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Bob Sutton


Thanks for standing-up for yourself. You make a compelling case and once again I thank you for being so precise and detailed. Being a teacher is a tough and sometimes thankless jobs, but all signs are that the people who know you best recognize your strengths. Unfortunately, you are not alone in having a boss who can't deal with clashing points of view -- and who hides from the people that he or she leads. Thanks again and I do hope that things get better when the change comes.


To Corey Robey: I am the person who originally contacted Bob Sutton about this boss, and would like to share some of my qualifications:

My previous principal nominated me for a national teaching award.

The principal prior to that one told me that I was "one of the best teachers in the building."

In my previous school, I was likewise told that my lessons were both excellent and engaging.

I am frequently told by my students that I am their favorite teacher. I believe that if you asked them why, they would tell you that I am funny, fair, and make the class interesting.

Even this current principal highly praised a unit I developed last year. In fact, just a couple months ago, the principal watched one of my own favorite lessons taught by the teacher next door (who borrowed the lesson, whole hog, from me). Afterwards, she told my neighbor-teacher, "That lesson includes everything administration wants to see in an ideal lesson."

So... take those experiences for what they're worth. I felt the need to defend myself, given your denigrating comments about my professional life. Since you don't know me, you will choose to believe whatever you like about me. I hope you will consider the notion that even an excellent and engaging teacher might run into a bad boss.

"There is no number of years a person can work in a field that will make their opinions the Truth."

Agreed. And I'm sure that you include administrators when you speak this truth? Because - after all - an administrator is merely a human being, with his or her own strengths and weaknesses, prejudices and biases. And, like all human beings, he or she chooses the "research data" that supports his or her biases.

BUT... There is one certain thing I've learned about leading people after a very long time in the human-leadership (teaching) game: if a majority of my students (followers) are not responding well to my leadership, then there is a flaw in my leadership that must be corrected.

If I fail, it is self-serving and defensive to assume that the majority of my "troops" are resistant to change, or unwilling to try something new. It is far more likely, in the face of overwhelming push-back, that I am demanding too much, too soon - or that I've simply miscommunicated my expectations.

You quickly choose to write me off as a stodgy teacher who is unwilling to change. The temptation on my end is to assume that you are a leader who has met with resistance from your "troops" and - instead of evaluating your leadership - has chosen to assume that all your troops are subpar.

Of course, I know nothing about you or your organization, so I won't choose to write you off because I do not have a sufficiently large data set to work with.

Corey Robey

...and this does seem to be the main problem with education: adults pointing their fingers at other adults while totally refusing to take even a glimpse at themselves...

Corey Robey

The only piece of advice I have for this teacher is to let go of the false idea that a 14 year old will not work unless they are threatened with consequences. In fact, that is less likely to get them to work than actually engaging them, and putting in the time to figure out how that's done. I guess it's easier to blame someone else... and I entirely agree about the importance of presence in a principal, but I also believe in changing the things you can. Well, I just pointed out one gigantic glaring flaw in this teacher's pedagogy. Go work on that, and forget about others. PS, this includes being up to date on what research-confirmed opinions, and not those based on mere personal preference. There is no number of years a person can work in a field that will make their opinions the Truth.

MIna Weller

I'm not sure she is a crummy boss. She may not be a great boss but crummy, who can say?

I am disturbed by the commenters’ willingness to pile on and not consider the situation even somewhat objectively.

This is someone who may be feeling marginalized because her personal power has been diminished and her preferred work style is no longer in vogue.

She has not mentioned one thing the principal has done correctly or that benefitted the school. She only complains and blames.

"People have tried to approach her in a variety of ways, but it’s clear from her reaction to us that any disagreement is seen as a dire threat to her. She has no confidence, and completely shuts down if she proposes an idea and the staff offers logistical questions or pushback. We literally do not know how to talk to her about what is not working, because she is so hypersensitive and easily flummoxed that we fear she can’t process it – and we fear more greatly that she will try to “get us” for expressing concerns."

The quote above is what concerns me.

People are not without their biases and there doesn't seem to be any acknowledgement of hers and her frightened co-workers – read: we don’t like change and are not able to relate to her.

She has no confidence? Says who? Perhaps her confidence is expressed differently. She certainly has enough confidence to tell them no.

To me this reads as someone who wants more control than what's being given, is not happy with change and blames the boss.

What I see are two different working and communication styles – one overly sensitive and emotional and desiring acknowledgment and the other not prone to emotional displays, methodical and firm in what she envisions.

People embellish.

Live Bee Removal

Speaking as a student rather than a faculty member, I have to agree with you that the best principals were the ones that made there present known in a positive manner.


