Elementary Principal and Job Stress Term Paper

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¶ … Elementary School Principals and Job Stress

Certainly, any type of jobs carries with it some level of stress, but it would seem that elementary school principals in particular are prone to stressful conditions simply by virtue of the unique exigencies of their positions. Irate and incensed parents, changing boards of education, politicians with personal agendas, teachers, support staff - and the students themselves of course - all combine to present the typical elementary school principal with enough stressful situations to challenge anyone's ability to cope, but cope they must. Unfortunately, things appear to be getting even worse in many regions of the country where a paucity of qualified elementary school principals combined with rising elementary school enrollments has caused increasing concern among educators and policymakers alike. To determine what factors tend to contribute to stressful conditions in the workplace for the average elementary school principal, this study will examine stress across a continuum of nine factors, followed by a summary of the research in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

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This chapter will provide a review of the relevant literature and a discussion of stress as it affects elementary school principals according to nine dimensions, including stress as it relates to educational administration; stress and burnout as it relates to elementary school principals; stress as it relates to role conflict and ambiguity with elementary school principals; stress and the principalship; stress and personality types of principals; stress and gender of elementary school principals; levels of stress and coping techniques for elementary school principals.

Stress as it Relates to Educational Administration.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Elementary Principal and Job Stress Assignment

It would seem that a great deal of attention has been focused on how much stress children and adolescents experience during their school years, while those responsible for administering these educational services have been neglected in the equation; however, by any measure, educational administration is much like any other setting where people interact and business is carried out (Colten & Gore, 1991). According to Iwasaki, Mackay, and Mactavish (2005), "Stress is evident in every domain of contemporary life -- work, family, home, and even leisure" (p. 1). Like any other setting, though, educational administration has its unique characteristics that can contribute to higher incidences of stressful situations and these can be even more profound by virtue of the ages of students involved. Elementary school children are at a formative period of their lives where much remains unclear and unknown, and expectations nebulous. Applying adult standards to these settings is not only inappropriate, it can be harmful. For example, thousands of educators are confronted with the frustrating question of how to handle "this most baffling -- but constant -- of professional hazards: stress" (Crute, 2004, p. 34). Citing the results of a recent survey by Optum Research, a Minnesota-based company that investigates work-related health risks, Crute reports that fully 88% of educators typically experience moderate to high levels of stress on the job today. Americans are famous for being a stressed out society, particularly following the attacks of September 11, 2001 (Aftermath: America's educators reflect on the impact of September 11, 2001).

Given the commonplace nature of stress in human life and in the workplace, are educators in general and elementary school principals in particular somehow more "stressed-out" than their managerial counterparts in other professions? It would certainly seem that this was the case, at least based on the evidence to date: "Why all this interest in educators, given the pervasive nature of stress throughout our culture? Because, researchers say, educators face unique circumstances" (Crute, 2004, p. 35). These unique circumstances relate to the public school system in the United States, where long-term problems in funding and well-intentioned but misguided curricula reform initiatives have resulted in school systems that are faced with more problems than answers (Enderlin-Lampe, 1997). In this regard, Crute suggests that, "The often overpowering combination of overcrowded classrooms, testing pressures, paperwork, and anxious parents, not to mention often rambunctious and stressed-out kids, has put teachers at particularly high risk. And educators tend not to know when -- or how -- to stop and refuel" (2004, p. 35). Despite the blissful reports of carefree school years recounted in the press and fondly remembered by seniors, many school-age children today are being increasingly subjected to school-related stressors such as failing grades, overly demanding classroom environments, athletic requirements, peer relationships, tests, and conflicts with teachers (Coleman, Fallin & Wallinga, 2001).

In fact, stress has become a natural component of even the youngest children's lives, making the concept of a carefree childhood nearly obsolete (Large, 1999). According to Large, "Students reported more unique stressors, such as having to contend with a physical disability, parents' divorcing, or financial pressure at home. Students also can experience the distress of 'victimization' at school -- teasing, intimidation, bullying, and sexual harassment from other students. Domestic violence and other forms of abuse and neglect at home can also contribute to the stressful lives of some children" (p. 39). As a result, educators are increasingly encountering a wide range of these stressors on their students and the effects of these stressful situations in their school; as a result, academic problems, behavioral problems, children's complaints of stomachaches or headaches, and substance abuse all may be related to excessive levels of stress in student's lives (Coleman et al., 2001).

The consequences of these disturbing trends are discussed further below.

Stress and Burnout as They Relate to Principals.

According to Neumann and Reichel (1993), stress and burnout in organizations have become the focus of an increasing number of studies in recent years. These authors define burnout as "a syndrome or a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, as well as cynicism towards one's work in response to chronic organizational stressors"; the emotional exhaustion component is one of the more extreme varieties of work-related stresses and manifests itself in employees as a general loss of feeling, concern, trust, interest, and spirit (Neumann & Reichel, 1993).

Citing the results of previous researchers, these authors also note that when elementary school principals experience stress-related burnout, their emotional reserves are depleted and they no longer feel they are able to give of themselves at a psychological level. In this regard, Etzion (1984) characterized the emotional exhaustion dimension of burnout to "feeling depressed, trapped, hopeless"; people who feel this way frequently loss interest in occupational goals and the people they are supposed to manage (Neumann & Reichel, 1993).

The physical exhaustion component of burnout is related to feeling weak, tired, and rundown, and is typically characterized by low energy, chronic fatigue, and weakness (Neumann & Reichel, 1993). The mental exhaustion component manifests itself in the form of feeling worthless, disillusioned, and rejected and is characterized by the development of negative attitudes towards self, work, and life even itself (Etzion, 1984, cited in Neumann & Reichel, p. 76). Unfortunately, elementary school principals seem to be particularly well situated to become victims of stress-related burnout. For example, in his essay, "Challenges for 21st-Century Elementary School Principals," Ferrandino (2001) reports that burnout has become an all-too-common occurrence as principals try to cope with the increasing pressures and demands of parents, teachers, and supervisors.

To cite an example of these building stressful pressures, one of every 10 principals surveyed in 1998 by the NAESP had been named in a civil lawsuit as a result of a playground accident, a disciplinary action, or some other work-related activity. The consequences of these trends were severe: "Even though there has never been a judgment against a principal in such cases," the author says, "the fear of litigation is very real today" (emphasis added) (Farrandino, 2001, p. 440). Indeed, when educators in general and elementary school principals in particular experience burnout, there are enormous and costly implications for their school systems; according to Boudreau, Golembiewski, Luo and Sun, these implications can include:

Job involvement and all facets of job satisfaction decrease.

Turnover increases, both in intent and in actual departures.

Group cohesiveness decreases.

Physical and emotional symptoms increase.

Features of family life deteriorate.

Indicators of performance fall.

Costs of medical insurance increase significantly (p. 59).

At a time when the future of education demands effective and creative elementary school principals who are "energetic, enthusiastic, confident, flexible and purposeful," they are also being confronted with powerful forces that tend to prevent them from being "willing to serve others, willing to try new things, taking initiative and following through" (Goertz, 2000, p. 158). While many elementary school principals aspire to these levels of performance, they continue to be thwarted on a number of other fronts that are unique to the profession; these issues are discussed further below.

Stress as it Relates to Role Conflict and Ambiguity with Elementary School Principals.

According to Mohajer, Opheim and Read (1995), "principals enjoy a unique slot in the educational tier" (p. 115). As noted above, though, there is not much room for enjoying this high office today. Not only are elementary school teachers faced with supervising more teachers and more support staff than in years past, they are… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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