Study shows school principals facing new and heavy demands

New expectations and emerging social issues are dramatically changing the work and role of school principals

  • Sep. 18, 2014 10:00 a.m.

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New expectations and emerging social issues are dramatically changing the work and role of school principals, according to a new study released Tuesday by the Canadian Association of Principals and the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA).

The study finds that school leaders are facing heavier workloads due to an influx of sometimes conflicting demands, including increasing student diversity, heightened accountability measures, the proliferation of digital technology and unrealistic parental demands.

The Future of the Principalship in Canada project involved 500 principals from across Canada who participated in 40 focus groups over a two-year period. The study included 180 principals from Alberta and found that the concerns of administrators here were similar to those from other provinces.

“It’s a new era for our school leaders. The vast majority of principals find their work fulfilling, but they’re concerned about growing workload and complexity in schools,” said Mark Ramsankar, ATA President. “These stressors work their way down through our schools and can have a very negative impact on student learning.”

The Alberta principals who participated in the study work an average of 58 to 60 hours per week and are increasingly performing business management and documentation tasks as opposed to engaging in educational leadership.

Ninety-five per cent of them want to spend more time in classrooms, yet they manage to devote an average of only 4.7 hours per week to instructional leadership. Alberta principals were more likely to comment on the impacts of marketing activities on their work.

“Much of what we do each day is done to market ourselves,” noted one Alberta principal cited in The Future of the Principalship in Canada. “We need to keep parents happy so we have good accountability pillar results. I have become, in many ways, more of a marketing manager than an educator.”

The study identifies professional development, specialists in schools, wraparound services and stable and predictable funding as being necessary to ensure the continuing success of the Canadian education system. It also proposes five “ways forward” for Canadian principals to tackle issues related to diversity, staff development, family relationships, leadership learning and technology.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association, as the professional organization of teachers, promotes and advances public education, safeguards standards of professional practice and serves as the advocate for its 35,000 members, including its nearly 5,000 school-based administrators.