Well, first thing I sincerely sympathize with you and your fellow colleagues. This is a very difficult situation, but unlike Rob, I would not state that things are bound to get even worst.
There has to be a way to correct the situation, and even if it is quite unlikely that it will be quick and easy (like the new Superintendant firing her right away), you have to believe it is possible, that’s a pre-requisite in my opinion.
Also, I would not suggest that you sacrifice yourself because the kids are the priority. You sure have to do your best to improve the situation, but you also have total right to protect your living and your own kids.
I would therefore suggest you to try and help her as much as you can, and at the same time build a B-plan just in case it does not work and you can’t stand it anymore.
Help her
Get support: get the support from your colleagues, try to form a group of colleagues who are willing to act (not fight, act) to improve the situation.
Put yourself in a “goodwill mood”: she is probably totally incompetent in this field, but she is also probably willing to do no harm. Try to help her as if she was one of your difficult students (I know that’s easy to say).
Start small: Jamie made a good suggestion; brainstorm with your colleagues to identify an “easy” conflict (or maybe just a suggestion) to deal with and if any one of you gets along better than the others, have this person discuss the matter with her. As Bob explains in one of his books (good bosses – bad bosses I think), achieving several of this little wins will be easier and better for your morale than trying to shoot for the moon.
Insist: if it does not work the first time, debrief on what failed and try again. If it did, great! Debrief to identify what worked and find other subjects to discuss
Try to confront her with reality: that’s the tough one especially if she hardly gets out of her office, and especially if she is hypersensitive: you will have to pick the right “reality-check”. But it’s worth trying once you have succeeded in building a minimum level of trust. I suggest you read the chapter about “tipping point leadership” in the book “Blue Ocean Strategy”, the authors give examples when people confronted face to face with the harsh reality suddenly realize that they have to change the way they are doing.
Build a plan-B
For the sake of security, I would suggest that while you are sincerely trying to help her, you build your case to the Superintendant by accumulating facts and proofs of her incompetence. And in case all your goodwill still does not work, you will have this extreme solution to go to the super with your colleagues (not alone) and defend your case. Note that you should be sure that the new super is not the same kind of person as your principal before.

Rod Johnson

Neuroscience researcher Richie Davidson does his work out of the University of Wisconsin and has this really great statement, "The brain isn't interested in reality, it's interested in survival." The principal in this story appears to be totally focused on survival. And unfortunately, some school systems (just like many businesses) enable 'survival tactics" to linger for an extended period of time. I'm doubtful that a reality check will move the needle very far in a short term.

To make matters worse, the system will likely embrace the survival focused principal for another year or two, due to how contracts for principals are written. And by that time rolls around, the system will have grown worse, as the school gets a reputation - then only "B" teachers will apply, much less work there.

Good luck, it's likely going to be a tough journey.

David @ Tunnel1

That "placement" seems funny. How is this person qualified to handle a school that they themselves have never experienced? A 5th grade teacher has no business running a school with 8th graders. How to solve problems isn't in a book or online. Its in the school with the kids and the parents on-board.


How sad that someone who is apparently so inept with handling conflict and disagreement can make it to a position of authority (though I know it happens all the time). If you want this to work out with her, then I think I would try looking for conflicts with smaller stakes to push. If she's afraid of conflict, then teach her that conflict works out fine, by choosing an easy one. On top of that, she needs the feedback that she shuts down when there is conflict. Maybe she's not aware.

Frederic Lucas-Conwell

It is the superintendent job to take charge of the situation and 1) recruit principals that are a better match and 2) manage, train or lead them in their role. Personality, management skills and coaching/mentoring/training of the principal are clearly underestimated in this situation.
The principal could eventually perform better if the one above had done a better job. If there is somebody to blame and directly contact to correct the situation asap, it is the superintendent or the new one coming. The principal should eventually never have been recruited for this job, should have been assisted/coached or should have been removed. If all conditions are in place for a person to underperform, he/she will underperform.
A new superintendent is coming, that's probably because the actual one is doing a poor job. In any case, make sure the new one coming in July get's it! Find a person who has the guts and no fear to take on the issue at this level.

Dr. Bob

Sounds like its time to assemble a group and go around her. Get those who believe its important and go as a group to the super. It's a risk, but better then years of misery and bad education for the kids.


Bob, Justin was spot on, leadership is about visibility and interaction, the end goal being to establish quality relationships. It's about trust, credbility, consistency and communication. These are the must haves for leaders, yet so few seem to understand that. @chrischanner1

Jarie Bolander

How sad that this boss is so out of touch and in such a position of power.

It sounds like you have exhausted the normal routes of communication with her and it has gone nowhere.

If she is truly a yes man, then direct confrontation with the superintendent will probably backfire since they tend to protect their own.

Sounds like the only alternative is revolution!

If the majority of staff feel that she is ineffective, driving the school into the ground and is a net negative, then it's time to take over.

Probably the best way to do that is to get your PTA on board and come at it from their perspective. Usually, they have a strong voice and people have to listen to their customers or they go out of business.

If you don't have a PTA or parents group, then form one and start organizing and doing what's best for your customers (e.g. students and parents).

Ivan above is right that you have to look out for the kids. So start asking for forgiveness instead of permission and do what parents and teacher feel is the right thing.

Basically, ignore your boss. If she is non-confrontational, then she will probably do nothing.

Good luck

In my opinion you have to think to the kids. They are the ones who are suffering for all this inefficient management and leadership competences. My suggestion is to be direct and to show clearly and to everybody the disagrement about the new dangerous decisions. You have to force the Principal to understand her mistakes and discuss with all teachers the new upcoming decision in a very constructive and democratic way. And it doesn't matter if she will get rid of you. Think at the kids. A man should fight for his idea, otherwise or the idea is worth nothing or the man is worth nothing!

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