Dear Principal Hotline,
I am in desperate need of some advice. I just finished my second year as principal in a Title I elementary school. Our school is making huge strides since I’ve been here. We’ve made a giant leap academically (our scores are up!), discipline referrals are down, and school culture and morale is better than it’s ever been. Almost every one of my teacher-principal relationships are positive. Well, that is, almost every one.
I have one veteran teacher who wants nothing to do with the changes we have made in the last few years. She also wants nothing to do with me. She’s been in the school for 23 years, one of the longest tenures of the whole staff. This teacher is extremely negative about my leadership, tries to undercut me and my decisions at every turn, and tries to turn teachers against me. She is constantly talking about me behind my back to other teachers.
Almost daily I hear through the grapevine about another staff lounge speech where she puts me down to other teachers. In the past, her age and experience made her the “leader” of the teaching staff. However, there are so many other strong leaders on our staff, and one of my main goals is to empower them as well. This does not seem to be sitting well with this teacher. I believe 90% of staff are on board with me and see the positive direction our school is headed in.
I was just named Principal of the Year for my school district, so I know I am doing something right. But I feel like this teacher is slowing progress, and I’m not going to lie, hurting me in the process. How do you handle a teacher like this? I have tried to ignore her and her antics because she desperately wants the attention and for me to react. I just don’t think I can ignore it anymore. Help please.
Sincerely, Tired of Being Bullied
Have you tried talking to this teacher?
People often have a hard time adjusting to changes, however small, and after 23 years, she has a lot of experience–she’s also experienced a lot of changes of her own. Possibly the influx of excited, innovating, brand new administrators make her life feel a bit like she’s struggling to keep up with a perpetual conveyor belt’s worth of change. Unless her name is Lucy or Ethel, this has, possibly, left her jaded, overwhelmed, or both.
Take a moment to consider how your feelings may be affecting her behavior. Ignoring a problem won’t solve it. She isn’t a student throwing a temper tantrum because she didn’t get her way; she’s a professional with more than two decades of experience in a single building. This teacher has witnessed what remains consistent, what has and hasn’t worked, and how the culture has reacted to those changes.
Assuming she’s behaving poorly because she wants attention might be unfair. A professional who is a leader among your staff is an asset. What, exactly, does she disagree with? Have you asked her why she opposes your ideas? She may see something you don’t.
Approach this situation with an open mind and respect. People do not find themselves in an unofficial leadership role by accident. She has something her peers respect. Take a moment and look at those traits which have helped her gain that respect. Reach out and ask for her suggestions. Some of her ideas and procedures are probably outdated or inconsistent with how you envision your building, but don’t discount her experience simply because she disagrees with your methods.
Respect goes both ways. You can’t expect it without giving it. Remember, you’re in the position of power, so while it’s insulting, she can’t really bully you.
Re-frame the problem, and prove to your staff that you’re able to put pride behind maintaining a positive building culture–even when that means working with someone with whom you may disagree. Don’t let your ego limit your vision. You may even want her help mentoring the teachers you hope will eventually fill her role.
Good luck and stay positive.
Each week, our brave school leadership expert answers your toughest questions about the daily adventures and challenges we all face as we strive to make our schools great places for kids to learn. Have a question? Email it to email@example.com.