reality:

Students and teachers are disengaged.

The same poll shows only 49% of public school students are engaged and 47% have hope. These disappointing results are not the fault of educators. Ensuring each student is engaged, has hope, aspires to be entrepreneurial, and becomes financially literate, is daunting.

Given the tremendous challenge teachers face and the general lack of support from the public, it’s not surprising another Gallup survey showed only 30% of teachers are engaged. This means a full 70% are not engaged or actively disengaged.

The answer?

Great leadership.

In a recent study, Bain & Co surveyed more than 4,200 teachers, assistant principals and principals at school systems of varying sizes throughout the United States. Not surprisingly:

“96% of them said great leadership is essential to a school’s success.”

Providing great leadership to teachers involves more than start-of-the-school-year professional development. It involves the conscious creation of a culture that fosters personal growth through inspirational leadership, supportive management and empowering coaching by all members within the school system.


Break down barriers.

In education, a systemic structural barrier severely restricts a principal’s ability to create such a culture at the school level when he/she typically manages up to 50 staff. By contrast, in typical non-education organizations, managers of highly-skilled workers supervise five people. Experience has proven to engage, inspire, and support growth, five to eight is about as many as any leader can be effective with. Our education system asks principals to supervise between six and ten times this many people.

If you were to ask principals for their top 10 list of challenges, most would not list high staff count. Most educators have spent much of their professional careers in schools and thus see this ratio as normal. And as humans, when we see something as normal, there’s no impetus for change. If you want to better engage teachers to better engage students, this structural barrier must be addressed.

When we create space within local school systems to have radically honest conversations about these root cause issues, creative structures can be developed. Structures that give teachers support while significantly reducing the burden we’ve put on the shoulders of our principals; empowering both to dramatically improve student success.



Core Idea:

Principle's jobs are incredibly demanding and the solution lies in leadership. The Gallup Organization provides some insights that also proves to be helpful.

Key take away:

Principles have one of the hardest jobs in the world. The key to helping this challenging job lies in leadership.

About the author(s):

Tom Willis is a Co-Founder and Partner with Phoenix Performance Partners. He had the great honor of serving as CEO for Cornerstone; a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers; and an engineer with the Intel Corporation. His life is all about helping others uncover their talents so they can reach their unlimited potential and their organization can thrive.

| Linkedin: Tom

Brad Zimmerman is a Co-Founder and Partner with Phoenix Performance Partners. Zimmerman turned to organizational coaching more than 26 years ago following a successful career in sales and operations. Today, he helps businesses, nonprofits and other organizations develop cultures that transform work environments so people grow and the organizations thrive.

| Linkedin: Brad


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